Collections of previously published essays and speeches can be a mixed bag, but the sixteen pieces—plus a substantial, new introduction, itself worth the price of the book, and an epilogue detailing the Green New Deal—in Naomi Klein’s blistering On Fire (Simon & Schuster, $27) form not only a coherent picture of the state of the Earth, but, looking back over the last decade of climate change events, constitute an invaluable timeline of the increasing evidence of a climate crisis, our growing awareness of the need to act—and the failure of leaders to take the necessary steps. Written with her signature passion and eloquence, this book is vintage Klein. In reports from 2010’s BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the 2017 wildfires in British Columbia, and the long aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, she demonstrates how the “exploitation of individual workers” and “the decimation of individual mountains and rivers“ are both based on an “indifference to life” that has brought the planet itself to its knees. At the same time, though several World Climate Conferences have failed to curb carbon emissions, more people have organized to demand action. Klein finds hope in groups such as Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement, and, most of all, Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Octavio-Cortez.
“It is … tragically difficult to talk about the planetary crisis in a way that is believed,” Jonathan Safran Foer states in We Are the Weather (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25). His own effort ranges from a blunt catalog of statistics to a debate with his soul and a recontextualizing of the crisis as a post-Biblical event in which “we are the fl ood and we are the ark.” His most powerful move is to compare the climate crisis to World War II, when civilians at home hung blackout curtains, ate less meat, and drove slower, all for the common good. But they also failed to act on the first reports of the Holocaust, finding it too awful to be believed. Similarly, today we watch glaciers melting yet don’t really believe it’s a crisis. What will it take to get us to act? Foer makes a compelling case for diet as the place to start. Because animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation and contributes an outsize amount to greenhouse gas emissions, if every American cut back on meat by 90% and dairy by 60%, we could begin to get things under control. Foer, a repeatedly lapsing vegan, admits how difficult this is. He also reminds us that it’s one of the easier of the many sacrifices we will have to make—soon.
To jolt people out of their complacency about climate change, David Wallace-Wells gathered the data on twelve key elements of today’s ever-more unstable world. Delivered in one concentrated punch, the statistics on the global rise in heat, ferocity and frequency of storms, droughts, famines, ocean acidifi cation, and political unrest are truly shocking. Add to these the cascade effect of their unpredictable interactions—more carbon in the soil fosters larger plants with fewer nutrients, which sharpens competition for dwindling protein sources, leading to more social unrest, climate refugees, and so on—and Wallace-Wells presents a truly horrifying picture of a world that is hurtling toward apocalypse. Yet despite calling this book The Uninhabitable Earth (Tim Duggan, $27), Wallace-Wells believes that even by the end of the century—about as far as we can bear to look at this point—only one third of Earth will actually be uninhabitable. We still have time to change. But will we? Human behavior is the greatest of the many unknowns that lie ahead, and, without laying out particular policies, Wallace-Wells offers a profound reflection on what it will mean for us to live—for the first time ever—outside “the narrow window of environmental conditions that allowed the human to evolve” and, most crucially, that enabled us to create a civilization based on fossil-fuels.