By Aya Burton ‘22
On Thursday Sept. 26, best-selling author Jonathon Safran Foer joined science reporter Jacob Margolis at Scripps Presents for a conversation about Foer’s latest book, We Are the Weather. Though renowned for his novels, Foer’s more recent nonfiction works deal intimately with the role we as humans play in global warming, starting with the food we consume each day.
Settling into his seat on stage at Garrison Theater, Foer spoke with Margolis about the extremes he experiences as a writer between privacy and publicity. He observed that especially with his nonfiction works, talking brings the content to life in a way that is long overdue for many audiences. Even at Scripps, among an audience composed primarily of liberal college undergraduates, when Foer asked for a show of hands only four individuals had a comprehensive plan of attack for combating climate change in their everyday lives.
For Foer, We Are the Weather emerged as a means for him to engage with the climate crisis and to share that struggle with others. “Writing is the best way for me to take something seriously,” he said to Margolis when asked why he felt the need to take on climate change. He describes his book as developing from a culmination of too many “enough” moments: moments when he could no longer tolerate being a person who does nothing despite being wholly aware of the damage we are inflicting on the planet.
In a brief excerpt read from his book, Foer spoke about how we constantly distance ourselves from the effects of climate change, making them appear abstract and isolated even when they are personal and present. Global warming, Foer urged, demands conscious and deliberate action, not simply sympathetic emotion. As college students, there often seems to exist a chasm between emotion and power, between what we feel and what we can actually change. Foer argues that we can in fact make an impact by closing the gap between our awareness and our lifestyle. By doing what we know we need to do, we can find some emotional relief as human beings on this warming earth.
What do we need to do? Foer emphasizes the importance of specificity when changing one’s habits to make them more ecologically sound. How many times a year will you allow yourself to fly on a plane? How many times a month will you Lyft or Uber; at how many meals per week will you consume animal products? This last question is the one Foer dwells on in his book and for much of the evening. Science has proven that eating dramatically less meat and dairy comprises a profound part of the solution to climate change. We Are the Weather advocates for a plant-based diet in which no animal products are consumed at breakfast and lunch.
This shouldn’t be too difficult as Claremont students with access to five dining halls offering diverse vegan and vegetarian fare. Foer believes this “uninvention” of food mostly just means eating as our grandparents did. All it takes is a series of behavioral changes that can be made easier once one realizes they make a choice every time they raise a fork to their mouth. Foer suggests we take “five seconds of pause” when making dietary decisions. In doing so, he claims we will also gain a better understanding of our values and ourselves.
Foer’s words likely resonated with many students as they left the auditorium. How might we become not only more mindful but more active, engaged citizens of this planet? Maybe it begins with choosing scrambled tofu over an omelet at brunch (in response to a question from the audience, Foer noted that eggs are terrible for the environment and especially for animals), or swapping out whole milk for a plant-based alternative when ordering a drink at the Motley. From a raise of hands, the entire audience filling Garrison on Thursday believed that individual action can make a difference when it comes to combating climate change. We have to be productive, proactive, and persistent in these individual decisions – starting now.
10/10, Volume XXIX, Issue 2