He is the head of a city-state called Vatican City that actually issues passports and has a population count (about 800). That makes him a world leader. And even though he heads the smallest city-state on the planet, no world leader's reach comes close to the pope's. This is a position for which national boundaries mean little. His jurisdiction and followers are scattered all about the countries of the world.

A papal visit can be a life-changing, even world-changing event.

Moreover, ours is a world starving for moral leadership, regardless of religion or denomination. What other leaders in peace, love and morality come quickly to mind?

Indeed, many believe that John Paul II was one of the great world leaders of the 20th century. The Poland native's gentle staff stood up to Eastern Bloc communism and fractured it in much the same way Moses' own freed the Israelites.

John Paul II was a decidedly difficult act to follow and Pope Benedict XVI also was cast into the fire of a blazing pedophilia scandal. Benedict's fatigue and his frustrations even about a lack of privacy were evident in his last public addresses before becoming the first pope in six centuries to walk away from the job.

The leader of 1 billion Catholics, and the voice of conscience for many others, a pope carries the world on his shoulders. What a burden it must be for even the holiest among us. And that weight is usually added at an advanced age...

The process to choose Benedict's successor is shrouded in smoke literally. But here's hoping the next pope can be a shepherd of peace not only for his own flock but for a world awash in conflict, confusion and chaos.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike could sure use a John Paul the third.

The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, Feb. 28

Harsh weather, accidents and errors make Arctic energy exploration tricky

Mother Nature made the point the Obama administration chose to ignore two years ago as it was processing an application by Shell Oil to proceed with oil and gas development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The Arctic Ocean is a rough place to do business.

Shell operations were pummeled in both locations last year, and recently the company called off plans for the 2013 drilling season.

Oil rigs had trouble, and so did a new tug. Harsh weather, accidents and errors combined to send the Shell rigs to Asia for repairs.

All of the early warnings were seemingly ignored during the permitting process, so high winds and seas, ice and limited visibility made the point.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico made the hazards and difficulties clear. Imagine spill response within truly harsh conditions.

Respect the lessons learned.

Last month, the Interior Department approved a plan to expand energy production and wildlife protections in a widely praised move for the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The agreement makes approximately 11.8 million acres available for oil and gas leasing and closes 11 million acres to energy development.

The Bureau of Land Management estimates three-fourths of the recoverable oil and half of the recoverable gas are in the plan.

Energy supplies are open, and other resources subsistence living, recreation, fish and wildlife, historical and scenic values are protected.

Do not ignore Mother Nature. Shell was lucky. Better options exist, and the Interior decision provides for them.

The Seattle Times, March 3