With generous assistance from the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership, the Mansfield Center has initiated what it hopes with be an ongoing dialogue on global issues with NGO and educational institutions in our sister state of Kumamoto, Japan. The Center is initiating this programming with a focus on the environment, using as our centerpiece a comparison of the human and institutional response to environmental degradation in Libby, Montana and Minamata, Japan. Libby has become a federal environmental superfund site as the result of toxic deposits of asbestos from mining that have resulted in numerous deaths and widespread respiratory damage. Minamata is this year marking the 50th anniversary of one of the first modern environmental disasters, a mercury poisoning episode that likewise caused a large number of deaths, progressive neurological disease, and tragic birth defects.
We will focus public attention for this program with a documentary on the two communities that will be produced by Ian Marquand at Missoula television station KPAX, in Missoula. Mr. Marquand also directs the “Friends of Japan” organization in Missoula and is one of the architects of the flourishing relationship Montana enjoys with Kumamoto (see accompanying article on the sister state relationship). The documentary, tentatively entitled “From Environmental Tragedy to Hope: The Libby and Minamata Stories,” will premier at an April 2007 conference on the environment, after which the Mansfield Center will distribute copies to schools in both Montana and Kumamoto.
While highlighting Minamata and Libby, the spring conference will also focus more broadly on environmental issues of importance to the U.S. and Japan. Several other university units, including the Center for Ethics, will join in co-sponsoring the event, as will our colleagues at Kumamoto Plaza, the Kumamoto Prefectural Office in Helena. The date and details of the conference will be decided following discussions that Mansfield Center director Terry Weidner, Mr. Marquand and two Libby High School teachers will undertake in Kumamoto in January 2007. We are currently targeting mid-April.
One of the key goals of this project is creation of an enduring relationship between Libby High School and Minamata High School, one that likely will include student and faculty exchanges and a joint environmental project between the two sides. Discussions on the concrete nature of that relationship will be undertaken during the afore-mentioned trip to Japan.
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