Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, tackles questions of power head on. Written in the lucid, urgent prose that characterizes much of Klein’s work, the book collects essays published over the last 10 years, a period Klein calls the 'lost decade,' when lawmakers missed a crucial opportunity to start decarbonizing the global economy. Klein’s thinking, admirably consistent, develops over this period in subtle but telling ways ... Klein’s sense of strategy sharpens ... There’s no question that Klein is a utopian thinker. But she’s also a realist. Among On Fire’s most valuable contributions is Klein’s effort to reclaim the language of 'realism' from the do-nothings — the political and business elites who, for years, have dismissed decarbonization proposals as childish fantasies ... For Klein, a global economic overhaul is very much in the cards. But students cutting class is not enough to make it happen ... make no mistake: Klein is perhaps the most important ecosocialist writer today. She doesn’t write for people with power, but for the people who are poised to take it. She not only openly advocates for ecosocialism...but also articulates her position with a clarity and moral force designed to win people to the cause. Such work is not just indispensable. It is the whole point.
If I were a rich man, I’d buy 245 million copies of Naomi Klein’s On Fire and hand-deliver them to every eligible voter in America. I say this not because Klein’s book is flawless — far from it — but because it makes a strong case for tackling the climate crisis as not just an urgent undertaking, but an inspiring one ... Klein is not interested in fleshing out policy details — or, for that matter, in working out the numbers on how to pay for it. She’s interested in making a moral argument for why it is necessary. To Klein, climate change isn’t simply another important issue; it’s 'a message, one that is telling us that many of Western culture’s most cherished ideas are no longer viable' ... Klein is a skilled writer, even if at times she tries a little too hard to be a voice of reason. Unfortunately, the structure she employs is hodgepodge and repetitive, built on speeches and previously published essays written over the last decade. Although she updates each chapter with new footnotes, some still feel dated or perfunctory ... Klein can also sound like a detached elitist when she suggests consumers stop buying junk and spend more time in nature, or looking at art.
At first glance, On Fire is nowhere near as ambitious as Klein’s other books. After its rousing introduction, the book is a mishmash of short, uneven pieces on subjects ranging from suffocating wildfires on the West Coast to the 2015 papal encyclical on climate. It does not propose a master narrative to explain the current situation. It lacks the deep reporting that distinguishes her most influential work. It’s repetitive and unfairly dismissive of some genuinely difficult scientific and political questions that deserve more open debate ... Yet Klein is a talented polemicist, and On Fire is a powerful manifesto. Readers with a more scholarly disposition may be put off by her admonitions and instructions, but Klein isn’t trying to win over the seminar room or the swing voter. She wants to catalyze a movement ... What it will not do is persuade skeptics, including people who care about global warming but don’t share Klein’s politics, that a GND is politically feasible, given the vehement right-wing opposition to it as well as the enormous costs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic response and recovery. It offers no coherent strategy for overcoming partisan opposition to progressive environmental and economic policies, no likely pathways to the more just, sustainable world Klein wants to build.