Most Americans don't know it, but there's a world's fair this year, the first of the new millennium. It opened in late March in Aichi Prefecture, near Nagoya, Japan, just ahead of the 35th anniversary of Earth Day, which is Friday, April 22. The theme is "Nature's Wisdom," and the expo site is intended to be a kind of high-tech Ecotopia showcasing hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles, "intelligent multimode transit" featuring driverless low-emission buses, recyclable biomass plastics, and cutting-edge robots. It's not the first fair with a green theme (Expo '74 in Spokane had that honor), but the focus is timely in this age of global warming and rapid industrialization.
One invitee to the fair--though he doesn't know it yet--will be Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. In late September, near the fair's end, Expo '05 will host a conference of mayors and civic leaders from cities that previously have hosted world's fairs. The topic will be the legacies such events can leave their cities, ranging from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to Seattle Center, our lasting civic amenity, which has been the envy of fair planners since 1962. (That and the fact that our Century 21 Exposition was one of the last fairs to turn a profit.) Consider the example of our Canadian sister, Vancouver, which reduced much of its Expo '86 site to rubble and sold off the land to developers.
The confab is also timely given that Seattle Center is being managed in a way that might revise the appraisals of those who have heaped praise on our legacy. Our civic jewel is troubled. It is slowly being privatized, downsized, and stiffed by deadbeat tenants and is about to have its historic Alweg monorail torn down and premier open space bisected by a new monorail line--if
it ever gets built. It's quaint that we once regarded Disneyfication as a threat to Seattle
Center, when actually a worse threat is its being nibbled to death by civic ducks. Maybe a
trip to Aichi would stiffen Nickels' resolve to stave off the opportunists and keep the Center
for posterity. With Nickels strolling toward re-election virtually unopposed, it seems like a September junket could fit into the schedule.
The organizer of the conference in Aichi is the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), the Paris-based group that organizes and sanctions world's fairs. They'll be the ones issuing an invite to Nickels. Nearly 100 nations are members. Not surprisingly in the George W. Bush era, the U.S. is no longer one of them. At a time when world's fairs are actually becoming a global phenomenon, especially in the developing world (Korea in 1993; the next biggie in Shanghai in 2010), the U.S. is now a reluctant participant in these "grand intercultural symphonies," as Expo '05 calls itself.
After giving the BIE the United Nations treatment and failing to pay dues for a number of years (about $25,000 per year--the cost of a country club membership), the U.S. dropped out of the organization entirely in 2001, meaning that we cannot host a fair nor participate in the process of deciding who will get the next one. In terms of international trade and cultural exchange, it's like dropping out of the Olympics. Of course, given the way we've treated the United Nations, maybe the BIE is getting off easy. After hosting fairs in two centuries (the first in New York in 1853), the U.S. has apparently had enough.
Few in America noticed our withdrawal, however, and even fewer cared. (The last fair we hosted was the colossal flop in New Orleans in 1984.) But the world took our withdrawal as yet another example of American unilateralism. (Consider also the Kyoto accords on climate change, trashed treaties, occupied Iraq, and the boos of Vatican mourners when Bush's image flashed on the screen at Pope John Paul II's funeral.)
America's lack of interest in fairs is a bit puzzling, because they are one of the oldest modern tools for promoting free trade and globalization. In fact, in a speech at the opening of the very first world's fair--the Great Exposition in London in 1851--Prince Albert outlined a Victorian economic vision that would be completely recognized and supported by today's free traders and the neocons. Prince Albert saw a world increasingly bound together by a global economy with the British Empire at the center of the worldwide web. It's not far different from how Bush and company see America's position today. World's fairs are festivals celebrating the Panglossian imperialism that is so much in vogue in our "freedom and free markets" rhetoric.
The above was e-mailed by Todd and it's the opening of Knute Berger's "U.S. to Earth: Drop Dead: 'Nature's wisdom' is on display at a world's fair in Japan. But Bush's America is not keen on nature, wants to run the world, and hates fairs" from The Seattle Weekly.
Yes, tomorrow is Earth Day. Though the Clinton years weren't perfect, we used to note things like that, didn't we? We had press coverage on them in the mainstream press. The Bully Boy's not interested. We'll look keenly to tomorrow and Saturday's New York Times to see if the Times will once again adjust their positions to reflect the current administration.
There are many resources online for information about Earth Day, but we'll note EarthdayNetwork. For more information on the 35th Earth Day, check it out.
On the same topic, KeShawn e-mailed Kathryn Eastburn's "Climate change" from the Colorado Springs Independent:
On a warm spring Wednesday afternoon, the halls of the New Life Church, a gray, white and blue monolith planted on the far northern border of Colorado Springs, are teeming with life. Voices of hundreds of home-schooled kids who use the building for group classes once each week reverberate off the walls of the cavernous front lobby.
In the new sanctuary -- a state-of-the-art recording and performance arena that seats 6,500 but can squeeze in 8,000 if needed -- a Lyle Lovett recording blasts over the loud speaker: "That's right you're not from Texas ... Texas loves you anyway."
