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"Rain Forest" Serves Environment

Sandra L. Hudson
[Member, The Environmental Project Community Advisory Council]

Guest Opinion

Iowa City Press-Citizen

March 23, 2005

"Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?"

-- John Adams, 1776

I see an environmental project that offers unprecedented access to significant ecological research, the advancement of science and cutting-edge science education.

The Press-Citizen forum held last year about "the rain forest" resulted in a 180-degree turnabout in my thinking. I had held the misconception that The Environmental Project proposed for Coralville was a tourist attraction; I thought it was just one more in a long line of botanical conservatories. I discovered that The Environmental Project is really four scientific learning academies in the form of a rain forest, an aquarium, a prairie and wetlands.

I had thought it ludicrous that Congress and the Department of Energy would pork barrel $50 million for a rain forest. I discovered the physical facility for The Environmental Project is revolutionary, and the government is making a wise investment in the ecological future of our planet. The design uses new ideas for energy conservation, renewal and sustainability. For example, it will recapture 11 million gallons of annual on-site precipitation, have an ecological water purification system, and use new technology to provide both cooling and heating. In addition, the remarkable "smart" three-layer exterior will breathe, react to light and temperature and, unlike glass, permit the entire light spectrum to enter.

Cutting edge

My tax dollars are well spent. As an environmentally conscious person, I consider the knowledge the world will gain from the structure alone worth the entire cost of The Environmental Project even if nothing ever happened inside of it.

I had thought The Environmental Project was just one more walk-through conservatory. I discovered that the primary intent is scientific research and science education with universal access to learning. The multi-faceted technologies used for the academies will permit you and me to each experience cognitive growth even though our scientific backgrounds may be quite different. The cutting-edge educational approach incorporates formal, informal and interactive learning. Global real-time knowledge sharing will take place. Io-wa is known for quality education. The Environmental Project is a 21st century opportunity.

Yet, a rain forest in Iowa? Come on, get real! Then I saw giant bamboo in London's Kew Gardens. They can grow three feet a day. Suddenly I realized that the fast-growing plants of the tropics would advance scientific knowledge quickly, just like mice in medical re-search.

Gerald Holton, Mallinck-rodt research professor of physics and research professor of the history of science at Harvard, has said, "The dramatic plans for The Environmental Project are, in my view, not only a paradigmatic innovation in terms of environmentally sound architecture, but also appealing for scientists, future scientists and the layperson."


Added Rob Halpern, award-winning author of "Green Planet Rescue": "I can only say I'm envious of the Iowa plan ... Understanding and preserving this global environment is the greatest challenge of the 21st century. The Environ-mental Project ... is design-ed to meet that challenge."

Informed controversy has value. Where some in our community see secrecy, I see remarkable openness. As an ordinary citizen, I attend monthly community advisory meetings to keep updated on what is happening with The Environmental Project. The leadership is open and sharing, they listen and they hear different perspectives. I see an organization remarkably agile, with willingness to self-correct when new information emerges. For me, that's an asset, but perhaps those unfamiliar with the process of innovation may find that disconcerting.

I believe the majority of the Coralville leadership understands that the "rain forest" or "Iowa Child" or "The Environmental Project," whatever you call it, is an exceptional scientific and educational opportunity that reflects true and deep values held by Iowans.