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Earth Day: More Than Ever in Need for Global Awareness

While Earth Day is celebrated every year with an eye on science and the environment, the mission becomes increasingly urgent.

One of the early actions taken by US President Donald Trump in 2016 was to stem the flow of information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government organizations overlooking issues affecting the environment, a move largely seen by many as cramping on dissent. A climate-change skeptic at best, President Trump has been widely viewed as muzzling science. His subsequent hiring of Scott Pruitt, an official with close ties to the oil and gas industry, and someone who believes that carbon dioxide is not the primary contributor to climate change, to head the EPA, has only served to add fuel to the fire.

In January 2018, it was reported that the Trump administration's EPA would lift key controls on toxic air pollution. This year Earth Day will focus on pollution from plastics, campaigning to change attitudes and behaviour about plastics. 

In 2017 the March for Science took place on Earth Day,  “the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments.” More than 400 marches took place around the world because, according to the March for Science organizers, “science, scientists, and evidence-based policymaking are under attack. Budget cuts, censorship of researchers, disappearing datasets, and threats to dismantle government agencies harm us all, putting our health, food, air, water, climate, and jobs at risk.” The group 314 Action is encouraging scientists to become a part of the political discourse through direct involvement and by running for office.

Books serve as essential ballast to drive discussion in the midst of such intense political and social engagement. While favorites such as Silent Spring and An Inconvenient Truth will invariably form the cornerstone of such dialog, there are many outstanding literary fiction novels where science in general, and the environment in particular, is woven in with a lighter hand, and are worth picking up.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

The numbers are telling. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year.” By 2025, a whopping 2/3rds of the world’s population may face water shortages. The protagonist in Hamid’s novel is no different. Hamid, a native of Lahore, sets this razor-sharp story in “rising Asia,” many pockets where quality water is already a valuable currency. Banking on this paucity, the unnamed “you” in the story slowly becomes “filthy rich” by selling water. Written in the form of a series of self-help lessons, this is an engaging look at the effects of a changing climate on the average global citizen.

Gold Fame Citrus

The California drought that ravaged farmland with thousands of acres remaining unplanted might officially be over now but when Claire Vaye Watkins was writing this imaginative novel, she initially thought it would be “super speculative” and “oddball.” Turns out the desiccated landscape she describes so powerfully in this novel might not be that far removed from reality. The giant dunes of the fluid desert Amargosa are a result of an extremely parched landscape and the lack of water has lead everyone in California to seek greener pastures. Almost everyone. One young couple adopts a stray toddler and the family’s battle for survival becomes a battle of man against nature in this stark and haunting story.

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

2016 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster which forever scarred the rural Ukranian landscape. Flawed reactor design and improperly trained personnel contributed to a deadly nuclear incident, the effects of which are still being felt today—an exclusion zone of 1,000 miles around the plant continues to be in place. This elegiac debut is set against the backdrop of the Chernobyl disaster and shows how such an accident can affect the lives of very real people. The Russian government’s insistence on suppressing information that could have saved lives also comes into stark focus here. 


Tim Winton is a giant in Australian literary circles and this novel is proof of his prodigious talent. A lover of the natural world, Winton wrote a play, Signs of Life, when global warming lead to a large-scale diminishment of the local abalone population close to his home in Australia. The protagonist in this moving novel is a disillusioned environmentalist which makes one wonder about how close his provenance might be to Winton himself. Set in a Fremantle, a beach city close to Perth, this is a story about washed out idealism but also about the slow erosion of local flavor by the tidal waves of globalization.


While this brilliant novel is not directly about the environment, any list that is dedicated to the intersection of science and literary fiction would be incomplete without a nod to one of America’s most gifted contemporary novelists. Winner of the U.S. National Book Award, Powers has a special talent for blending elements of science into his narrative. Here a musician with a talent for science is on the run after local law enforcement authorities find “suspicious” experiments brewing in his garage. A commentary on today’s hyper-charged, soundbite-driven 24/7 news landscape, Powers fluidly mixes in biochemistry with music and the result is a magical concoction.


Poornima Apte is an award-winning Boston-based writer and editor with a passion for books. She is happiest when her bedside stash of books resembles a Jenga pile.


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