On Fire by Naomi Klein, review

Facing the world climate crisis, social activist Naomi Klein’s ‘On Fire’ builds a case for a new world order under the Green New Deal.

Imagine living in a world with abundant clean energy, jobs, and resources for everyone, instead of destructive weather and fossil fuel and mineral extraction. Imagine living in a world offering dignity, liberty, and justice no matter your race, gender, class, religion, abilities or birthplace.

In her new book, “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for the New Deal, Klein explains how the Green New Deal (GND) could do both. Making the connection between the exploitation of nature and humans is an opportunity to solve many challenges at once. Climate scientists now urge replacing failed, obsolete economic policies that waste and pollute our natural resources. Current policies harm human lives in many ways, from creating wage stagnation, which leads to gaping inequalities, to crumbling government services. Green New Deal policy changes, however, will likely add momentum to a surging right-wing backlash.

What exactly is this Green New Deal? In “On Fire,” Klein explains a vision for social and economic transformation to reduce carbon emissions, pollution, and waste of resources while converting to clean energy. This would create more meaningful, well-paying, low-carbon jobs.  This would meet more of our basic needs, including education, health, homes, and transit. By changing how we live, grow our food, work and move around, we could improve our quality of life and reduce waste.

How could we win this GND? In her chapter, “When Science Says that Political Revolution is Our Only Hope,” Klein reveals that our current economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability, prioritizing gross domestic products (GDP) growth above all else. It disregards human or ecological consequences. Many scientists have been moved by their research to advocate action, lead marches and even get arrested for resisting pipelines, coal mines, and fossil fuel investments.

In a sample commencement speech, Klein exhorted new college graduates to “Stop trying to save the world all by yourself,” warning that no single career or lifestyle choice would suffice. We can only meet this tremendous challenge together as part of massive local and global multi-issue, multi-generational and multi-identity movements.

As in prior books, Klein writes with the clear, concise style of a professional journalist. She adds her personal stories, such as meeting with Pope Francis, Swedish global-warming activist Greta Thunberg and other world leaders; she shares a story of her own family suffering through a summer of sunshine lost to wildfire smoke. For those who critique the limited specifics of the GND, she would reply that the precise details will be up to each sector, institution, city, state, and nation.

One can hope future books will elaborate on how to pay for the GND transition. Klein briefly mentions reducing military spending. As the largest part of the U.S. discretionary budget, redefining national security to reallocate funds from “weapons to windmills” would yield trillions while also reducing the carbon footprint of war and weapons.