We Are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer [Book Summary]

The majority of us agree that climate change is real. We all have seen the news reports and read the disturbing headlines. We are aware that there are panic discussions and that there is no time on our side. However, how serious is it actually, and what do we have to do about it? 

Somehow, we know both a lot and too little. We’re overwhelmed with truths; however, we don’t have a clear idea of what they signify for our lives. Therefore, it makes it hard to act at all. 

In this book summary, you will understand why the story of climate change is really hard to understand and why we’re offered that kind of opposing information about how to solve it. You’ll understand about a key cause of pollution – industrial animal farming – which has not yet gotten the focus it needs in environmental debates. Finally, you will know about the effective and feasible approaches for combating climate change, one veggie burger at a time. 

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Chapter 1 – Climate change is not an exciting or plausible story; therefore people aren’t moved to combat it. 

If you consider key political movements such as the civil rights movement or the fight to put a stop to apartheid in South Africa, your attention will key onto an unforgettable story. Such as Rosa Parks declining to seat at the back of the bus. Or Nelson Mandela getting out of jail after 27 years and immediately forgiving his oppressors. These stories contain heroes, and villains. Also, they possess a clear timeline: we can tell when the fight began and when the war was won. 

The story of the fight against climate change doesn’t have that kind of clearness. The reason is that the effects are experienced worldwide in really numerous different kinds of ways. They said that a hurricane in New York or the immersion of an island in the Pacific is entirely associated with this thing known as climate change; however, exactly how and why they’re related is still unclear. 

Because the story of climate change is really unclear and complicated, it makes it hard for people to get involved. Researchers from the Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics at Yale University discovered that when people were competent to properly imagine the victim of a disaster, they were more likely to empathize and contribute money for them. Millions are affected by climate change and an additional of hundreds of millions of people will be affected in the nearest future. This entails that there is no certain victim that people can empathize with. Consequently, it becomes more difficult to feel emotionally devoted to the story. 

The thought of hundreds of millions of people being affected by climate change is not just abstract; however, it’s also frightening. These types of statistics and estimations make climate change feel almost too huge and awful to be real. 

Our failure to understand climate change is related to people’s reactions to the Holocaust during World War II. Few had ever faced a condition of this specific scale and dread before. That signified that even when they heard about the eye-witness stories attesting that Jewish people were being killed in extermination camps, they found it hard to believe the story.

Although the story of climate change is unclear and alienating, we need to look for methods to engage with it – rationally if not emotionally. This is a story we can’t choose to disregard.

Chapter 2 – We’re not made to react to abstract danger such as climate change.

Visualize your kid is playing on a climbing frame. They bend out really far and appear as if they’re close to falling off a two-meter ledge. What will you do? Probabilities are you will run with a speed you didn’t know you had towards the climbing frame! Now visualize that someone says to you that something known as climate change could affect your child’s life to an unthinkable degree sometime in the future. What will you do? Probabilities are, you won’t really do anything at all. 

Humans have developed over millions of years to be able to tackle with dangers to their survival. We’re made to tackle dangers that we can see, although, just like children falling off climbing frames. We’re not wired to react to abstract things that will affect us later in the future, like climate change.

As a matter of fact, experiments have demonstrated that humans are worse at even imagining what the future might seem like. In a study that was conducted by Hal Hershfield a UCLA psychologist, participants were told to visualize their lives ten years into the future. fMRI scans displayed that when they were discussing their future selves, their brain activity was exactly as if they were speaking about strangers. 

For us to react to climate change, we have to possess the skill to plan our minds into the future and handle what will occur on Earth if the damage of the planet stays at thIS present rate. That is a thing that we’re not wired to do. 

Even more challengingly, we aren’t that good at recalling what happened in the past. Some of the human structure is to be really adaptive to change, a lot so that we frequently don’t know that things are changing. Therefore, we just admit that Europe has really “hottest ever” heat waves all summer, and we get accustomed to the fact that hurricanes are attacking coastal cities with shocking frequency. 

Being really adaptive and reacting to direct dangers has enabled us to live well on Earth for thousands of years. But, to tackle climate change we have to grow different kinds of skills.

Chapter 3 – We’re provided with confusing, deceptive data on how to stop climate change. 

Even though you’re really interested to fight toward stopping climate change, it’s difficult to determine where to start. It is not helpful that lots of the data we’re provided with are wrong or inadequate.  

Let’s start with the wrong data. There is proof that key oil and gas companies, like Exxon, already understood the risks of global warming in the 1950s, a remarkable 70 years ago. But, the industry reacted to this understanding by making a disinformation campaign and publishing incorrect explanations that reduced the dangers. 

