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Archive for November 2010

UNFCCC goes to Cancun

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Relative to: Climate Change talks beginning in Cancun, Mexico.

Buried underneath all those stories about Wikileaks and football games in today’s media, there lies a story about that most loved and despised of organizations: the UNFCCC. Today a new round of Climate Change talks get underway in Cancun, Mexico. There was a time when these Climate conferences were major news, headline stories around the world. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. The previous attempt in Copenhagen was unsuccessful, climate-wise, though it may have been internationally valuable for the smaller nations, who are at higher risk of the effects of Climate Change despite producing much smaller amounts of CO2. These nations were heard and become a part of the negotiations in a way they had yet to accomplish, even if that meant shutting down the talks.

But it is once again time, even if just until the end of the first day of the conference, to be hopeful that leaders of the industrialized, polluting nations around the world will reconsider the gravity of the situation the world finds itself in. Especially around the world, I suppose, since the political realities of the United States are shifting in a direction that will likely make real energy and climate legislation much more difficult to realize. And in reconsidering this, perhaps the world can figure out a way to take the long view of life, and recognize that, yes, the world’s economy is hurting, but something should be done to help our home. After all what good is a thriving economy on a darkening planet?

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Written by Christopher ZF

November 29, 2010 at 11:38

Trails and Islands in MN

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Relative to: Nature in Minnesota

The Star Tribune reports today on two stories regarding nature in the Minnesota.
The first is recreation based. The national organization American Trails has named Minnesota the “Best Trail State” in the United States.  The award is given every two years, on behalf of trails of all kinds, including hiking, skiing, biking, ATV, snowmobile, and equestrian.

The second is conservation based. The Nature Conservancy has purchased Clough Island, in the estuary of the St. Louis River outside Duluth. The Nature Conservancy has “promised to keep the centerpiece of the St. Louis River estuary between Duluth and Superior, Wis. in its natural state.” The opportunity to buy came when a planned deal to develop a resort and golf club on the island fell through. Thank heavens.  The estuary and island are home to over 230 species of birds, 45 species of fish, beaver, mink, muskrat, river otter, wolf, bear, bobcat and white-tail deer. Who needs another golf course?

Written by Christopher ZF

November 24, 2010 at 12:07

Posted in Minnesota, wilderness

Less corn, more food.

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Relative to: Al Gore, Ethanol, Food

Ethanol requires a lot of land and even more energy to convert corn or grass or whatever biomass one prefers into fuel. But as an alternative fuel solution, back in 2000, Al Gore was a big pusher for the product. Now, with some refreshing candor, Mr. Gore has admitted his mistake.

“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol,” Gore said at a green energy conference in Athens, Greece…”One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee,” he said, “and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.”

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. He pandered for votes in the 2000 election, and supported an environmental measure that was not in the best interest of the environment. Our agricultural subsidies in this country are absurd and out of hand, and the ethanol subsidies are part of the problem. That being said, I am from Minnesota, and my family is full of corn growers who benefit from these subsidies. I don’t know the solution to the problem, but there have to be better alternatives. Such as: making food a profitable product, then encouraging farmers to grow food, rather than destroying the soil by growing corn crop after corn crop every year. That’s just one idea, but it seems like a pretty good option to me. We need more food in this country. By food, I really mean food, not the “food” that makes up most of the diet of our nation, and is pretty much, well, corn.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 24, 2010 at 11:03

Big News in MN

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Relative to: Minnesota’s Gubernatorial Recount

Today was a huge news day in the state of Minnesota. The sports happenings that have the whole state talking. Also, something important happened. Once again, the state of Minnesota finds itself requiring a recount to decide a statewide election. And like the Franken/Coleman recount, the outcome is in doubt only to those who truly embrace denial. Today, the MN Supreme Court tossed out a challenge from the GOP that asked counties to reconcile ballots with the numbers of voter signatures. Though this may sound like a logical expectation, it’s really a stalling tactic. Pure and simple. Because reconciling those things requires counting. A lot of counting. Receipts. Ballots. Signatures. Counting, counting, counting, to reach the same results.

