Book Review. ‘On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal’

Book Review. ‘On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal’
dRMM at the global Climate Strike.

Following our thought piece for World Book Day, members of the dRMM team share a book which has allowed them to evolve either their thinking or their approach to architectural practice.

Anna Lisa McSweeney, one of dRMM’s in-house Sustainability Champions, credits ‘On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal’ (Naomi Klein, 2019), as a catalyst that pushed forward her feelings on climate change, crystalised the importance of taking action and provided insight into the global systems and power hierarchies that prohibit the route to a sustainable world.

Why this book?

As an exposé of consumer culture, Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’ stuck with me. The book, published in 1999, presented the idea that institutions and corporations that should act in a responsible way, often choose not to do so – it was a real wake-up call for me.

The release of ‘On Fire’ coincided with a time in which I was starting to really think about the climate crisis, and to think about the climate crisis in the context of my position in the architectural profession. I had just started working with ACAN and the book exposed me to things that were bigger than architecture such as economics models.

What did you enjoy about the book?

I loved the feeling of reading along and being in total agreement, I love the way it makes you feel incited and I love that Naomi Klein is such a strong female role model. ‘On Fire’ was more of a call to arms than ‘No Logo’ it really made the case for the need to take action. ‘No Logo’ was about making you understand issues around global capitalism, whereas ‘On Fire’ is a provocative call for people to recognise that they have the individual power to make a change and that they can join forces to start movements which challenge entrenched hierarchies.

The things that Klein talks about in ‘On Fire’ are very global issues, they can seem disparate, but the book really helps you to make connections between climate and things such as high incidence of internally displaced people due to natural disaster or war. As we go forward these things will impact on us at an accelerated rate.

The book is not exclusively negative, it offers an insight into what a solution could mean in the form of the Green New Deal, a tantalising vision of what the world could look like if we take action whilst we still can.


How has the book informed your practice or shifted your thinking?

One of the key aspects for me was the way it spotlighted Greta Thunberg in order to show what a big knock-on effect a single individual can have in creating change, her school strike for climate created a wave with huge impact, it has prompted a number of other movements.

Another realisation developed through the book is the idea that the growth imperative is not the answer – we do not always need to reach for a greater GDP. This can relate directly to how we design and build – instead of being carbon hungry we can minimise our carbon consumption and our carbon emissions, instead of building new, we can turn to the circular economy, retrofit and reuse. We can adopt the idea that growth and quantity are not the answer, but quality is. Also important, is the idea that everything is interlinked. For us to achieve more intangible things like social value you have to put people and planet ahead of profit and growth.

This has impacted on how I practice architecture through the things we, at dRMM, are working to get underway with regards to how we conduct post occupancy and social value evaluations and how we select materials for our projects. We are giving a structure and vocabulary to the good work that we have previously done inherently, I feel this comes from the wider cultural shift which is prompting people to recognise these things. Now, my new focus and preoccupation will be how to communicate this in order to make it accessible to wider audiences.

Book Review. ‘On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal’


Book Review. ‘On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal’