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Treasures from Trash – Celebrate Earth Day!

2012 April 20
Gaia Warriors
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Earth Day is April 22. I have to admit that Earth Day always sounded to me like one of those days commemorating a curriculum based-topic you’d learn about in school, like Arbor Day. I’m happy to say I couldn’t have been more wrong. I recently learned the origins of Earth Day while watching a private screening of the documentary film A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet, directed by Mark Kitchell and narrated by Robert Redford.

If you’ve never heard of it, that’s because it’s not even finished yet; there is still additional production work to be done before it’s distributed into the wider world. The production company is soliciting funding to get it completed. I really enjoyed its global perspective and I hope it gets financed. It’s both educational and very accessible at the same time–especially the death-defying lengths to which the guys who founded Greenpeace would go to protect whales and other animals. According to the film and the Earth Day Network site, “The idea [for Earth Day] came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a US Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.” It has grown from 20 million people observing it around the US, to over 1 billion people all over the world today.

The reason I mention this is because I think it’s vitally important for everyone to do what they can to save the earth, and I don’t think people seem as fired up about Earth Day as they once were.

That’s why I’m so happy to see that today’s teens and younger kids do care. Many teens are socially aware and are out there making a difference to help protect the environment. Authors of both fiction and non-fiction are also writing really engaging books about being environmentally proactive.

The Newton Marasco Foundation (NMF) 2012 Green Earth Book Award is given to books that inspire children to grow a deeper appreciation, respect, and responsibility for their natural environment. The 2102 winner for Young Adult Non-Fiction is Gaia Warriors by Nicola Davies, illustrated by James Lovelock (Candlewick Press).

This visually appealing book, first published by Walker Books in the U.K. in 2009, but out in the US in 2011, takes a clear look at how and why Earth’s climate is changing and the ways we can deal with it. At once comprehensive and accessible, this galvanizing call to arms includes web links and resources that make it easy to join the cause. One section of the book focuses on 13 people (many of them young adults and many from the UK) who are doing something to educate and change the ways of countries, corporations, and ordinary people.

When thinking about books for Earth Day, Andy Mulligan’s book Trash (2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults) comes to mind. It’s not only a book on a global topic, but also a first-rate thriller too.

Set in an unnamed third-world country in the not-too-distant future, it features 14-year-old Raphael Fernandez and his friend Gardo who are “trash boys” in rubbish-town, picking through “stuppa or human muck,” never finding anything of interest or value … until one day they find a leather bag containing a wallet, money, a map, and a key. Gardo and Raphael are determined not to give any of it to the police who’ve been sniffing around, so they enlist their friend Rat to help them figure out what the map and key mean. Although it’s more of a mystery thriller than an ecological book, the environment where they live, surrounded by mountains of garbage, looms very large in the book.

The Huffington Post reported in March that Trash is nominated for a Carnegie Medal, Great Britain’s equivalent to our Newbery Award (winners announced June 14). It also said that, “Mulligan’s book Trash caused a stir last year when it was dropped from the shortlist of the Blue Peter book awards because it was deemed ‘unsuitable,’ due to swearing and violence.”

I think that’s why teens like it–because it seems very realistic.

A perfect companion to the book Trash is a documentary film called Waste Land. The filmmaker went to a huge landfill in Brazil, interviewed the people making their living collecting the garbage, took pieces of the garbage, and created life-sized works of art out of it. Then he gave the proceeds from the sale of the art back to the people. The clip on the website will astonish and move you.

My fellow blogger Laura Perenic did a great Earth Day post last year highlighting some great fiction books and nonfiction books showing what you can do to help the environment. She mentioned Saci Lloyd’s great eco-thilllers Carbon Diaries 2015 and Carbon Diaries 2017.

Saci Lloyd’s new book is also a great selection for Earth Day. Momentum, out already in the UK, but not published here until September 2012, is set in London in 2030, where privileged Citizens and desperate Outsiders live very different lives. Energy wars are raging, and blackouts are a regular occurrence. The rich Citizens spend most of their time plugged into the net, escaping into a fantasy world, while the Outsiders live in the slums. Hunter, a Citizen, is fascinated by the Outsiders’ ingenuity and their mastery of free running. He meets Outsider Uma, a member of the underground resistance movement, when they both witness a murder, and they end up in a race to try to find the person who protects the codes for the online resistance network before the Kossacks, the government’s security force, does.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpX5oXuuL20&w=500]

I’ve realized that Earth Day books that focus in some way on the environment aren’t just nonfiction “how to” books on recycling or other nonfiction ecology topics. Many other types of books, like apocalyptic novels, can also be considered eco-thrillers because their plots concern the environment too (such as Michael Grant’s books). I’d love to hear your suggestions for a future eco-thriller post.

— Sharon Rawlins, currently reading The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg

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