PRI's The World on RADIO IQ

Weekdays at 4:00 pm on RADIO IQ.
Marco Werman

PRI’s The World is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. Launched in 1996, PRI’s The World, a co-production of WGBH/Boston, Public Radio International, and the BBC World Service.

The World's coverage is provided by a global network of international journalists. The program also has access to the 250 BBC correspondents located around the world. Unique in public radio, this network works in concert with the program's multinational team of producers and editors, and brings an exceptional depth of understanding and freshness of perspective to the program content. The result is an award-winning hour of breaking news, in-depth features, hard-hitting commentaries, and thought-provoking interviews found nowhere else in U.S. news coverage.

PRI's The World -- international news for an American audience -- weekdays at 4:00 on ourRADIO IQ With BBC News network of signals and streaming live on the web.

Program Headlines

  • Thursday, May 21, 2015 3:22pm

    The United States, Canada and Mexico share borders and trade agreements, and now a new plan announced this week by the White House might have the three countries cooperating around butterflies and bees as well.

    ​The plan aims to reverse an alarming decline in the populations of butterflies, bees and other pollinators. American beekeepers lost 40 percent of their honeybee colonies last year, and the news is even worse for monarch butterflies. Over the past 20 years, the number of monarch butterflies that migrate south in winter to escape the cold, mainly to Mexico, has dropped by an estimated 90 percent.

    “The situation is desperate,” says Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist with the department of wildlife and conservation biology at the University of Minnesota.

    The stated goal of the bee and butterfly conservation plan is to restore and protect nearly seven million acres of habitat for these pollinating insects using a north-to-south corridor across the country. That will replace the land that's been lost to butterflies and pollinators due to pesticide use.

    A map showing the route of a planned pesticide-free butterfly corridor across the United States.

    Credit:

    David Leveille

    "Patches of high-quality habitat that's rich in flowers and free of pesticides forming a corridor from Mexico to Canada will help monarchs to find nectaring and breeding areas as they travel," says Scott Hoffman Black, the executive director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

    Some experts say that reversing the declines will require all hands on deck, so Oberhauser points out that everyday people can also get involved. "You don't need a lot of space to put in flowers as sources of nectar for bees and butterflies, and milk weed plants which are the food for the caterpillars," she says. "People can also get involved with citizen science projects that monitor monarchs when they’re caterpillars and when they’re migrating.”

    Although the strategy is a great start, Black says that what happens next is no less important. "The success of the strategy will be in its implementation, in particular, adequate funding and appropriate actions by agencies," he says. "We will continue to work with and support the White House and federal agencies as they move forward."

  • Tuesday, May 19, 2015 4:53pm

    Space junk is a serious problem.

    There's lots of garbage orbiting our planet, everything from nuts and bolt to old satellites and used-up rocket stages. "There are over 500,000 pieces of debris that are between the size of a cherry and a melon," says top space junk researcher Lucy Rogers of the British Interplanetary Society.

    And all of those bits of orbiting trash, even the small ones, can pose big problems. "Something the size of a cherry going at 17,000 miles per hour — which it will be up in space — if that hits a spacecraft it can have the same effect as a hand grenade going off," she says.

    Here are computer generated images of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95 percent of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites.

    Credit:

    NASA Orbital Debris Program Office

    So why not meet fire with fire? That's what some Japanese researchers want to do.

    They've made a special telescope that tracks debris from the International Space Station and want to pair it with a laser beam that would blast the garbage away — literally.

    "The laser will focus on a piece of space debris and it will repeatedly hit it in bursts like a machine gun — wham wham wham wham!" she says. That will heat the garbage and create little bursts of vaporized plasma that push the junk out into space like a thruster engine.

    But don't get too excited, Rogers says: This laser idea may not fly because of politics.

    "If you can blast a piece of space debris, you can also blast someone else's satellite," she points out. "And due to the 'Star Wars treaties' ... putting a laser into space is causing political problems."

  • Wednesday, May 13, 2015 11:02am

    Drought in Australia; an end to drought in Brazil; poor crops across Asia; record global temperatures. If you start hearing about these in the next year, remember this news from the week:

    El Niño is back.

    That's the word from scientists who have been watching the tropical Pacific. Surface temperatures there are going up, winds are shifting and that could mean big weather-related changes around the world over the next year or so.

