On Apr. 22, 1970, a group of environmental activists promoted the first nationwide Earth Day. The response was huge: an estimated 20 million people participated in related events, and lawmakers recognized the public support for environmental legislation.

Jerry Yudelson, who organized activities on the Caltech campus that first Earth Day, notes the similarities and differences between the environmental activism of his generation and today’s response to the global climate crisis. “It started as kind of a feel-good movement,” he says, describing the chorus of voices from college campuses calling for improvements to local environments. “There was water pollution all over the country and, in the year before, the largest oil spill in the country’s history at that time, in the Santa Barbara channel.”

Campus activists, Yudelson notes, modeled their efforts after the Vietnam War teach-ins. “It was driven largely by young people, and you can see the same thing happening now. In fact, there’s now a call out nationally for three days of climate strikes starting with Earth Day.”

Yudelson’s forthcoming memoir, The Godfather of Green (Wyatt-MacKenzie, Apr.), brings principles of spiritual mindfulness and stewardship to the discussion.

“The most successful movements of the modern era, whether [led by] Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela, have been based around spirituality,” says Yudelson, who went on to be California governor Jerry Brown’s lead solar power director and pioneer in sustainable architecture. “A lot of people are environmentalists because they love nature. It changes how they think about themselves, and it encourages the kind of thing that religious people would call love. But it’s also about respect and responsibility.”

As Earth Day’s 50th anniversary approaches and the climate crisis looms, PW spoke with authors and editors about forthcoming titles that explore the beauty, human history, and precariousness of myriad landscapes across the globe, from the Arctic Circle to a river in Colombia to the deserts of the southwestern U.S. Other titles address climate change, offering explanations and proposing solutions. In this feature, we also hear from children’s book authors about how they translate complex environmental issues for young readers, and round up a resource list of forthcoming books for the next generation of Earth Day celebrants.


See below for more on Earth Day books.

This Land Is Your Land: Earth Day 2020
Forthcoming books examine environmentalism and conservation in the U.S. from the 19th century to the present.

Weather or Not: Earth Day 2020
Authors contemplate the effects of climate change and offer sometimes harrowing, sometimes hopeful glimpses of the future.

Atmospheric Conditions: Earth Day 2020
These forthcoming books address climate change from a variety of angles.

Troubled Water: PW talks with Candy J. Cooper and Marc Aronson
In ‘Poisoned Water,’ about the Flint water crisis, Cooper and Aronson convey lessons in social justice and government accountability to young readers.

Observation and Conservation: PW talks with Sy Montgomery and April Pulley Sayre
The authors discuss their latest children’s books, ‘Condor Comeback’ and ‘Being Frog,’ and how they kindle an early love and respect for Earth’s creatures.

The Whole Wide World: Earth Day2020
Published in time for Earth Day’s 50th anniversary year, these children’s books showcase the natural world, provide guidance for paving a path to sustainable living, and profile people making a difference.