What Would You Give Up to Save the Planet? A Conversation On Identity vs Action

Jonathan Safron Foer

That is the question American novelist Jonathan Safron Foer asks us in his 2019 book We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast.

“This is a life-changing book and will alter your relationship to food forever.”—Alex Preston, The Guardian


In an October 19, 2019 interview with Jason McBride of The Globe and Mail, Foer answers that question (e.g. researchers have proven that animal agriculture is the No. 1 or 2 source of greenhouse gas emissions, depending on what’s included in the calculation, and the No. 1 cause of deforestation [91% of the Amazon burning and deforestation is for animal agriculture]. Grazing animals produce high amounts of methane and require large amounts of water and land).

Foer argues that “the climate crisis can only be solved if we radically reduce the amount of meat (and eggs and milk and cheese) we eat,” writes McBride, who calls the book philosophical and personal: in the book, Foer devotes many pages to his own hypocrisy around food. Foer responds with, “it’s not being hard on myself to be honest. We’re so used to measuring our distance from this unattainable ethical perfection. Which is unnecessary and often precludes action more than it inspires it. We need to applaud each other for making efforts.” Foer makes the point that, “if you were to ask me in 10 years if half of Americans or Canadians would be vegetation, I would say it’s extremely unlikely. But if you were to ask me in two years would half of the meals eaten in America and Canada be vegetarian, I could really see that happening. It’s the same outcome, with regards to the environment, with regards to animals, but one is based on identities and one is based on actions.”

Foer agreed with ecologist Bill McKibben when he argued that we can’t solve our problems one consumer at a time; we have to do it as societies or civilizations. “But,” said Foer, “the changes that we make in our lives, when they’re accumulated, have a known and significant impact on the climate…they have a known and significant impact on culture and on legislators.”

“It’s not that individual change wouldn’t be enough, it’s that individuals can’t [won’t] change.”

“I think one of the big problems with climate change now … is how the story is told, and how the conversation is had. For years, we were battling ignorance or misinformation. Now, people know. It’s not a significant number of people who deny the science of climate change. It’s a question of connecting the dots, emotionally, primitively even. So that what we know and what we care about is converted into action.”

What will you give up for something you love?

Nina Munteanu walks Emily Tract Park, ON (photo by Merridy Cox)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

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