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A week ago Sunday, I was not crowned Miss America. As it turns out, however, I received an award that I consider to be an honor personally, and maybe it will turn out to mean something to you, my Minnesota family, as well. I'm talking about the Miss Congeniality award. The one that is not televised, or given much hoopla, but is respected enough by the Miss America Organization to be accompanied by a $2,000 scholarship.

Don't get me wrong. I know Miss Congeniality has a reputation. Kind of a bad rap, really, as the prize that goes to the "nice" girl — the one who has no chance of winning, and as such, is pretty much OK with everyone else. I think kindness is mistakenly seen as weakness, something that lacks pluck and ambition.

But kindness matters. Kindness matters because it is the one thing that brings us closer together as humans. It's a choice we make in response to the needs of others, and also in response to the knowledge in ourselves that we need kindness, too. We seek connection, experience and community.

Kindness is not about weakness. It's about strength. Kindness means acknowledging that difficult differences exist — in opinion, in race, in religion, in experience, in culture — and being able to see, as Maya Angelou so beautifully stated, that we are more alike than we are unalike. To act with kindness says "I see you as a part of my tribe. I see your need. I want to help" and that's hard sometimes. But the hardest things are also the most fulfilling.

We live in a crazy, unpredictable world. These days more than ever, we have the opportunity to close off into our all-too-busy personal lives, to feel overwhelmed by the scope of our differences. It's easy to look away, to look down at our phones, to ignore the call inside each of us because we are don't know how to begin.

I am thankful to the Miss America Organization and to the 52 women whose lives touched mine. I am proud to be Miss Congeniality. I hope that we all can strive to be that person who responds to the world with an open gesture of kindness. It's as simple as a smile, and the opportunities are endless.

Let's begin here.

Madeline Van Ert, Rochester

The writer is Miss Minnesota 2016.


'Life as we know it' thinking is the problem; we must change

The first paragraph of the Sept. 9 counterpoint "Pipelines are a vital link for oil we all use" reveals a major flaw in the thinking of decisionmakers at Enbridge Energy and other energy companies. It's true that life as we know it will not be possible without petroleum. But if we keep clinging to "life as we know it" thinking, we'll not be able to reverse the trend toward a warming climate that will destroy our economy and life as we've ever known it. We have to create a new reality — and quickly — to change the trajectory of increasing floods, violent storms, drought and fires that we are already experiencing.

Enbridge Energy has invested $5 billion in renewable energy. Good. How much has Enbridge invested in the Dakota Access pipeline? The commentary does not reveal that figure. Think how much further toward a stable climate we would all be if that money had been invested in renewable-energy projects. The heavy investment in the pipeline also risks being a stranded asset as the world turns away from dirty tar sands oil. Then what?

We have a sacred duty to our precious children and all future generations to leave a planet that is habitable and an economy that is sustainable. Enbridge, please step up your investment in renewable energy. Embrace a future we can all be proud of.

Emily Moore, Minneapolis

Biomass has many advantages over other forms of energy

A Sept. 9 article ("So many trees have died that some want to burn them instead of coal") cites "large numbers of scientists" who take issue with the concept of carbon neutrality of biomass burning for energy production. Not cited in the article are the more than 100 forest scientists who signed a recent letter to the Environmental Protection Agency in support of biomass energy. In that letter they point out that extensive peer-reviewed research indicates that the forms of wood used for bioenergy production have very low impact on carbon emissions, and have less than zero impact when energy produced displaces use of fossil fuels.

In fact, it makes sense to convert not only dead trees to fossil-fuel-displacing energy, but also forest residues, forest thinnings and trees from stunted stands as well. Annual growth in U.S. forests is more than double the rate of removals, leading to increasingly overcrowded stands and rising natural mortality as trees age. Bioenergy potential creates an opportunity to displace a portion of our reliance on fossil fuels, while also providing income to finance forest stewardship.

It is important to note that even the most strident detractors of forest-based biomass concede that over the long term, and on a recurring basis, energy production from biomass results in lower atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions than those that result from the use of fossil fuels to produce the same amount of energy.

In recognition of the reality of carbon benefits from biomass combustion for energy production, U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have both lent their support to recognition of low-carbon emissions from biomass energy. It is a proper and important step in moving toward sensible solutions to the climate problem.

Burning dead trees instead of coal makes a great deal of sense, as does well-considered use of other forms of biomass. Biomass is renewable, something that fossil fuels are not, and its wise use will benefit both the climate and the nation's forests.

Jim L. Bowyer, North Oaks

The writer is an environmental consultant and an emeritus professor at the University of Minnesota's Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering.


Not a welcome addition

More brilliance from our Legislature — calling a motorcycle a bicycle and permitting it on our already overcrowded bike paths if it uses an electric motor and the operator keeps the speed down to 20 miles per hour (Outdoors, Sept. 16). If you take two wheels off a Prius, you've pretty much qualified.

The article only quoted objections from mountain bikers. But for those who used paved trails, we only got to hear from the Minnesota Bicycle Alliance, whose sponsors and members include the very businesses profiting from these motorcycles being permitted on our bike trails.

Our bike paths are already overcrowded. I'm lucky when I average 17 mph on my commute, and I seldom get passed — except by these motorcycles, which belong on the roads with the other scooters.

Is it too much to ask our government leaders to think about the relationship between calling a motorcycle a bicycle and the obesity epidemic in our country?

John Casserly, Stillwater