The Current

Why this author made a personal, 4-point plan to fight climate change (and you can too)

Author Jonathan Safran Foer has written a new book about how the food we eat could be a part of the fight against climate change.

We need to live more moderately to secure planet for the future, Jonathan Safran Foer says

Jonathan Safran Foer's new book looks at how individuals can help in the fight against climate change, starting with their own diet. (Hamish Hamilton)

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Originally published on Oct. 4, 2019.

Jonathan Safran Foer said he was signing copies of his new book about climate change when a young couple presented him with a title page covered in handwriting.

"What's this?" he asked the couple who had attended a reading of his new book We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast.

"And they said: 'We're getting married in two months, and we decided tonight that we really need to have a plan. Because if we don't have a plan for how we're going to live our lives — in a way that's sensitive to, conscious of what's happening in this planetary crisis — we'll probably just do what we've always done before.'" 

The plan inked on the page was to "eat vegetarian unless served meat at a friend's house, eat vegan two days a week, have no more than two kids and drive no more than a thousand miles in the year," Safran Foer told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch. 

"Then instead of having me just sign [the book], they'd written a line that said 'Witness.'"

The author said he found the experience both touching and charming, but also "really shaming."

Despite having written an entire book about how individuals can join the fight against climate change, he realized he didn't have a plan like theirs.

"It really shook me. It upset me and it reminded me that this is a process, not an event, and that there's so much to learn and so many new steps to take." 

A recent report from the United Nations suggests reducing the amount of animal products we eat could have a significant impact on the environment. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

'Individual impacts aren't really individual'

Safran Foer set up his own plan: Eat vegan for breakfast and lunch, vegetarian for dinner; don't fly for vacations in 2020; limit cab rides to three a week; and volunteer one day a week with a program that raises climate awareness.

"I think even more powerful, or as powerful, as writing a plan is sharing it with people, and talking about it and having witnesses," he said.

It can also be a way to skip a daily debate, and "relieve some of the pressure of having to choose every time, and just make it a norm."

He knows he won't live up to it every day, but he said he "would rather fall short than do nothing at all."

His new book focuses on eating animal products as one of the main drivers of climate change. In August, a United Nations report stated that agriculture, forestry and other land use activities accounted for 23 per cent of total net manmade greenhouse gas emissions during 2007-2016. When pre- and post-production activity in the food system are included, that rises to up to 37 per cent.   

One of the problems of climate change is … it's a war that we're fighting against ourselves.- Jonathan Safran Foer


"A lot of our individual impacts aren't really individual, because we eat in communities, in families and local communities," he said.

"We eat as countries, we eat as Earthlings, and the choices that we make influence each other, and influence the system, influence corporations and influence, hopefully, legislation."

Safran Foer told Lynch that we don't all have to become vegans tomorrow, or stop flying, stop driving, or stop having kids.

"It just means we need to do those things with a lot more moderation than we've been used to," he said.

He understands that it's difficult to cut back on things we love, but said "one of the problems of climate change is … it's a war that we're fighting against ourselves." 

"Nobody else is going to destroy the planet except for us, and nobody else is going to save the planet except for us." 

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from Reuters. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.