What Difference Does a Day Make? Earth Day at Fifty

Author: Paul Elie

April 18, 2020

The year 2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. In a feature story for Emergence, Paul Elie traces the literary history of the environmental movement from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment. Organized as an informal time line, he marks the unfolding of different approaches to the Earth and its atmosphere as seen both in the events of the day and in the writing about the Earth that emerged in the interstices from writers like Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Arundhati Roy, Elizabeth Kolbert, and others. He concludes by drawing parallels with the COVID-19 crisis, arguing that the global response to the coronavirus pandemic demonstrates that when we as a society take a crisis seriously, we are willing and able to change—to do things we didn’t think possible, to give up aspects of our way of life that we never thought we would give up for any reason.

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