9 books to pick up in celebration of Earth Day

These are great reads to honor the 50th anniversary of the global event.
A book laying in the grass with a leaf in the spine that looks like a bookmark
(Photo from PxHere)

This reading list should get you in the right headspace ahead of Earth Day 2020, which is being labeled as “the largest, most diverse global mobilization in history in defense of the environment.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of the planet’s biggest civic event. There isn’t a shortage of conservation and sustainability literature, especially not in Wisconsin, a state where agriculture powers the economy and acclaimed environmentalists work and teach. Not to mention, former Wisconsin Gov. and Sen. Gaylord Nelson — founder of Earth Day — called this state home. Perhaps you recognize some of the titles on this list, or maybe you don’t have a clue who Jerry Apps is. Either way, the books below, written by famous conservationists, Midwestern writers and other sustainability experts who know a thing or two about green living, are full of important concepts, green tips and calls to action for those willing to listen and learn.

Cover of "Beyond Earth Day"

(Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Svabek and UW Press)

“Beyond Earth Day” by Gaylord Nelson
It seems only reasonable to begin this list with a piece authored by the founder of Earth Day himself. Gaylord Nelson published “Beyond Earth Day” in 2002, 32 years after the very first Earth Day, and his message is still as clear and as timely as ever. In his book, Nelson details critical environmental concerns, such as the detriments of habitat loss, population growth and the global climate crisis, but also outlines strategies and plans that citizens can follow to prioritize the health of the planet. Environmental stewardship is Nelson’s legacy, and “Beyond Earth Day” is a reminder that our efforts to take care of the planet should extend beyond April 22.

“A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold
Over a span of 12 years, Aldo Leopold wrote and rewrote the essays that would fill “Great Possessions,” or the published work eventually named “A Sand County Almanac.” Considered by many as the greatest and most influential conservation thinker of the 20th century, Leopold – whose legacy resonates not only at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he taught, but far beyond — wrote to the world about the world and showed us how to treat it. “A Sand County Almanac” provides readers with both scientific fact and prose about the land ethic Leopold so strongly pursued, and how the human relationship with the natural world is one that cannot be taken for granted, but, rather, respected.


(Photo courtesy of Megean Weldon and Rock Point Publishing)

“An Almost Zero Waste Life” by Megean Weldon
Leave your stress about lifestyle change behind and let author Megean Weldon guide you through the basics of reducing waste. Weldon’s knowledge comes from her own experience of leading a sustainable lifestyle in the Midwest. The tips, strategies, DIY projects and recipes in her beautifully illustrated book are inspirational, mindful and most importantly, realistic. To drastically reduce the amount of harmful waste we consume, changes need to manifest in the ways we shop, cook, clean, eat, compost and more. “An Almost Zero Waste Life” demonstrates that those changes are possible in every aspect of your life.


The Land Still Lives by Jerry Apps

(Photo courtesy of Kristin Gilpatrick and the Wisconsin Historical Society Press)

“The Land Still Lives” by Jerry Apps
Jerry Apps is a rural philosopher, historian, storyteller and the award-winning author of more than 40 fiction and nonfiction books. His literary debut, “The Land Still Lives,” was published in 1970, during his time teaching as a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In his book he introduces readers to Roshara, his farm in central Wisconsin, and the surrounding community of Skunk’s Hollow. In caring for the land we inhabit, Apps demonstrates in “The Land Still Lives” that we have much to gain from the land in return.

“Renewing the Countryside — Wisconsin: Stories of Sustainable Living, Working and Playing” by Jerry Hembd and Jody Padgham
Explore the many ways that Wisconsin is leading the country in its sustainability efforts in “Renewing the Countryside – Wisconsin.” The seven chapters of this book will take you through stories of sustainably grown food, environmentally responsible businesses and development of the state’s rural economy. From the city of Washburn becoming the country’s very first eco-municipality to the organic and sustainable growing efforts of the state’s farmers and artisan food makers, this book is an ode to Wisconsin-based sustainability and the work of the present for generations to come.


Green Travel Guide to Southern Wisconsin book

(Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Svabek and UW Press)

“Green Travel Guide to Southern Wisconsin” by Pat Dillon and Lynne Diebel
Look no further for your guide to environmentally sensitive restaurants, lodgings, shops and activities in southern Wisconsin. Pat Dillon and Lynne Diebel’s “Green Travel Guide to Southern Wisconsin,” from UW Press, has all the answers you need in your search for the best green options that this part of the state has to offer. Tips on where to find dining settlements that cook with local, seasonal offerings or small-scale family farms during your bicycle trip are just a handful of the green experiences that Dillon and Diebel compiled for your travels.

ABC’s “Naturally” by Lynne Diebel
This one is for the kids, but also anyone who appreciates pictures and poems. Lynne Diebel, who taught English at UW–Madison, is also the author of “ABCs Naturally: A Child’s Guide to Alphabet Through Nature.” This fun and creative book is filled with an alphabet featuring colored photographs of nature’s findings, accompanied by poems and facts about each of the letters. This book is an excellent way to introduce children to the alphabet while treasuring the many aspects of nature, but it’s fun for adults, too.


The Civilian Conservation Corps cover by Jerry Apps

(Photo courtesy of Kristin Gilpatrick and the Wisconsin Historical Society Press)

“The Civilian Conservation Corps in Wisconsin: Nature’s Army at Work” by Jerry Apps
Another title by Jerry Apps, “The Civilian Conservation Corps in Wisconsin” presents the first comprehensive history of the state’s CCC. The result of a popular New Deal Program, young men camped across Wisconsin, from the Driftless area to the Northwoods, to plant trees, forge trails and work to reverse the detrimental effects of soil erosion. Apps’ book captures their voices and creates a map of the 125 CCC camps and their lasting efforts to preserve the landscape through environmental stewardship.

“Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States” by Charles Van Hise
Written by UW–Madison’s very own Charles Van Hise in 1910, “Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States” was more than just an influential published piece of its time; it is still recognized as one of the most important and respected works in the history of conservation. In his book, Van Hise makes clear that individualism, rather than finding a way to live for the greater good, is the prominent cause for diminishing natural resources and quality of life for future generations. Conservation depends then, as Van Hise puts it, on our willingness and ability to preserve “the greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time.”