Kate Shepard presents a convincing argument for the futile and misguided characterization of Earth Day. Writing on the day in question, she seeks to call attention to the increasingly weak environmental movement, by describing a variety of natural disasters and contrasting the modern response to that of the previous generation. To convince readers of the veracity and importance of her argument, Shepard begins with a personalistic and emotional appeal, expounding upon the various reasons that Earth Day has lost its purpose and the environmental movement no longer serves the community in the way it did in the past. In addition, her writing establishes her as a bona fide member of the environmental community, and therefore qualified to comment on the deteriorating situation. She then follows this with a variety of expert opinions, showing a logical approach.

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Ms. Shepard begins with why she has come to despise Earth Day. The tone is highly personal, almost as if she is explaining it to a friend over a cup of coffee. This section and the way in which it is written serve two purposes: pathos and ethos. While her actual academic or professional credentials are never mentioned, the first part of the article makes it clear that Kate Shepard has at least been following the environmental movement for an extended period of time. Citing specific facts and achievements from past decades, she shows the reader that she is in fact an authority on the topic. In addition, her informal tone assures the reader that she is in fact just like one of them. She is not a stuffy academic, nor is she a radical environmentalist; she is simply a concerned woman similar to her readers. When she writes about the holiday coinciding “with both Easter and Passover and the hockey playoffs,” it makes the reader feel as if they are having a conversation with a friend, not reading a news article. (Shepard 2011)

Simultaneously, Ms. Shepard draws in the reader with an emotional appeal. Her displeasure is clear, particularly when she speaks of it as an “excuse to peddle products of dubious ‘green’ credentials.” She goes on to incite anger in her readers, speaking of the total failure of the U.S. government to react to the massive environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, or to deal with impending climate change. Finally, she creates a nostalgic hope by invoking the memory of the previous generations of environmentalists, reminding the readers of the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

Finally, she concludes the article by citing a number of academic and professional articles that support her position. While not all of the articles espouse exactly the same viewpoint, they all agree with Ms. Shepard in her statement that the environmental movement has declined in the past several decades. This establishes a logical argument, showing that she is not a single individual writing on this topic, but rather representative of a larger scholarly and knowledgeable unit of writers. In particular she cites “Climate Shift” a paper by Matthew Nisbet, that evaluates the reason why climate legislation has not been passed by Congress, considering the fact that environmental groups outspent their opponents and that media coverage was relatively fair. Critics of this paper are also addressed, pointing out some structural issues with these findings, including the categorization of environmental groups, yet while they criticize many of the points, the core argument often remains justified. (Shepard 2011) The key findings from this report and general survey of the environmental movement are that the major groups have become “divorced from the broader public.” By integrating themselves into the D.C. advocacy community, they have lost their edge and their connection to their constituents.

While the topic may not be of interest to all, “Unsuck Earth Day” presents a superb example of rhetoric. Kate Shepard uses all three common rhetorical appeals in a very effective manner in order to convince the reader of her position. She draws in the reader with a casual yet emotional appeal, establishes her credibility as a writer, and finally establishes her argument through logic.

  • Shepard, K. (2011, April 22). Unsuck Earth Day. Mother Jones. Retrieved October 28, 2013, from http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/04/unsuck-earth-day-please