In reply to that, contemporary environmental campaigns have concentrated almost completely on the risks of fossil fuels and how drilling for oil is damaging our environment and adding to climate change. It’s accurate that fossil fuels are a key environmental risk; however concentrating on this almost completely is deceptive as well, as it offers an inadequate picture of what’s actually happening.

Agriculture causes 24% of dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, nearly as high as fossil fuels, which causes 25 percent. The majority of these agricultural emissions are caused by industrial animal farming, which provides the current world’s great demand for meat. But, environmentalists have focused really a bit on this issue in their conversations about the climate crisis. For instance, the popular documentary An Inconvenient Truth by former US Vice Presidential candidate Al Gore totally disregards it.

Why is that so? Recommending that people eat less meat is really controversial that activists such as Al Gore are scared of talking about it since it will totally alienate people from the environmental movement. Therefore, they decided not to talk about it. 

But, mentioning climate change without talking of meat signifies that people don’t understand one of the simplest and most essential actions they can take to fight the matter. 

Additionally, we’re motivated to participate in activities that take time; however, they have small positive effects on reducing climate change. For instance, we’re told that making use of hybrid cars, recycling, planting trees and eating organic food will support the environment. These actions truly have a lower effect on the environment than reducing our consumption of animal products. 

Therefore, how do we know what to do with all these opposing data? We have to look critically at the recommendation we get and ensure that the actions we use will have an effect rather than only making us feel like we’re helping.

Chapter 4 – Combating climate change will need both the “top-down” and “bottom-up” activism. 

What can we as people probably do in order to combat climate change? Challenged with that type of mammoth enemies as Big Oil, it can seem as if anything we do will be futile. What can we realize by swaying a sign during a protest march? 

It’s reasonable why people experience these uncertainties. Nevertheless, it’s now common to mention that people cannot fight climate change since it is the firms that are accountable for the majority of the pollution that is causing it. But, that is a naïve method of viewing it. Firms also consist of individuals as well. Also, we as people support firms and the manner that they pollute when we purchase their products.

Luckily, individual measures can also assist to change the manner that firms act. For instance, so as to get Google to challenge sexual abuse claims in the company, roughly 20,000 employees took part in strike actions all across the world. A week after, Google gave up and approved to the protesters’ demands. Other companies, like Facebook, Airbnb, and eBay, immediately followed the lead of Google and reformed their policies as well. In these cases, “grassroots” protest action was sufficient to influence the actions of huge firms.

Definitely, grassroots protest is not sufficient enough to challenge really serious issues like climate change. It has to be joined with “top-down” policy changes such as the implementation of a carbon tax and the provision of funds from the government for research on global warming. 

These actions are not mutually exclusive. For instance, we can see the example of another societal problem that appeared totally unstoppable only a century ago: polio. In 1938, US President Franklin Roosevelt decided to fix the issue by giving a lot of funding for research. With that funding he provided, Jonas Salk the brilliant scientist was able to create a vaccine. 

But, before the vaccine could be applied on a national scale, it required to be first tested. In one of the biggest ever medical trials, two million people offered to test the vaccine. All thanks to this sample, they found that it was safe and effective. With this combined effort of structural support and the collective action of millions of volunteers, polio has been nearly totally eradicated. 

Combating climate change will need precisely this type of “bottom-up” and “top-down” activism, working together.

Chapter 5 – One of the main sources of climate change is Industrial animal farming.  

When we think of farms we regularly think of cows playing in green pastures. We don’t normally consider them as being a cause of pollution. Therefore, it may be surprising to find out that the animal farming industry is one of the key causes of detrimental greenhouse gases released into the air.  

In the 1960s, since the beginning of what is called “factory farming”, a lot of animals have been packed on huge plots of land, with terrible effects on the environment.  

For instance, farming livestock in large quantities causes deforestation: For them to clear land in order to grow animal feed and for animals to feed on, large areas of forest are burnt down in the process. 

Trees are made up of 50% carbon, that is when they are burnt they produced large quantities of carbon dioxide. Surprisingly, this consists of 15% of the entire carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, the exact one that is produced by the entire cars and trucks in the world! Even worse, forests are then not able to absorb the carbon dioxide that is released anymore, since a lot of trees have been cut down.

Also, animal farming is the cause of severally high releases of some of the gases which are really bad the environment. Livestock release methane when they are digesting food and that methane is released to the environment through belches, flatulence, and waste. Also, Nitrous oxide is released from the animals’ urine and manure.

Methane has 34 times the “global warming potential” (GWP) of carbon dioxide since it has a greater potential to trap heat while Nitrous oxide traps 310 times more heat in the atmosphere. Since the 1960s, when industrial farming became famous, to the late 1990s, the quantity of nitrous oxide and methane released in the atmosphere grew more than it had been in the former 2,000 years. 

