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Feature: A hat with hole and a conference with hope

by Xue Ying

LOS ANGELES, June 7 (Xinhua) -- It was a sunny, clear morning on Thursday, June 4. When the 90-year-old John Cobb, Jr., woke up, he knew it would be an unusual day.

Some 2,000 scholars from 30 plus countries were coming in town, which gave a little burden to the 40,000-population small eco city of Claremont in southern California where Cobb lives.

After more than three years of preparation, Cobb finally could see the opening of the 10th International Whitehead Conference and the 9th Ecological Civilization International Forum with the theme of "Seizing an Alternative -- Toward an Ecological Civilization."

It would be the largest interdisciplinary international conference under the theme of ecological civilization. Cobb put all his money in it which cost over 500,000 U.S. dollars, as well as all his energy, in the past three years.

Cobb was ready for it. Some guests and friends already arrived a day or two before. He could not wait to meet all the participants at the conference.

Cobb decided to wear his best suit. It was a red Chinese traditional suit which was sent as a gift to him last year when he visited a Whitehead kindergarten in China which was established with the help of the Center for Process Study he founded 40 years ago.

His second best suit, of normal western style, has been with him for some 40 years, so he chose the new one.

His daily wearing straw hat had a hole. But it didn' t bother him. He used to describe it his "air conditioning hat" when people pointed the obvious hole to him. And when he needs to be proper, he will wear his black woolen one, though it is also very old with some part turning grey.

Cobb lives an extremely simple life in a senior community. His money went to the Center for Process Study and recently this conference.

Life gave him a surprise. Before he went out his little apartment room, a friend sent a new straw hat to him.

As expected, the conference proved to be very successful and inspiring in the following four days. The 12 sections and 82 tracks discussing more than 400 specific issues related to ecological civilization provided the philosophers, economists, the agriculture experts, education experts, biologists, environmentalists... attending the conference a good platform to exchange their views and discuss their thinking.

People were inspired. "This conference, we hope, will put the humanity into the correction course. We have the best analogues here to imagine a sustainable future for humanity and how we have to rethink our place within this ecosphere of ours," said 79-year-old Wes Jackson who was moved to tears when Cobb was invited to the center stage to receive the salute of the audience.

"This is a great man," said Jackson, who has been trying some 40 years to develop perennial crops to save the soil from agriculture caused erosion.

The urgency to respond to the climate change, small eco-farm to replace industrial farming, considering natural capital and environmental cost in economic activities, harmony in society ... and many other topics were discussed together with Alfred North Whitehead's philosophy which emphasizes the interconnection among everything in the world.

"There are many people who want to change and have good ideas about changing," said Cobb who wrote "Is It Too Late? - The Ecology of Theology" in 1971 to call for more concern on the environment issue, "But they tend to work in a very fragmented way."

"So, how can we make people work together to make change? There are many conferences dealing with specific issues. To show that they all belong together and need to support each other, we have to bring people who work on different issues together," Cobb told Xinhua a week before the conference.

Philip Clayton, a professor in Claremont, said that "the 82 different tracks are 82 different research programs which can grow and become stronger for 5, 10 and 20 years into the future."

As scholars, many participants are planning their new books and articles, which may lead to more talks and discusses. So an organization announced on the conference that they will assist any participant that need help to publish an article or a book.

"The question is, after the conference and after people have all the great ideas and got inspired, how does that get applied, in the nearest areas and local ways and involving local citizens," Jay McDaniel, a professor in Hendrix College in Arkansas who is also a student and assistant of Cobb.

"How can big ideas be translated into actions? How do big hopes come down earth? That's the next step," said McDaniel.

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