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British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke is famous for observing, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” For over 150 years, World’s Fairs have provided a glimpse of technological advancements and ideas that may have felt more like magic than science to many of their observers. Among the new technologies showcased at these exhibitions, advancements in environmental science have been prominent.

The next World’s Fair will be presented in Milan, Italy, from May 1 through Oct. 31, 2015, and its theme will be “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” The show will highlight methods for improving nutrition for the increasing world population with an emphasis on sustainable practices and technologies.

The Expo Milano 2015 describes the four pillars upon which the show is being constructed, all of which support its commitment to the theme of sustainability, and bear a strong resemblance to those guiding principles as set forth by the International Olympic Committee for its events:

Social Legacy – By choosing the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” the aim is to stimulate thought and insights around one of the biggest challenges facing the world today with the aim of leaving a legacy of ideas and initiatives as a basis for developing long-term solutions.
Inclusion – The involvement and active participation of all stakeholders and the community on a global level guarantee the knowledge sharing that characterizes the Universal Exhibitions since their inception and make Expo Milano 2015 the crossroads between experience and knowledge.
Innovation – The presentation of innovative solutions to the problem of global food crisis and solutions adopted for the construction of the site and exhibition areas, and the modern facilities for managing the event, allow visitors a unique and unforgettable experience, supported by technologies of the future (the so-called Smart City).
Social Responsibility – The implementation of sustainability principles in the design, and implementation and management of the event aim to minimize environmental impact, allowing all stakeholders to take part in an experience that is truly sustainable, offering an example for future events.

It is interesting that in 1964, another science fiction giant, Isaac Asimov, wrote an article entitled “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014.” A prescient Asimov glimpsed a future in which society would struggle to provide adequate food and living space for an exploding global population. He imagined a world where technology would make subterranean and underwater living comfortable, thus preserving the Earth’s surface area for agriculture. While not all of his predictions of our current world were spot on, he did also foresee the equivalent of iPads, flat screen televisions and other innovations that have become an unremarkable part of our daily existence.

This year also marks the 50th and 75th anniversaries of past World’s Fairs in Queens, N.Y., sparking a series of commemorative events that began in April and will continue through October. The previous fairs took place in 1939 and 1964, when the world was more focused on the consequences of global warfare than on cooperation and sustainability. The current commemorative exhibitions will include an array of presentations, from photographic and art exhibits to films and scientific displays.

One of the last remaining structures from the 1964 Fair, the New York Hall of Science’s Great Hall, has been renovated and will host a permanent exhibition called Connected Worlds. The exhibit will demonstrate our world’s increasing interconnectivity and the efforts being made to share and conserve vital resources, a fitting segue to the theme of the Milan Expo.

Examining the themes and innovations of World’s Fairs clearly demonstrates the vital role that public trade exhibitions play in shaping the global economy, values and culture.

Green Tip: Interested in attending, volunteering or exhibiting at Expo Milano 2015? There is still time to get involved. Visit Expo2015.org. For a comprehensive listing of World’s Fair commemorative events scheduled in Queens, visit ItsinQueens.com.

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