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Summer Postcard: The Expo and American Climate Change “Slacktivism”

ASTANA, Kazakhstan—This year’s Expo, better known in the United States as the “World's Fair,” stands out among other high profile international events with its highly relevant “Future Energy” theme. The international exhibition held in Astana, Kazakhstan is aimed at encouraging global dialogue on clean, sustainable energy and the reduction of CO2 emissions. The focus is especially timely with the baffling contention surrounding the topic of climate change.

As a native of the host city, I had a unique opportunity to visit Expo 2017 and tour the sprawling exhibition site showcasing each country’s efforts to alleviate climate change.

As I was strolling past the newly built structures, the sleek futurism of which reminded me both of Epcot and a YA dystopia set, the U.S. pavilion caught my eye. Although the irony of the American presence in a global event concerning climate change was not lost on me, I walked in with an open mind, aware of the fact that it had probably been conceived long before President Trump took office.

While most other nations had prepared information stands, interactive games, and device presentations aimed at teaching visitors about their country’s efforts at environmentally conscious development, the U.S. pavilion was instead plastered with stock photos of smiling families and famed landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge.

In the main room of the pavilion, I was greeted with a video presentation that offered just as little substance: few hard facts and an abundance of supercilious phrases cheerfully touting America’s global leadership via pop-culture staple anecdotes about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, all said in a saccharine voice. The environment or climate change were not mentioned at all.

The juxtaposition of the lofty phrases and the actual political reality—a divergence reminiscent of Trump’s vapid grandiosity—left a bitter taste in my mouth. As a country responsible for substantial excess CO2 in the atmosphere, the U.S. should have taken both its role in the Expo and its part in the broad climate change fight more seriously. In the wake of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. is now not only removed from leadership in the fight for the environment but also from the right to cheerfully proclaim American dedication to global interests.

Big words and appeals to the Hollywood-like perception of America may have satisfied wide-eyed Expo visitors that were fascinated by the picturesque landmarks and depictions of beautiful and diverse stock models. To me, however, America’s failure to bring something substantial to the conversation—one meant to unite different countries in a common goal and to educate the broader public—left me utterly disappointed. It seems like the most advanced country in the world is planning to fight climate change with patriotic slogans and pretty pictures of the Statue of Liberty.

Nuriya Saifulina ’20, a Crimson blog editor, lives in Currier House.

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