by Naomi Klein
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
On Fire is certainly a book in compliance with Laudato Si which focuses on the fact that there is an “urgent challenge to protect our common home … to bring the whole human family together to seek sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” Laudato Si (p.13). Thus introduces Pope Francis’s plea of Laudato Si, a text of such landmark significance that it may well become one of the most important sources of Catholic Social Teaching since its inception with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891. Both the title of the encyclical (“On Care for Our Common Home”) and its opening quote from St. Francis’s Canticle establish the focus of this text. It’s all about relationships. In the introductory section, Francis, following his thirteenth-century namesake, calls the earth our “common home”, which is like our sister and our mother. But we are damaging this familial relationship as we harm the environment. In so doing, we are damaging our relationship with other humans, particularly those least equipped to defend themselves: the poor and future generations. We are forgetting our interconnectedness with the earth and with those around and ahead of us who depend on our good stewardship of the gift of creation. Given the universal nature of our common home, Francis makes it clear that the encyclical is addressed to not only members of the Church but is a vehicle to “enter into dialogue” with all people who are “united by the same concern” Laudato Si (3.7) For young people who participated in the first-ever global School Strike for Climate, learning has become a radicalizing act. In early readers, textbooks and big-budget documentary films they learned of the existence of ancient glaciers, dazzling coral reefs, and exotic mammals that make up our planet’s many marvels. And then almost simultaneously – from teachers, older siblings or sequels to those films—they discovered that much of this wonder has already disappeared, and much of the rest of it will be on the extinction block before they hit their thirties. This book captures the life of Greta Thunberg whose story has important lessons about what it will take to protect the possibility of a livable fortune—and not for some abstract idea of “future generations” but for billions of people alive today. She read and made herself aware of all that was happening. Greta also learned from climate scientist that the worse of this was not a foregone conclusion that if we took radical action now, reducing emissions by 15% a year in wealthy countries like Sweden, then it would dramatically increase the chance of a safe future for her generation and the ones that followed. She became overwhelmed by the lack of compliance with most of the planet and fell ill. She tried to find a way to show the rest of the world that it was time to stop acting like everything was normal when normal would lead straight to catastrophe. She realized the trouble the planet was in and decided not to go to school in 2018 as what was the use of learning things that they never could put to use as the planet wouldn’t be there. She went to Davos in Sweden for the World Economic Summit to tell her story. The rest of the story is gripping and needs to be read by everyone who is on this planet.
The author Naomi Klein states that “we fight for a future in which everyone belongs, starting with those being most battered by injustice and exclusion today, or we will keep losing. And there is no time for that. Moreover, when we make these connections among issues (climate, capitalism, colonialism, white supremacy, and misogyny) there is a kind of relief. Because it is connected, all part of the same story.” The author goes on to say that we can expect a massive rollout of job-creating green infrastructure and land rehabilitation projects to have a similar effect today. Some people will still be convinced that climate change is a hoax – bit if it’s a hoax that creates good jobs and detoxifies the environment, especially in regions which the only other economic development on offer is a supermax prison. The Pope and Klein are serious about climate change and know that it needs to be paid attention to immediately as Greta has.