Since the middle of the twentieth century, scientists have been measuring an environmental crisis: The world is running out of resources such as water, wood fiber, and minerals, and much of what remains is becoming contaminated and ruined beyond repair. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), which chronicles the dangers of pesticides, was one of the first books to warn the public about environmental hazards. Writers such as Bill McKibben, Dixy Lee Ray, Marc Reisner, and Al Gore have followed in Carson’s footsteps as they too draw attention to specific environmental problems, such as the greenhouse effect, nuclear waste, acid rain, overpopulation, a disappearing water supply, and the depletion of the rainforest. The works of these environmental writers and others have been institutionalized; many college courses are offered that focus on studying environmental writing and the problems affecting the environment.
This emphasis on environmentalism has filtered down to the juvenile and young adult literary canon. Tropical Rainforests, with its warning about the hazards of depleting the rainforests and its call to young people to help solve this specific environmental problem, is a simplified but sophisticated version of the environmental crisis books for adults. Tropical Rainforests and other works that focus on environmental issues—Kathlyn Gay’s Acid Rain (1983), The Greenhouse Effect (1986), and Silent Killers: Radon and Other Hazards (1988), as well as Gene B. Williams’ Nuclear War, Nuclear Winter (1987), Michael H. Sedge’s Commercialization of the Oceans (1987), and Malcolm E. Weiss’s Toxic Waste: Clean-up or Cover-up? (1984)—help young audiences realize that environmental issues are complicated and that it is necessary for all people to think harder and deeper about the ecology of the earth than they have in the past.