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March 20, 2006

March of the Penguin

I have a pair of Rocky boots. They are brown, comfortable and have gotten me through the long Minnesota winter to today's Vernal Equinox. I walk every day to work trudging through snow, ice and the occassional global warming rain. When I first put them on in November it's a sign that winter is here. and when I finally take them off in March it's an indication that spring has finally arrived. These boots are more than an important component of my winter defenses. Even more than my coat, hat and gloves this sturdy footwear is on the frontline of the toughest season of the year making contact with the frozen Earth and guarding against a frostbite invasion. They are with me through thick and thin. Yet I hate them.

It's all because of the laces. I tie them dutifully, walk out the door, and five minutes later they are untied again dragging across the ground. It doesn't really matter how tight I tie them. They refuse to stay knotted. It is not uncommon for me to have to tie then 2 or 3 times on my 5-minute walk to or from work. Part of the ordeal arises from the anticipation as I sense the laces coming undone. With each step I can see them unravel a bit more until the laces are finally slapping around like some over-boiled spaghetti noodle. It only adds insult to injury when I have to remove my gloves in the frigid temperatures to tie them, knowing they won't last more than another hundred yards or so.

Yet I keep doing it. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. It makes no sense. Clearly, the laces have become brittle with age and so defy any kind of knot I try and impose upon them. I'm quite sure there are plenty of stores where I could buy a new pair of laces more cooperative and the cost would be negligent. Yet somehow, unbelievably, I never do. I feel like one of those poor flightless birds in March of the Penguins who trudges across the desolate Antarctic ice only to stand there freezing for months-on-end without eating vainly trying to protect a lone egg. Why do they do that? There has to be a better way. I think it is our routines that can become detrimental if we are not careful. How many of us have grooves long turned into ruts? Most of us, I would hazard to guess.

This March, along with the perennial spring cleaning where we weed out possessions that are no longer required and spruce up our homes, perhaps it would also be advisable if we gave a few of our more entrenched and ill-advised habits a second-look. There's one in particular that I would dearly love to give the boot.

March 2, 2006

A World of Difference

Winter is synonomous with Minnesota. As a young boy I played in knee-deep snow that fell by Thanksgiving, certainly by Christmas, and stayed resolutely until early March. To combat the accompanying cold of bitter proportions I wrapped myself in one downy layer after another looking like a cross between the Michelin Man and that kid from A Christmas Story. Oh, how things have changed.

Recently, I attended a presentation at the University of Minnesota Morris by noted polar explorer Will Steger as well as J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ME3). Steger was clearly the headlining speaker, and I was excited as the next person to hear him talk on matters of global warming. Who wouldn't be? Steger has been a trailblazer, literally, dog-sledding across the North Pole, traversing Greenland, and making the first dog-sled journey from one end of Antarctica to the other. Heck, he's even crossed the Arctic Ocean by dog. Not surprisingly, he's still the only person to have done it. Given the rate at which the Arctic ice is melting and retreating, his record may stand for quite a while. I watched, fascinated, as he brought up one slide after another detailing the effects of global warming both in the arctic and the antarctic. Here was a person who had stood in places previously unvisited, white vistas of beautiful desolation, bringing back urgent stories for their survival.

Yet the most captivating speaker for me was not Steger, but Drake Hamilton from ME3. In contrast to Steger's global vision she offered real solutions to the problem of global warming on a more manageable local scale. With each passing minute I felt myself relax and a new-found sense of hope emerge. Perhaps, all was not lost. There was something I could do. Currently, ME3 is advocating in the Minnesota state legislature for a 20 percent renewable electricity standard by 2020. Makes sense to me. Do we really need more coal plants? It's time to look ahead to cleaner forms of energy like wind, solar and biomass. Such a move has already been made by a dozen or more states across the political landscape. Sure, investing in renewable energy is a little bit more expensive in the short-term, but the long term benefits will mean cleaner air, a more stabilized climate, and jobs in Minnesota.

To find out more about ME3 go to http://www.me3.org/ . While you're at it go to http://www.m3.org/gwa/index.html and using the link provided ask Governor Pawlenty how he will protect Minnesota's economy and natural heritage. I may be a bit more blunt and simply ask why he has not yet supported the clear-sighted 20 by 2020 initiative. Such a small step could make a world of difference.