Upstairs, past Sunday school classrooms and beyond a maze of hallways is the office of Rev. Ted Haggard, who founded the 12,000-member New Life Church after receiving a revelation from God on the side of Pikes Peak nearly 20 years ago. As New Life has prospered and grown, so has Haggard's stature in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), overseeing 45,000 congregations and representing 30 million church members nationwide.
Currently president of the NAE, Haggard recently surprised the media and the environmental movement by announcing that evangelical leaders are committed to spreading the word that protecting the environment is a profound religious responsibility and that environmental issues, including global warming and climate change, will be at the forefront of the organization's agenda.
On Sunday, April 10, the New York Times Sunday Magazine featured an interview with Richard Cizik of Washington, D.C., Haggard's colleague on the NAE board; in it, Cizik affirmed the association's newly adopted focus on the environment. At the same time he carefully distanced himself from the term "environmentalist."
"One, they (environmentalists) rely on big-government solutions," said Cizik, who said he prefers to characterize what he's doing as "Creation care." He took issue with the environmental movement's alliance with population control issues and with the "kooky religious company [they keep] ... some are pantheists who believe creation itself is holy, not the Creator. ... There's a certain gloom and doom about environmentalists. They tend to prophecies of doom that don't happen."
Still, Cizik said, the NAE's involvement represents a potential political watershed for environmental issues.
"If the evangelicals can't convince the president, then no one can," Cizik said, regarding the need for a shift in government policy.
In a subsequent Independent interview at New Life Church last week, Haggard didn't mince words.
"I've been an environmentalist all my life," he said, his trademark grin cutting through any discomfort with the issue.
"It's awkward -- I'm a conservative Republican environmentalist, which means I don't have a home."
Lori e-mailed Shawn Stone's "Monkey Business : The Religious Right's insurgency against evolution is far from over." From this Cleveland Free Times article:
If nothing else, at least some of the folks who support evolution have a defiantly bracing sense of humor about the ongoing struggle. In an April Fool's Day lead editorial titled "Okay, We Give Up," the editors of Scientific American were caustic and concise: "In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of so-called evolution has been hideously one-sided . . . We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts." With mock solemnity, the SA editors resolved to henceforth dedicate themselves to "fair and balanced science."
WHY IS THIS THEORY so threatening to so many?
Biological evolution, as first laid out by Charles Darwin in 1859 and generally accepted by the vast majority of scientists, refers to the process of changes in a population over time. (A long, long period of time.) Some of the changes are based on random genetic mutations. Others are based on "natural selection," the concept that successful members of a species will survive, breed and pass on their favorable traits, while those with less-than-favorable traits will pass these on in fewer numbers, and eventually disappear. Oh, and as a PBS Web site on the basics of evolution puts it, "All organisms, both living and extinct, are related." In other words, that early mammal -- the one who looks like Screwy Squirrel -- is our ancestor.
But while the public may be divided, the people who study this stuff -- biological and geological scientists -- overwhelmingly say the evidence is behind evolution. "Evolution is not the fringe," explains Jason Cryan, director of the Laboratory for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics at the New York State Museum. "The other side is the fringe."
This has been borne out by surveys both serious and silly. A 2002 poll of Ohio scientists, conducted by faculty members at Case Western Reserve University, concluded that 93 percent of scientists did not know of "any scientifically valid evidence or alternate scientific theory that challenges the fundamental principles of the theory of evolution."
The National Center for Science Education started Project Steve two years ago, which has (so far) collected the signatures of over 500 scientists named "Steve" who attest to their support for evolution -- a sly attempt to mock similar unscientific surveys collected by supporters of non-evolution- based theories.
Cryan's research centers on lantern-fly DNA sequencing. As he explains on his Web site, he uses "DNA nucleotide sequences from nuclear and mitochondrial genes to infer phylogenetic trees (similar to genealogies), thereby hypothesizing evolutionary relationships among insect groups." In other words, he travels around the globe collecting various kinds of lantern flies, and then analyzes their DNA sequences to see how they're related.
According to Cryan, the whole creation vs. evolution argument is framed incorrectly. "It's artificial." Among members of the scientific community, he explains, the theory of evolution is, essentially, universally accepted. It's not a matter of belief; it's not -- as he says is the case with "intelligent design" -- a "faith-based endeavor."
But isn't evolution a "theory"?
This, Cryan says, is a misunderstanding of the what the word means in a scientific context. As described in information available from the National Center for Science Education, "theory means a logical, tested, well-supported explanation for a great variety of facts." It is not a "guess, or a hunch."
Cryan co-lectures in a course on evolution for biology majors. Choosing his words carefully, he says that he is surprised at how "misunderstood" evolution is, even among bio majors. Part of the problem, he suggests, is the time crunch in secondary education, which makes it difficult to "cover evolution in any meaningful way." He also laments that there is also a general lack of scientific education among the general public -- and, he adds, it certainly doesn't help when the president of the United States says that "the jury is still out" on evolution.
Remember, tomorrow is Earth Day.
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