Simon and Schuster / author photo by KOUROSH KESHIRI

It’s easy to get the impression that all Naomi Klein really wanted On Fire to be is its 53-page introduction, which reads like an update to her fairly optimistic 2014 book about climate change, This Changes Everything. Since you can’t sell a 53-page book (something I think discourages reading, frankly), the rest of On Fire is a collection of climate crisis-adjacent essays Klein wrote for various publications of record, beginning with “A Hole in the World” for The Guardian in 2010—about the impact of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which exploded in the Gulf of Mexico—to “The Battle Lines Have Been Drawn” for The Intercept as recently as 2019.

On Fire: the Burning Case for a Green New Deal is Klein’s least readable work yet. Klein’s gift for using a few relatable persons to carry readers through dense writing, which we saw in Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything, never finds a hold in On Fire. This is doubtlessly due to the book being a collection and not something Klein was able to seamlessly weave together. She also notes that she tried not to interfere with her nearly 10-year-old pieces, merely adding footnotes or short postscripts to update us on the outcomes. Being broken up into essays does make the book easier to digest in segments, but the fact that these essays were likely constrained by word count may explain why Klein rarely spreads out from dense reporting into the non-fiction characterization we’ve come to love from her work.

Another thing we expect from Klein, is her strength for drawing together related instances whose connectedness is not immediately obvious. And we do see this popping up reliably in On Fire. Klein draws a line between the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand which happened on the same day (March 15, 2019) as a worldwide student walkout, where schoolchildren—including thousands of Portland students—tried to demand we save the planet they will inherit. How differently might we remember that day had we not pored over some murderer’s manifesto? Would we have noticed the kids?


On Fire is decidedly less optimistic than This Changes Everything, probably because the situation is a whole lot worse than it was in 2014.


On Fire is decidedly less optimistic than This Changes Everything, probably because the situation is a whole lot worse than it was in 2014. We’re running down the clock on precious months and years when we can adjust the climate’s hottening to survivable levels for future generations.

During CNN’s seven-hour September 4 climate crisis town hall, Highlander-esque Democratic presidential candidates answered questions about whether they would take certain measures—such as: ban offshore drilling (many would!), impose a carbon tax (such pivots!), attempt to reduce US red meat consumption (feels like a trap question, but I guess France is doing it). I wondered how many had read On Fire, because one of Klein’s most salient points came out of the mouths of nearly every presidential hopeful. Even if we don’t have the 100-percent perfect idea of how to fix the world’s climate crisis, we can’t wait any longer. We have to start. “We are fighting for our lives.” Klein writes. “And we don’t have 12 years anymore; now we only have 11. And soon it will be just 10.”