First, a warning: this is a life-changing book and will alter your relationship to food for ever. I can’t imagine anyone reading Safran Foer’s lucid, heartfelt, deeply compassionate prose and then reaching blithely for a cheeseburger. There’s some dispute as to precisely what proportion of global heating is directly related to the rearing of animals for food, but even the lowest estimates put it on a par with the entire global transportation industry. A well-evidenced 2009 report by the Worldwatch Institute claimed that livestock-related emissions accounted for 51% of all greenhouse gases, “more than all cars, planes, buildings, industry and power plants combined”. Whichever the case, Safran Foer’s thesis is clear and compelling: by making “a collective act to eat differently” (he suggests “no animal products before dinner”) we can turn the tide of the climate crisis.
In We Are the Weather the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer takes a more thoughtful (albeit anguished) route. In chapter after self-flagellating chapter he asks: “Why aren’t we doing anything?” Foer talks to himself, he digs into history, he composes a letter to his sons, he stares at the charts, he even writes something that looks like a prose poem and still he finds: “The truth is I don’t care about the planetary crisis — not at the level of belief.”
Like any good climate polemicist, Foer reports some terrifying predictions. Even if we stick to the Paris climate accord (according to recent estimates we have a 5 per cent chance of doing so) and limit warming to 2C, sea levels will rise by 1.6ft, flooding coastlines across the globe. “Dhaka (population 18 million), Karachi (15 million), New York (8.5 million) and dozens of other metropolises will be effectively uninhabitable.” Ninety-nine per cent of coral reefs will be irreparably damaged.