Journalist and activist Naomi Klein’s most recent book, 2019’s On Fire, emphasizes the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for radical political and economic solutions. In her first book for children, How to Change Everything (Atheneum, Mar., ages 10 and up), written with Rebecca Stefoff, Klein explains how humanity has reached this critical juncture and offers tools to inspire young activists. “We can’t protect young people from the realities of the world that we’ve created,” she says. “We need to treat them seriously and respectfully enough to give them the information to engage with these issues and help change the world for the better.”
PW spoke with Klein about how her new book furthers this goal.
Why did you want to write for this age group?
Young people are bringing a new wave of energy to the cause, and they’re the movement’s moral center. Young people are engaged in social, racial, and gender justice issues, and the climate movement. We live in a world that tends to segment these into boxes and silos. This book is saying, “Actually, they’re all connected.” Providing this holistic framework will, I hope, be empowering for young readers.
What are the challenges and rewards of conveying these ideas to young readers?
Young people are capable of understanding big, foundational ideas. The climate crisis and our crisis of inequality are not as complicated as adults make them out to be. If you talk to a kid about the climate crisis, they have a very rational and clear reaction to it that gets immediately to the question of overconsumption. It’s adults who have incredibly complex responses like a cap-and-trade system instead of regulating how much pollution can be put into the natural world. If we slow down and are clear, we can have really profound conversations with kids.
How do you sustain a hopeful tone throughout the book?
I don’t believe in giving young people false hope. There’s a lot of straight talk in the book about how little time there is left and about the clash between our economic model and what our planet can handle, but there’s also a cumulative impact of hearing stories of people who have not given into despair. It’s about balancing the truth of the information and the stories of what can happen when people organize inside movements that are larger than themselves.
What does it mean to have a book like yours out in the world right now?
The experience of Covid has shown us that we’re capable of changing our lives in the face of great danger. The kind of transformation that we’ve seen in terms of just eliminating air travel from the rest of our lives, only buying what we need, thinking about what is essential, about what work is essential—this kind of paring down and willingness to change is a new experience for most of us. We haven’t had this scale of change since the Great Depression and the Second World War. It makes it more possible to imagine the sorts of transformations that are necessary.