A story that keeps recurring in Jonathan Safran Foer’s meticulously researched new book is the one where Jan Karski met with Felix Frankfurter in 1943. During the height of WWII, Karski, a 28-year-old catholic resistance fighter from Poland, embarked on a treacherous trip to America with one hope in mind. In 1942, by disguising himself as a Jew, Karski had smuggled himself into the Warsaw Ghetto where he witnessed the atrocities the Jewish were facing in the hands of Nazis, and by coming to America, he hoped he’d be able to rally Western Allies against these monsters.
During Karski’s visit, one of the civic leaders he met is Frankfurter. Frankfurter, a United States Supreme Court Justice at the time, was a Jew. But upon hearing Karski’s account of the unspeakable acts Nazis were perpetrating on the Jews, Frankfurter reportedly demonstrated skepticism: “I didn’t say this young man is lying. I said I am unable to believe him. My mind, my heart, they are made in such a way that I cannot accept it.”
Our inability to fathom the extent of the planetary crisis (because “we are disproportionately drawn to immediate and local needs,” “while remaining indifferent to what is lethal but over there”), and the ensuing apathy is what Foer attempts to address in We Are the Weather. According to Foer, 86% of Americans accept climate change is real (which is more than the number of people who are convinced by the theory of evolution), but only a faction of that actually believe in it – for most of us, what must be the biggest crisis humankind has ever faced is merely an abstract concept. Because of this, we pat ourselves with every time we recycle, plant trees, or turn off lights when we leave a room. These tiny efforts are important, but they alone are not going to cut it in this fight which has high stakes – we need to make radical changes to our lifestyles if we want to leave a livable planet for our future generations.
As we know, greenhouse gas emissions are the biggest contributor to climate change, and in this book, Foer suggests several ways in which we can reduce our individual carbon footprint. By expanding on the role of livestock agriculture in the causation of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, Foer, without being preachy, argues that the easiest way to save our planet from further destruction is by adopting a plant-based diet. He acknowledges that for most meat lovers going vegan will be an uphill battle – I, for one, find it easier to follow his other recommendations like live car-free (currently we use buses, and will be factoring in access to public transportation when setting roots), have one child less (plan is to have one or none). So what he recommends is tweaking our diet with the ultimate goal of not consuming any meat before dinner (According to a 2018 Nature study cited in this book, the average American/ British citizen must consume 90% less beef and 60% less dairy to bring down emission numbers, which roughly means forgoing animal products for two meals/day).
I think Foer is advocating for something doable. While reading We Are the Weather, I checked out the vegan isles in our grocery store probably for the first time and found plant-based substitutes for dairy (which we now love), and sausages (which we hate!). But I’m hopeful that we’ll find a few good vegan recipes which will make us forget our meat cravings eventually…
This is one hell of an inspiring book!
Note: Many thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for sending me an ARC of We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast.
** You can buy a copy of We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast here on Book Depository with free shipping.