As it’s obvious in the numbers, there’s no how we can fight the climate crisis without altering our dependence on animals as food. However, how can we change something as important as the way we consume food? We’ll see the solution to that question in the following chapter.

Chapter 6 – The best method to save the earth is to stop consuming animal products for breakfast and lunch.

The data on the environmental effect of animal farming is really disturbing. But, on a positive side, they indicate a possible method that we actually can slow the progress of climate change: less meat and lesser animal products such as milk or eggs.

This is one of the fastest techniques to deal with climate change. It is also important to stop our dependence on fossil fuels; however, that is not something we can do immediately. Even if the entire nations in the world held a summit tomorrow and unbelievably accept to leave fossil fuels, it would still need over 20 years to adapt to using other energy sources. 

But, we can instantly limit the amount of meat and dairy we consume. We already have healthy and delicious substitutes for meat products on all supermarket shelves. The choice can be as easy as replacing a beef burger patty for one that is made of tofu.

Experts have debated that it’s unfair to believe that everybody has the money to eat a moderately vegan diet since vegan foods can be really expensive than meat. But, if you look at the bigger picture, it is obvious that consuming animals is, as a matter of fact, a luxury that only a few can afford.

Animal agriculture needs seven hundred million tons of grain per year, which is over sufficient to feed all the people on the planet. Also, a third of all the drinkable water in the world is used in farming. With the fact that millions of people are actually starving and don’t have access to clean water, this is a shocking waste of inadequate resources. It would be much less unfair to prioritize the farming methods that feed the majority of people. 

Therefore, if eating meat is really terrible, why stop at breakfast and lunch? Why don’t we just remove it from our diets completely and change to vegetarians?

Well, it’s undeniable that meat is important in the diet of the majority of the people. It’s a deep-rooted practice with a lot of cultural meaning. Making room for people to keep eating meat for dinner might make it simple for them to retain the habit of eating lesser meat in general than attempting to remove it completely would.  

More essentially, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future have demonstrated that people who stop consuming meat and animal products at breakfast and lunch really have a smaller carbon footprint than people leading the typical vegetarian diet, which contains environmentally harmful animal products like milk, cheese, and eggs.

Chapter 7 – It’s really late already to stop the catastrophe caused by climate change – however, that doesn’t signify that we should give up.

Planet Earth looks endlessly plentiful; however, as a matter of fact, it has limited resources that are being used up fastly. Basically, we are running up a huge debt to the Earth that we can’t probably payback.  

Since the 1980s, we have been using up natural resources at an amount that is very higher than the Earth can supply. Raiding the Earth of its resources, like its forests, has caused global warming as there are less left to take in the huge amounts of greenhouse gases we are producing. That is we are getting to a point known as “runaway climate change,” where positive feedback loops increase the harm we’ve already produced in manners that we can’t control.

For instance, since the polar sea ice is melting, greater parts of the dark sea are exposed. The ice is reflective, making the Earth cooler by reflecting sun rays back into space, while the dark sea takes in more heat. That is the more the ice melts, the hotter the Earth. And the hotter it gets, the more ice melts and continues like that in a vicious circle.

We are already experiencing the consequences of climate change in the form of disastrous hurricanes, heatwaves, and flooding. Our lives will transform more as the effects grow more extreme.

Confronted with that truth, it’s tempting to just give up, or dream of beginning a new life on Mars. But, the only moral choice we can do is to do everything within our power to combat climate change here on Earth.

We have a moral responsibility to upcoming generations who will be affected by the measures we take immediately which are permanent. Also, we have a responsibility to the poorest people on Earth who cause the smallest pollution; however they are the ones who will be extremely affected by the effects of climate change. 

What differentiates humans from animals is that we can make rational choices as a result of ethical thoughts, instead of just our feelings. We will be judged on the measures we take in the future.

We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer Book Review

Climate change is hard to comprehend. The causes are difficult and the consequences are really disturbing that at an emotional level, they appear unbelievable. We have to utilize our powers of reason, though, to embrace the situation and do all the things we can to stop it. One of the main causes of global warming is industrial animal farming. Also, one of the most effective approaches we as people can do is to stop eating meat and having dairy for breakfast and lunch. 

Be a realistic climate change activist. 

We regularly sense that we’ll need to change our lives in extreme manners so that we can make an actual change. The thought of being childless, riding 30 km to work daily on a bicycle and not eating steak again is adequate to weaken any would-be activist since it feels impossible. However, smaller actions can make a difference as well. Smaller actions like taking two flights less each year. Or car-pooling with your neighbor. Or removing the bacon and eggs from your breakfast bun. These are small, possible actions that will increasingly have a big outcome.  

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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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