GEORGE R. STEWART AND EARTH DAY – RANGER DON

George R. Stewart and Earth Day

Many people credit the Sierra Club’s Exhibit This Is The American Earth and the subsequent Sierra Club book based on the exhibit as the foundation of Earth Day.  Others credit the first Whole Earth photographs taken by the Apollo 8 crew.  Both are important events.

I believe, however, that the initial inspiration came from the widely-read works of George R. Stewart – published and widely read decades before the exhibit, or Apollo 8’s photographs.

am earth

In 1936, Stewart’s Ordeal By Hunger opened with a view of Northern Nevada from low Earth orbit, so precisely described that eventual ISS images of the area closely matched his text.  And Stewart closed the history with the comment that “…I consider the land to be a character in the work.”

That is a remarkable statement of the ecological viewpoint 34 years before Earth Day I. Since the book was (and is) widely read, readers were learning the Whole Earth viewpoint long before there was a Day to celebrate it.

The blue marble of Earth

In 1936, Stewart’s Ordeal By Hunger opened with a view of Northern Nevada from low Earth orbit, so precisely described that eventual ISS images of the area closely matched his text.  And Stewart closed the history with the comment that “… I consider the land to be a character in the work.”

That is a remarkable statement of the ecological viewpoint 34-years before Earth Day I.   Since the book was (and is) widely read, readers were learning the Whole Earth viewpoint long before there was a Day to celebrate it.

In the next decade, Stewart wrote 3 ecological novels.  Two –- 1941’s Storm and 1949’s enduring classic Earth Abides –- included passages with the view of Earth from space.  All three were profoundly ecological in nature.  In fact, in 1948, before Fire was published George R. Stewart identified himself as “what might be called an ecologist” –– 22 years before Earth Day I.

Storm gave us the practice of naming storms. To make the point that the storm in his novel was the main protagonist Stewart didn’t name most of the human characters but named the storm.  It’s an excellent read, still frequently reprinted, as is Fire, his novel of fire ecology.

Both novels are tour de forces of ecology, weaving lifeforms, landforms, climate, humans, and human history and myth together with a deep sense of “the land.”


Earth Abides
is Stewart’s extraordinary never out-of-print classic.  It prophesied the current coronavirus pandemic 71-years ago.  When protagonist Isherwood Williams learns most humans have been wiped out by disease he decides to survive so he can observe the ecosystem adjust to the removal of humans — in what we would call the post-Anthropocene.

Ish observes what we are now seeing – the return of wildlife to human areas and humans experiencing a world without the noise, pollution, and similar nonsense of the Anthropocene.

Earth Abides is scheduled to be reprinted next October; it can be pre-ordered now.


Please see the original post at

The EARTH ABIDES Project

A site for George R. Stewart: Author of the classic EARTH ABIDES



Categories: Author, Book Review, Earth, Ecology, Marilyn Armstrong, reblog

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3 replies

  1. You gotta love that “blue marble”.
    Leslie

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