On 50th anniversary of Earth Day, students connect with natural world in time of pandemic

Wednesday, Apr 22, 2020

By the Office of Communications

PLANET EARTH — Today, April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, an occasion to honor our planet and recommit to protecting the future of our home for all life.

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was published, galvanizing the environmental movement as people learned how much damage we were causing the environment through toxins. The spring was “silent” due to the poisoning of birds and insects, among other wildlife. This spring, we are hearing those particular animal sounds with greater intensity due to another kind of silence — the drop in decibels from human activity, especially traffic, as we stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Shana Weber, director of Princeton’s Office of Sustainability and lecturer with the Princeton Environmental Institute, was in the midst of teaching her course “Investigating an Ethos of Sustainability at Princeton,” when instruction went online for the rest of the spring term. Weber’s undergraduate students returned home across the globe, and she quickly worked to maintain the community of the class through new teaching tools and new assignments. She invited students to capture soundscapes of the natural world and to reflect on the sensory experiences of this other kind of “silent spring.”

“We’ve had to force ourselves into the background because of COVID,” said Weber. “It is a chance for non-human sounds to be heard.” Listen to Weber on rethinking Earth Day amid COVID-19 on the “We Roar” podcast. Below are reflections from some of her students that were posted to the group blog as well as images from across campus.

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