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Sunday, March 29

Your next vacation....

The environmentalists around the globe are hailing Saturday’s “turn-off the lights for a full hour” a huge success as hundreds of millions of people from an Antarctic research base to the Pyramids of Egypt, from the Acropolis in Athens to Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers, from Times Square in NYC to Rome's ancient Colosseum, turned off the lights from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced a few hours ago that nations have a mandate to deal with climate change. Yvo de Boer, the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat interpreted the event as a mandate for an ambitious course to fight global warming. Representatives of 190 nations launched talks in Bonn last week, designed to culminate in Copenhagen in December, aiming at a new agreement to curb greenhouse gases beyond 2012, when provisions under the Kyoto Protocol expire.

So, what are these greenhouse gases exactly? Chemical compounds in the atmosphere act as “greenhouse gases” allowing sunlight to enter the atmosphere freely. When sunlight hits the Earth’s surface, some of it bounces back in space as infrared radiation. Or heat. According to the ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION, greenhouse gases absorb this infrared radiation and trap the heat in the atmosphere. The agency explains some of these gases are found in nature (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide), while others are human-made (industrial gases for example). The concern over the possible effects on the earth’s environment has fuelled a movement for sustainable development that aims at satisfying human needs without compromising the power of future generations to satisfy theirs.

Within this movement towards sustainable development, mass tourism with its excesses has come under attack while sustainable tourism is being embraced. Sustainable tourism is mainly comprised of agrotourism and ecotourism. Agrotourism means that you visit an agricultural area, stay in local guest houses, eat the local food and observe or even participate in the local rural activities. That is your vacation. No populated beaches (unless the farming area is close to sea), no big resort hotels, no your typical city night-life, fewer green house emissions. Ecotourism is visiting a beautiful natural site on which you impose the minimum damage. A gorge, a lake, a mountain, a river. Small guest houses, local cuisine, quietness, emphasis on preserving the nature, participation in sports the site facilitates (river/kayak, mountains/paragliding). Again, no noise, no urban life style, no resort facilities. Again, fewer green house emissions.

Simple stuff. Not for everyone. Unless of course it becomes fashionable.

If you were to go on a vacation, would you opt for mass tourism with its comforts or would you consider agrotourism/ ecotourism?

Saturday, March 21

Write a note to the Pope

AIDS has extracted a heavy toll in the developing world and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Let’s look at the numbers: Over 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and 74% of the infected are in sub-Saharan Africa. By the year 2010, Ethiopia, Nigeria, China, India, and Russia with 40% of the world's population will add 50 to 75 million infected people to the worldwide pool of HIV sufferers. According to the previously mentioned site, there are 14,000 new infections every day, 95% of which in developing countries. The young are paying a heavy price as the UN estimates that the number of orphans exceeds 14 million while by 2010 it will have reached 25 million.

Within this setting, last week, Pope Benedict XVI, while making his first visit to Africa, re-emphasized the Catholic Church’s position on the use of condoms: "The problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be overcome with mere slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem." Needless to say, the reaction was strong.

Many agreed with the Pope. They say that condoms alone can not solve the problem that has reached endemic dimensions in certain countries. A change of practices, intensified sex education, an emphasis on monogamy, eradication of certain traditions and dispelling myths are necessary steps for alleviating the situation. What’s more, they have been proven to be the right steps as one can see in Uganda.

However, the second part of his statement has drawn heavy criticism. Major newspaper editorials spoke of an unscientific statement, a myth, a scare tactic, that should not have been employed by the head of the Catholic church. The Vatican immediately issued a statement to explain that condoms probably give a false sense of security and therefore abstinence was the only way of prevention. Rebecca Hodes, of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, answered that opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important than the lives of Africans. The Pontiff emphasized that abstinence and fidelity, not condoms, were the means to tackle the epidemic.

So, would you like to drop a line to the Pontiff? To agree or disagree, to make a point or ask a question? Do so in your usual polite and diplomatic way! At the end of the week I will forward a sample of comments to his Holiness.

Monday, March 9

PACS: Civil unions for straight couples

A friend of mine, let’s call him Jack, who lives in Paris, France, emailed me that he has decided to tie the knot –so to speak as it turned out- with his girlfriend, Marie, whom he had been living with for five years. Jack moved to Paris after a messy divorce in the US, during which he lost a substantial amount of money to his ex.

Why do I say “so to speak?”

Because the couple did not opt for the traditional marriage but rather for a “civil union” solution, the one we have been reading in the news concerning gay couples. It took 15 minutes in front of a judge and they got their Civil Solidarity Pact (PACS) which gives them a half-way status between living together and getting married.

“Why did you choose such a half-solution? It must be a handful of people opting for this kind of thing” I sort of guessed in an uneducated manner. I understood that the law had been drafted mainly for gays, but since the language was rather ambiguous, it was also adopted by a few straight couples. “Not that few” Jack corrected me. Close to 150,000 couples chose it last year I was informed. It has an air of independence, it has incorporated financial advantages, and it is easier to terminate than a traditional marriage, Jack continued, obviously beaming on the other end.
“It sounds like a substitute for marriage” I pressed.
“But it is” Jack explained. “Don’t you love it?... This is how I declare my independence from society’s rules, expectations. Not to mention the mess of divorce. If either one of us wants to end it, I or Marie, go to the court, declare our wish in writing, and we are done. Neither one has any rights on the other person’s property or money.”

So I decided to do a bit more research on this PACS half-solution. I found that although it was designed for gay couples, 90% of "solidarity pacts" a year are now being made between people of the opposite sex. Indeed, as Jack said, it can be ended with a simple letter from either partner. And indeed it provides near-identical financial and benefits as marriage, like joint tax returns and qualification for deductions. However evaluation of this plan remains difficult as various privacy laws prohibit the collection of statistics on this particular arrangement.

As we observe the collapse of the nuclear family and the rising number of single parents, I wonder whether we are heading towards a PACS alternative in this country too.

Do you think the circumstances are ripe for such a shift in the US? Would you personally support it or oppose it?

Monday, March 2

Abortion increase in young girls

The number of abortions among girls aged under 16 rose by 10% to 4,376 in 2007, official figures for England and Wales show.

In the under 14s, abortions rose by 21% from 135 in 2006 to 163 last year.
The number of abortions in all women rose by 2.5% to reach an all time high of almost 200,000.
Government advisers called for high quality sex education at school and investment in contraception services for young people.

Scotland has also seen a rise in the number of abortions with figures published in May showing there were 13,703 carried out in 2007 compared with 13,163 in 2006.
The number of abortions carried out has been rising ever since the 1967 Abortion Act - with just over 22,000 terminations in the first year.
In the past decade, the number of abortions in the under 16s has risen by 27%.
But at the same time the teenage pregnancy rate has fallen.

If you want to read the whole article click here