How to be a Student During the Climate Crisis
According to a recent poll, the majority of American teenagers feel afraid about climate change, angry at those who created the problem and refuse to solve it, and motivated to act. Millions have skipped school to participate in marches for climate justice. Such displays have been aimed to move world leaders closer to the structural reforms that are necessary to save the planet, but given our leaders, and the slowness of political change, those reforms are unlikely to come soon enough. There are other, more powerful ways, for students to transform their complex mix of emotions into action, and they begin at the cafeteria. Personal, humorous, and provocative, this speech will inspire students to think about climate change in new and empowering ways.
Is Climate Change a Jewish Issue?
Sharing personal stories about his own Jewish upbringing, as well as the role of his Holocaust survivor grandmother in his thinking about personal responsibility, Foer questions what role Jews should play in this moment of climate crisis. Do Jewish texts and traditions suggest a special obligation to act? Does recent Jewish history offer any perspective on the need to do something about global warming? To what extent is climate change a “Jewish issue,” and what are some specific ways Jews can lead the struggle to save the planet, as individuals and as a community?
Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast
Lauded by such chefs as Samin Nosrat, Yotam Ottolenghi and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jonathan Safran Foer’s We Are the Weather addresses the surprising relationship between food and climate. How can people who love food—not only the tastes, but the social functions—change in response to what we know about the effects of animal products on the environment? We do not simply feed our bellies, and we do not simply modify our appetites in response to principles. We eat to satisfy primitive cravings, forge and express identities, realize community, and manage the muddle of being human. We eat with our mouths and stomachs, but also with our minds and hearts. Foer shares the most contemporary science about the relationship between food and global warming, and contemplates ways of responding to what we know about climate change, while maintaining what we love about food.
The Difference Between Knowing and Believing
In 1942, a twenty-eight-year-old Catholic in the Polish underground, Jan Karski, embarked on a mission to travel from Nazi-occupied Poland to London, and ultimately America, to inform world leaders of what the Germans were perpetrating. In preparation for his journey, he met with several resistance groups, accumulating information and testimonies to bring to the West.
After surviving as perilous a voyage as could be imagined, Karski arrived in Washington, D.C., in June 1943. There, he met with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, one of the great legal minds in American history, and himself a Jew. After hearing Karski’s accounts of the clearing of the Warsaw Ghetto and of exterminations in the concentration camps, after asking him a series of increasingly specific questions (“What is the height of the wall that separates the ghetto from the rest of the city?”), Frankfurter paced the room in silence, then took his seat and said, “Mr. Karski, a man like me talking to a man like you must be totally frank. So I must say I am unable to believe what you told me.” When Karski’s colleague pleaded with Frankfurter to accept Karski’s account, Frankfurter responded, “I didn’t say that this young man is lying. I said I am unable to believe him. My mind, my heart, they are made in such a way that I cannot accept it.”
Frankfurter didn’t question the truthfulness of Karski’s story. He didn’t dispute that the Germans were systematically murdering the Jews of Europe—his own relatives. And he didn’t respond that while he was persuaded and horrified, there was nothing he could do. Rather, he admitted not only his inability to believe the truth, but his awareness of that inability.
So-called climate change deniers reject the conclusion that 97 percent of climate scientists have reached: the planet is warming because of human activities. But what about those of us who say we accept the reality of human-caused climate change? We may not think the scientists are lying, but are we able to believe what they tell us? Such a belief would surely awaken us to the urgent ethical imperative attached to it, shake our collective conscience, and render us willing to make small sacrifices in the present to avoid cataclysmic ones in the future.
If we accept a factual reality (that we are destroying the planet), but are unable to believe it, we are no better than those who deny the existence of human-caused climate change. And when the future distinguishes between these two kinds of denial, which will appear to be a grave error and which an unforgivable crime?
Personal, humorous, and provocative, this speech will inspire new ways of thinking about how difficult it can be to act on what we know.
NEW REALITIES: RACE, SOCIAL JUSTICE & COMMUNITY
These HWA Speakers are using their voice to highlight how we can come together as a community to make a difference, and how impacts of the coronavirus are inextricably linked to race, socioeconomics, and politics.
Jonathan Safran Foer in the news
To stay current with the latest developments and thought from Jonathan Safran Foer, view his latest media appearances here:
Jonathan Safran Foer's book We Are The Weather is the call to action we need
New York Times bestselling and award-winning author JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER's We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, is the unifying-- and achievable-- call to action we need in these polarizing times. Foer has already been sought-out to speak about the book at the United Nations Development Programme's 2019 Social Good Summit-- which tackles the top issues of our time-- making this a fantastic opportunity to bring a timely message to your next event. We Are the Weather explores the central global dilemma of our time-- climate change-- in a surprising, deeply personal, and urgent new way. Foer reveals how the task of saving the planet will involve a great reckoning with ourselves, and that only through collective action will we save our home and way of life. We Are the Weather has already been listed in The Times' Best New Books for Autumn 2019, and has made headlines in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Eater, WNYC, The New Republic, and more.
Drawing from history, science, religion, personal stories, and more, Foer shines light on the human condition and society at large, revealing how to broach difficult conversations with people whose opinions differ from our own; how small, quotidian decisions really can make a difference; and how to actually take action, do something, and change the world. A message sorely needed in today's divisive and often overwhelming times, Foer's words unite and provide some much-needed direction on what we can all do to make a difference.
Having spoken everywhere from Google to the New Yorker Festival, Foer's rave reviews touch on his captivating passion as a speaker:
Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of two bestselling, award-winning novels, Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and a bestselling work of nonfiction, Eating Animals. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.