On Fire – Book Review

We can thrive not just survive.

If you or someone you love is planning to live on Earth anytime in the future, you should read Naomi Klein’s On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

Without ever having read a review about it or at least glancing at the front flap of the book jacket, have you ever grabbed a book off of a bookstore shelf and then walked immediately to the checkout counter and bought it? I will only do this for a very few authors which include Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Yvon Chouinard.

That is how I obtained my copy of On Fire.

In just under 300 pages, you will receive a valuable history lesson about the climate crisis and a vision for what we can and need to do to keep Earth habitable for ourselves and those who come after us.

Book Review

Since I had read nothing about On Fire, I did not know what to expect other than it had to do with the climate crisis and the Green New Deal. Having read previous books by Klein I was prepared for a fast-paced, informative, and action provoking book. It is.

On Fire Book Cover

Readers before cracking open On Fire, I suggest you approach reading it with an open and inquisitive mindset. You may find some parts disturbing but you will likely feel uplifted by others.

On Fire consists of essays and public talks that Klein has written and presented over a ten year period from 2010 to 2019.

She covers a lot of ground from the Gulf of Mexico to the Vatican to the Great Barrier Reef. Wide-ranging topics include climate change, capitalism, science, culture, and the Green New Deal. Along the way, you will be exposed to terms like Anglosphere, othering, sacrifice zones, neoliberal economics, and geoengineering.

My copy of On Fire is sporting a bright pink and red ruffle along the page edges where sticky tabs are marking passages that I thought were important or worth reviewing again later. Here are a few examples.

For me, the paragraph below from the “Introduction” pretty much sums up our current situation.

“The past forty years of economic history have been a story of systematically weakening the power of the public sphere, unmaking regulatory bodies, lowering taxes for the wealthy, and selling off essential services to the private sector. All the while, union power has been dramatically eroded and the public has been trained in helplessness: no matter how big the problem, we have been told, it’s best to leave it to the market or billionaire philanthro-capitalists, to get out of the way, to stop trying to fix problems at their root.”

In the chapter entitled “The Leap Years,” Klein describes the Leap Manifesto, a sort of Canadian version of the Green New Deal that she helped write. Page 178 contains a very important message that every environmentalist should heed.

“One thing we were very conscious of when we drafted the Leap Manifesto is that emergencies are vulnerable to abuses of power, and progressives are not immune to this by any means. There is a long and painful history of environmentalists, whether implicitly or explicitly, sending the message that ‘Our cause is so big, and so urgent, and since it encompasses everyone and everything, it should take precedence over everything and everyone else.’ Between the lines: ‘First we’ll save the planet and then we will worry about poverty, police violence, gender discrimination, and racism.’

“The Art of the Green New Deal” chapter near the end of the book discusses the power of art and how it can help us envision the social and ecological transformation we can have if we have the courage to go for it.

The video below co-created by Klein beautifully embodies this idea.

The Bottom Line

When Naomi Klein published her first book about the climate crisis This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate in 2014, she was already an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. She is currently the Senior Correspondent for The Intercept and the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. Klein is the co-founder of the climate justice organization The Leap.

Many wonderful writers do not have the grasp of language that Klein does. Her writing is clear, understandable, and evocative. She tells it like it is and seems to purposefully say things in a way intended to rile you up, like poking a stick in a hornet’s nest. This is one of the things that make her such a powerful writer. We need people who are willing to say what is really going on and to spur us to action. Klein does that.

I recommend you read On Fire first and then give or loan a copy of the book to someone you know that has not come to grips with the fact that the climate crisis is already here and that we can do something about it.

Featured Image at Top: Sunrise Movement youth activists demanding a Green New Deal during a sit-in outside the office of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on November 12, 2018 – Photo courtesy of Sunrise Movement.

Related Posts

Horizon – Book Review

You are going on a journey.

Horizon by Barry Lopez will make you hit the pause button on your busy life to ponder what it means to be a human being living on amazing planet Earth.

I believe this is a good thing.

When you give yourself permission to step away from your overbooked calendar and endless to-do list, you give yourself a gift. You make space in your mind to wonder at the world, contemplate what and who is really important to you, and determine what you are willing to do to protect it and them.

That is what this book is about for me. You may find something else that resonates with you. I doubt anyone reading it will walk away untouched.

Book Review

Before you settle into a comfortable chair and crack open Horizon, you should be aware that you are about to become a time traveler. Proper clothing and a spirit of adventure are essential as you will be accompanying Lopez on excursions into the past at some of the most remote places on Earth.

Horizon is a memoir, travel diary, and a treatise on humanity. Bits of history and geography reside alongside commentary about the state of the world and the people who occupy it.

Even readers with a good grasp of vocabulary will probably find themselves looking up at least a few words.

At the beginning of Horizon, Lopez gives readers a brief overview of his personal history and explains why he wrote the book.

Then you will head off to the first of six destinations spanning the globe.

Horizon Book Cover
  • Cape Foulweather, Oregon
  • Skraeling Island, Canada
  • Puerto Ayora, Galápagos Islands, Eastern Equatorial Pacific
  • Jackal Camp, Kenya, Eastern Equatorial Africa
  • Port Arthur to Botany Bay, Australia
  • Graves Nunataks, Antarctica to Port Famine Road, Chile

Lopez uses these locations as backdrops for recounting his own explorations as well as those of famous and not famous people of the past and present. His descriptions of these places are breathtaking making you feel as if you are there. Underlying the geography, flora, fauna, weather, and history of these regions is a running commentary on humanity.

You will find awe and grief and hope among the pages of Horizon.

Lopez does not shy away from making eloquent yet blunt statements about the state of the world as he observes it. Some people may not want to read these words but for me, they speak the truth.

“I read daily about the many threats to human life—chemical, political, biological, and economic. Much of this trouble, I believe, has been caused by the determination of some to define a human cultural world apart from the nonhuman world, or by people’s attempts to overrun, streamline, or dismiss that world as simply a warehouse for materials, or mere scenery.”

He also embraces all of humanity and delivers messages that I believe are universal.

“It has long seemed to me that what most of us are looking for is the opportunity to express, without embarrassment or judgment or retaliation, our capacity to love.”

The Bottom Line

Barry Lopez is an adventurer, artist, and author. Judging by the opportunities he receives to visit far-flung places to work alongside archaeologists, biologists, and other scientists, he must know an inordinate number of people and be an adequate field researcher who possesses excellent camping skills.

He has traveled extensively around the globe sharing his observations of the non-human natural world as well as the people who inhabit it now, did in the past, or may in the future.

In the beginning, reading Horizon was kind of a chaotic experience. It seemed as if one minute Lopez was describing a patch of land on the Oregon Coast, then he would switch to talking about Captain James Cook’s attempt to land there hundreds of years ago, and the next moment he would be discussing the avariciousness of humans.

Then I realized that I liked this. It was as if I was accompanying Lopez on his travels and having a conversation (all be it one-sided) with him that went on for 512 pages.

I paused often to mark passages with sticky flags or to form my own response to something he had just said. Sometimes I would bring topics to the dinner table to discuss with my family so in a way they were on the journey, too.

All through the book, Lopez acknowledges that each person perceives places, people, and information in their own way. He throws his observations out there and then steps back allowing you to feel and think for yourself.

Horizon is worth the time it will take you to read it.

“We are the darkness, as we are, too, the light.”

Featured Image at Top: View of Cape Foulweather from the Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint on the Oregon coast – photo credit MightyFree/Wikipedia.

Related Posts