A COLLECTION of her most powerful essays and speeches from 2009 to 2019, Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire, archives a decade of potential turning-points in our ecological crisis, none of which we took advantage of. Beginning with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, she maps out a heart-rending timeline: the threat of geoengineering, the publication of Laudato Si’, the refugee crisis, Trump’s election, and the lasting damage of Hurricane Maria in 2017, whose impacts are still felt long after the world has moved on.
Uncompromising in its grim appraisal of our Western political context, the book was challenging to read in one sitting. I would not recommend that anyone try to get to grips with it over their Christmas holiday.
To those who have read Klein’s previous book This Changes Everything, some of the material will be familiar. The introduction (on the youth climate strikes) and the final few chapters (a case for the Green New Deal), however, make welcome new additions to the republished essays, bookending a bleak ten years with signs of hope on the horizon.
There are moments when Klein strays unhelpfully out of her lane, most noticeably, for me, in her treatment of Christianity. The chapter on her speech at the Vatican in 2015 casually suggests, for example, that St Augustine’s “skepticism of things bodily and material” is partly to blame for previous Christian failings towards the rest of the living world, and she says that viewing the earth as being more than just a gift to humans offers a “fundamental challenge” to the Bible: exegesis is not her strong point.
She does, however, offer a compelling reading of conversion experiences in shaping a faith-based response to climate breakdown: “people of faith, particularly missionary faiths, believe deeply in something that lots of secular people aren’t so sure about: that all human beings are capable of profound change.”
Will this book convert its readers to the gospel of the Green New Deal? This review is probably a case of preaching to the choir. But Klein’s passion and expertise make a compelling case for the possibility — and even necessity — of wholesale political and economic reform.
Hannah Malcolm is an ordinand at Cranmer Hall, Durham, a Ph.D. student. She won the 2019 Theology Slam competition.
On Fire: The burning case for a green new deal
Allen Lane £20
Church Times Bookshop £18