We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast

We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast

by Jonathan Safran Foer

This is one of those books which deals with a divisive subject (climate change) and then creates yet more  discord amongst readers because of the author’s style and message.  Jonathan Safran Foer delves into the overarching global dilemma of the modern era in a highly personal way, underscored by a message of extreme urgency.   His theme is that the task of saving our planet involves a great reckoning with ourselves, with our typically selfish human reluctance to sacrifice immediate comfort for the sake of the future. The underlying issue is that we have turned our planet into a huge farm for growing animal products, with catastrophic consequences. Only collective action offers any hope for the future and it  starts with what we eat and don’t eat for breakfast.

Foer states early in his book that 97% of climate scientists have reached the conclusion that the planet is warming because of human activities. He argues that popular ‘green’ actions such as recycling, tree planting and humming around in electric cars simply aren’t enough to make the amount of change needed to reduce our overall human impact on the global climate.  The bottom line, he believes, is that animal agriculture is a major contributor to climate change and we can save the planet only if we significantly reduce our consumption of animal products.

The dichotomy between those who accept the science of climate change and those who don’t, according to the author, is trivial. The only dichotomy that really matters is between “those who act” and “those who don’t“. It follows that if animal agriculture is the major driving force in climate change then we must change our diets and our associated use of animal products.

The book offers a way of taking action effectively, i.e. eating differently. Specifically it advocates against consumption of animal products before dinner. The author is not encouraging complete elimination of dietary animal products, but maintains rather that  eating as close to vegan* as possible before dinner would have a high impact on reducing greenhouse gases caused by mass animal farming.

Foer explains why taking meaningful action to mitigate climate change is incredibly simple yet terribly difficult. He delves into the difference between understanding and believing, emphasising that only the latter can motivate meaningful action. Translated to dietary habits “we must either let some eating habits go or let the planet go”.


* abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet

Reviewed by Stan Hirst, 2019

3 comments

  1. Although we must reduce the consumption of animal products, I agree, the far more important issue at the moment is the reduction of the use of fossil fuels, especially in the developed world. It also is extremely difficult to do, but we must. Burning 1000 barrels of oil every second globally is what we have to cut back drastically.

    “Animal agriculture is responsible for 13–18% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions globally, and less in developed countries (e.g. 3% in the USA). Fossil fuel combustion for energy and transportation is responsible for approximately 64% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions globally and more in developed countries (e.g. 80% in the USA) ”
    https://skepticalscience.com/animal-agriculture-meat-global-warming.htm

  2. The narrative has changed lately. More and more we hear of stories where oil and gas are not the only (main) cause of climate change. We made no progress in the last 40 years trying to solve climate change while focusing on one enemy (fossil fuel). How are we expected to do anything if we now have to fight on multiple fronts? Divide to conquer!?!

    PS I do agree that we need to act on all factors affecting climate change and we need to do this now, but I am far from the norm…

  3. The food connection to climate change holds tremendous potential for both people and the environment. Our present-day food industry is definitely a big part of the problem, and the food produced this way is seriously nutrient defficient for human consumption. Yes, we all need to eat less meat and ideally it should be free-range grass fed; sustainably produced meat rather than present day CAFO sewage polluting chemically forced production. Free-range hooved animals aerate the grasslands as well as provide fertilizer in manageable amounts to the soil. Poultry helps with insect control.
    Vegetables/grains are also more sustainable when grown organically because they support the healthy microbes in healthy soil that restore nutrients to the soil from the post-harvest plant refuse. There are in existence organically good operations that work favourably and efficiently WITH nature as opposed to our present-day methods that are supposed to increase food production but
    1) destroy the soil with poisons and excess nitrogen that runs off to contaminate waterways, and
    2) produces a less nutritious product deficient in the omega 3 fats naturally present in free range animal saturated fats.
    Grains and legumes – unless organic – are contaminated with glyphosate residue which requires greater nutrition to the liver for elimination as well as potentially harming our gut microbes that harvest the nutrients from these plant foods. Larger harvests by present day methods compromise the air water and soil environments and produce voids that are less efficient to nourish.
    We could all eat less “junk” food and be better fed and healthier with less negative impact on the environment if “sustainable” food production became the norm. Coincidentally, these sustainable organic operations are far more productive per acre both financially and with product than today’s “conventional” industrial methods. There is also much less food waste.

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