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U. N. conference on least developed countries prescribes sustainable agriculture

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The fourth U.N. conference on the world’s poorest countries met in Istanbul from May 9 to 13 and adopted a plan of action at its end stressing the importance of foreign investment and the private sector in lifting millions from poverty. Notable was an emphasis on sustainable agriculture as a way out of poverty and toward food security for these countries.

The program foresees halving the number of least developed countries (LDCs) to 24 during the next decade through a significant rise in aid, favorable market access for all LDCs and building up their productive capacity.

The emphasis on productive capacity – energy, infrastructure and agriculture -- marked the most significant difference from the last LDC action plan formed in Brussels in 2008 which concentrated on health, education and other social areas.

“The stress on productive capacity is favored by LDCs as a means to modernize and diversify economies, create jobs and engage sustainable means to eventually eradicate poverty," said Cheick Sidi Diarra, U.N. undersecretary general and representative for the LDCs.

'Invest in common things' -- in praise of walking (part 3)

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All of us who love to walk have our favorite outings. One of mine was an early summer evening exploration of an old pasture that I had visited a hundred times before. It was favorite haunt. A summer thunderstorm had just passed through. Shreds, layers, and towering Himalayas of dark clouds, flashing with lighting, receded into the hazy distances. Tatters and wisps of fog rose ghostlike out of the soft evening folds of the nearby valleys. As the twilight began to deepen, scarlet patches of open sky appeared brilliant in the West among the dark sooty clouds.

Suddenly out of this shaggy field around me, which was so overgrown and crowded with summer wildflowers that it had become an ornate patchwork bouquet stretching from fence to fence, common fireflies – hundreds upon hundreds of them – rose out of the wet grass and floated slowly over the colorful outbursts of daisies, sunflowers, and Queen Anne’s lace still splattered with raindrops

'Much motion in the open air' -- In praise of walking (part 2)

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Walking is an almost complete introductory course to a wholistic spirituality. Walking is complex, involving mind and body, heart and soul.—all working together, the very essence of good health. “I celebrate,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, “that fine intoxication that comes of much motion in the open air, that begins in a sort of dazzle and sluggishness of the brain, and ends in a peace that passes all understanding. Your muscles are so agreeably slack, you feel so clean and strong and so idle, that whether you move or sit still, what you do is done with pride and a kingly sort of pleasure.”

May's night skies

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The warmer nights of May are prime conditions for galaxy hunting. The winter Milky Way is lost in the glare of the Sun. On these evenings we have an unobstructed view of what lies beyond our own galaxy as the night skies present us with a vista outside the Milky Way. At the center of this view, we find the constellation Virgo, a large constellation, second in size to Hydra.

The draw to Virgo for astronomers of all stripes is the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, which spills across its northern border into the constellation Coma Berenices. A neighbor to our own Local Group of galaxies, the Virgo Cluster is the richest gathering of galaxies in the Local Supercluster - a large group of associated small galaxy clusters that include the Local Group and therefore our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Global climate change already affecting grain yields

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The Midwestern corn and wheat belt in the United States, Canada and northern Mexico have experienced relatively small temperature trends, in contrast to other grain producing areas in the world. So complacency or skepticism about global warming has set in. A new study suggests that would be a mistake. Global warming is likely already taking a toll on world wheat and corn production, according to a study led by Stanford University researchers.

"It appears as if farmers in North America got a pass on the first round of global warming," said David Lobell, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford University. "That was surprising, given how fast we see weather has been changing in agricultural areas around the world as a whole."

'Wonderful alchemy' -- In praise of walking (part 1)

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In a day when anyone can change from jogging shoes, drive to the nearest airport, there to be whisked by jumbo jet in a few hours to almost any corner of the Earth, I want to sing the praises of walking.

With a caution first to watch out for traffic, I urge you to now and then cover a mile or two by legwork alone. Let us quietly celebrate here the charms of the nearest footpath, the smug satisfaction of owning a pair of well-scuffed hiking boots, the seductions of daily putting a leash on the dog and stepping out, the never-ending allure of the city’s gleaming sidewalks.

Vatican issues major report on science of climate change

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On May 5, a working group of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, one of the oldest scientific institutes in the world, issued a sobering report on the impacts for humankind as a result of the global retreat of mountain glaciers as a result of human activity leading to climate change.

The report begins: "We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses. We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home. By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life."

A visit to a green parish

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Let me tell you about my surprising visit to St. Francis of the Earth Catholic Church last Sunday while I was traveling.

Upon arriving, I notice that the parking lot is only half full of cars, but the bike racks, on the other hand, are crowded with colorful bikes of all sizes. People are streaming in on foot too, talking and laughing with their neighbors who made the jaunt from home with them.

As I enter the church, I am bathed in natural soft light from the sky lights and the many windows. What additional illumination is needed comes from LED lights.

The church furnishings are made from natural products and no carpets can be seen anywhere. Plants and seasonal flowers grown by parishioners adorn the sanctuary.

To prepare for the opening hymn, I reach for a hymnal, only to find none in sight. When I look around puzzled, a parishioner leans over and explains that they are as paper-free as possible and that the music will be projected on a big screen at the front of church. She says they do have a few booklets with the order of the Mass for those who need one and not to expect a bulletin, because everyone reads it online.

Expanding your spirit and life with meditation

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Part I: The living gifts of meditation

This is part one of a three-part series: 1) The benefits of meditation 2) Instruction and tips in how to meditate and 3) Meditation in daily life.

I’m starting with the benefits because motivation is what gets us started on this path in the first place and keeps us on it. These words of Antoine de Saint Exupery express it well: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” So we are beginning with the goal in mind.

I have been teaching meditation classes called Peace Within: Learning to Meditate for over 12 years and a steady stream of people come primarily to learn how to relieve stress. The first thing I tell them is what their expectations are way too low.

Most people don’t realize that the regular practice of meditation can positively impact every aspect of their lives, and has the potential to transform their lives quite radically. If you are seasoned in meditation or some type of centering or contemplative prayer, you know this to be true, and I invite your testimonials.

Environmental protection's power to influence politics

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"There is no conservative way to breathe air or liberal way to drink water," writes Steven Cohen on the Huffington Post Green page, in an article titled "The Political Power of Environmental Protection." "The health, safety and security of our families are at the heart of America's bedrock support for a clean environment. The environment is not an ideological issue."

Cohen is surprised by the right wing's focus on environmental protection as an example of government overregulation. Most people favor environmental protection, he points out. "Just as police forces can sometimes use excess force, some environmental regulators can get carried away. But just as people tend to support their local cops, they also support environmental regulators. Protecting the environment is not an example of government run amok."

Cohen is executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute.

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