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February 5, 2001

Big names highlight big event
for Emory

By Michael Terrazas

President Jimmy Carter, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and renowned Harvard naturalist E.O. Wilson headlined the University’s long-awaited Reconciliation Sympo-sium, Jan. 25–27, which by all accounts was a resounding success.

Crowd turnout was impressive for the keynote addresses. Carter spoke Jan. 25 to a capacity gathering in Glenn Auditorium, and people stood in the aisles for Wilson’s Jan. 27 address in WHSCAB Auditorium, which was also near capacity for Lewis’ speech the day before.

One aspect of reconciliation—the growing disparity between the world’s richest and poorest populations—was a recurring theme throughout the weekend. Carter touched on it first, saying that
1.2 billion people live on less than $1 per day, “and we don’t even know they exist,” he said.

“The Carter Center has programs in 65 nations, 35 in Africa, which is where the poorest countries are concentated,” he continued. “Although I’ve bragged on American universities, in those countries we rarely see any evidence of their involvement. We haven’t shared our treasure.”

Even though he rarely glanced down at his notes, Carter said he’d worked on his keynote address as much as any speech he’d delivered since his presidency. He took his glasses on and off and spoke about growing up poor in south Georgia and playing with neighbors, black children, who were just as poor as him.

“It didn’t bother me, I hate to admit, that their parents couldn’t vote, couldn’t sit on a jury,” he said. “We were neither separate nor equal. Now, under the law, we are equal but we’ve become separate again.”

In his Friday morning address, Lewis called reconciliation “an ancient cry for peace and understanding” and said it is an integral component in building what he called the “beloved community.”

“The need for reconciliation goes beyond civil rights,” said Lewis, who later signed copies of his autobiography, Walking With the Wind, in WHSCAB Plaza. “Native Americans were forced from their land; Japanese-Americans were interred during World War II.”

“I see an America much different from the America of my youth,” he said. “A new America for a new century. Today, in 2001, I believe means and ends are inseparable. If our aim is peace, our tactics cannot be war.”

Following his participation in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, in which he was beaten and jailed many times, Lewis said he had “an executive session with himself” in which he made the personal decision not to hate his oppressers—ever. “I see those who defended segregation as victims of tradition, history and custom,” he said. “Hate is too heavy a burden to bear. Hate and revenge will destroy both you and me.”

Finally, the other “bookend” to the symposium along with Carter, Harvard’s Wilson spoke Saturday morning about reconciliation not between groups of people, but between humanity and the place it calls home. He asked rhetorically how history might look back on the late 20th and early 21st century, with all its amazing advances in science, technology and human health.

“In this buoyant view, what might we have overlooked?” he said, then answered: “Much of the rest of life, of ‘creation.’

“I predict the 21st century will be the century of the environment,” Wilson said. “[It will be] a time to settle down and put our house in order—before we wreck the planet.”

Wilson then chronicled part of that destruction so far, focusing on the threats to biodiversity and the rapidly accelerating rate of species extinction since the dawn of humankind. By three separate measures, he said, species extinction is proceeding at a rate 100 to 10,000 times faster than before humans became the dominant species.

With most of the earth’s biodiversity located in its tropical rainforests, Wilson described the rate at which people are destroying those environments. Roughly one-half of the total area of rainforest remains from before humanity started cutting it in the 19th century, he said.

But Wilson said he remained optimistic that humans will arrest their own destructive development before it is too late. He described efforts by international conservation organizations to beat environmentally destructive operations at their own game by outbidding them for logging concessions to pristine lands. Wilson said roughly $6 billion is spent per year worldwide on conservation, then added about $26 billion per year is needed to save the most endangered areas.

“That’s junk change,” he said. “The central problem of the new century is how to raise the standard of living for the world’s poor while preserving biodiversity. The resources to accomplish it exist. At the end of the day, it’s an ethical decision.”


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