By throwing out the case, which took 45 minutes of oral arguments and under two hours of deliberation before unanimously tossing out the suit, the state can move on to conducting the official recount. Said judges: “It strikes me that the practical effect is you end up with the same number either way,” said Justice Alan Page;  “At the end of the day, isn’t that voter’s receipt simply proof of the underlying signature?” said Justice G. Barry Anderson.

It would be unfortunate for the state GOP to further bring the courts into the count. I have yet to hear compelling arguments for how Tom Emmer could over come the 8,700+ vote differential. But it has been rumored that drawing out the process as long as possible is in the cards, thus giving the newly elected GOP majority more time to legislate with Gov. Pawlenty remaining in office. Who knows what will happen. But some in the GOP seem inclined to draw things out:“GOP attorney Tony Trimble would not say whether they planned to file a lawsuit. “We’ll proceed with the administrative recount,” he said. “Who knows what other issues might arise as these procedures move forward?”

Written by Christopher ZF

November 23, 2010 at 00:03

Contraceptive Baby Steps?

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Relative to: “Pope says in new book that use of condoms can be justified in case of male prostitutes,” by Nicole Winfield and Frances D’Emilio.

The story is in the title . In a new book, which is actually an interview , Pope Benedict the XVI upholds the argument that “condoms are not a moral solution,” but states condoms are justifiable when used by male prostitutes in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. This particular article calls this “a stunning comment for a church criticized for its opposition to condoms and for a pontiff who has blamed [condoms] for making the AIDS crisis worse.” The Pope goes on in the interview to reaffirm the Catholic stance on contraception, lamenting the loss of potential geniuses and Mozarts that are prevented from birth by condom use, and stating that abstinence and marital fidelity are the only solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

This is a subject I have long followed. I have strong personal feelings towards the Catholic Church, and would probably number myself among them if not for a few major disputes. Among those is the condom issue.  Frankly, teachings that prohibit the use of condoms are  irresponsible teachings from an era that has passed. But here is an instance of a Pope not known for endorsing change or modernity, admitting at least one instance of acceptable condom use. Is that a baby step towards reason? Or is such an obvious, common-sense statement as “male prostitutes should use condoms” not worthy of praise but simply long overdue?

A thoughtful, Christian friend of mine once said something like: they say the ship of state moves slowly, well the ship of the Church moves even slower, almost geologically slow. Indeed, the Church might be the only thing that moves slower than tectonic plates.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 20, 2010 at 14:52

Urban Hiking: Lilydale Bluffs and the St. Paul Brickyard

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Relative to: Nature in the city, and the beauty of St. Paul.

To stave off the longing for Montana’s wilderness, I went for an urban nature hike today. Not a mile from the new ZF home in St. Paul, MN is the Lilydale Regional Park, encompassing the bluffs above the Mississippi River, Pickerel Lake in the river floodplains and the old Brickyards of St. Paul. The park is popular for ice climbing and fossil hunting and connects with the greater trail system of the Mississippi River.

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Written by Christopher ZF

November 18, 2010 at 17:35

Disrupting for Disruption’s sake.

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Relative to: John Kyl’s decision to block a vote on the Nuclear Arms Treaty.

The President has taken a clear hit by losing his House Majority, slimming his Senate Majority, and losing his popularity at home. Thus, he will likely turn his attentions abroad, where Presidents often make their lasting marks, to Foreign Policy. He has successfully negotiated a new non-proliferation treaty with Russia and signed it earlier this year. It now awaits ratification by the US Congress.

For goodness sakes, congress, ratify the treaty! For political gain you will allow the world to be without a nuclear arms treaty? Hopefully it is just John Kyl and his pals that don’t want to see this come about immediately. A vote is likely to be held this year. We’re talking about nuclear weapons; not domestic budgets and tax codes. There is only one right thing to do when nuclear weapons are involved.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 18, 2010 at 11:34

Posted in foreign affairs, Obama