    El Niño is part of a climate cycle in the tropical Pacific known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation; it flips back and forth every few years between the cool La Niña and the warm El Niño phases. In the El Niño phase, ocean surface temperatures rise, easterly trade winds along the equator slow or even reverse and the planet in general tends to warm up.

    Scientists expected El Niño last year, but it was a no-show. But this year, American researchers reported in March that a weak El Niño had finally set in. Now Japanese and Australian scientists say it's definitely here, and likely to be much bigger than the American predictions — with global implications.

    Maps of typical jet stream locations and patterns during La Niña (left) and El Niño (right) winters. Patterns are similar in spring, but are often weaker. Based on original graphics from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

    Maps of typical jet stream locations and patterns during La Niña (left) and El Niño (right) winters. Patterns are similar in spring, but are often weaker. Based on original graphics from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

    Credit:

    NOAA

    In parts of Brazil, it could mean a lot more rain — which could be a good thing, with the capital São Paulo and other parts of the country in the midst of a wrenching drought. In Australia, the effect may well be the opposite: drier and hotter weather in many areas, possibly exacerbating existing water shortages.

    That heating and drying out could stretch from Australia all the way around to eastern Africa and southern Asia, possibly cutting into harvests of key crops like rice, soybeans, corn and palm oil from India to China to Indonesia.

    In the United States, El Niño often brings rain to California and the South, raising hopes that a return this year would bring drought relief to the parched West Coast. That seemed unlikely when scientists identified the weak El Niño in March, figuring it would be too small to have much of an impact. But the prospects for substantial rain could be improved with the revised forecast.

    Meanwhile, the global forecast is for higher overall temperatures, quite possibly even a record.

    Until last year, the hottest year on record was 1998, which saw a big El Niño. After that, the next warmest was 2010, another El Niño year. Last year broke both of those records by a hair, which was a bit of a surprise — and a concern to many, because it wasn't an El Niño year.

    But with the overall temperature trend sharply up — the 10 hottest years on record have all come since 1998 — scientists are anticipating that the warmth contributed by El Niño may well bring another new global record, and perhaps put to rest the contention by climate change deniers that global temperatures have plateaued.

  • Monday, May 11, 2015 4:36pm

    Here's a story about some unlikely victims of climate change: Not polar bears stranded by melting ice or Pacific atolls battered by rising sea levels, but long dead natives of northern Chile whose mummified bodies are feeling the effects of a warming Earth.

    The Chinchorro mummies were discovered in Chile's Atacama Desert in 1917, remnants of the Chinchorro people who once lived along the coasts of northern Chile and southern Peru. These are the oldest mummies ever found, dating back to 5,000 to 7,000 BC — more than a couple of thousand years older than mummies in Egypt.

    But the specimens housed at the University of Tarapaca's museum in Arica, Chile, are rapidly deteriorating, their ancient skin turning to black ooze in certain spots.

    “My colleagues in Chile say that fog began to roll in off the Pacific about 10 years ago, and the climate was changing. The mummies began to deteriorate and they couldn't work out why," says Ralph Mitchell, a professor emeritus of applied biology at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "That’s why they contacted me.”

    Mitchell is a microbiologist who specializes in investigating why ancient relics deteriorate. “So the interest was, is this a microbial process like an infection?" he says. "The museum had about 200 mummies that were doing fine until this humid air and fog started to roll [in,] and the Chilean scientists started to notice signs of moisture on the skin of the mummies.”

    That moisture is a problem because it creates a ripe environment for microbes to flourish. “There were normal, indigenous micro-organisms that were capable of decomposing skin," Mitchell says. "Give them a little moisture and they’ll start growing.”

    Given the wider environmental changes that are occurring along the coast of northern Chile, Mitchell says the message for Chilean archaeologists and scientists at the museum is simple: “You have to move the mummies into a climate controlled environment. You can’t leave them out in the open anymore.”

    There may be an even bigger issue raised by the deteriorating Chinchorro mummies, Mitchell says, namely that “our cultural heritage globally is at risk. ... One has to think as the climate is changing around the world, what about our heritage materials, our archaeological sites, our museums and libraries?  Anything that’s open is at risk from climate change.”  

    And while it's easy to think of well-known relics like the Egyptian mummies, Mitchell says, we should also consider lesser-known treasure like the Chinchorro mummies.

    “This is an even more ancient part of our history," he says. "In the laboratory, you look at the skin and you say ‘This is skin of people who lived 7,000 years ago.' It’s awe-inspiring, and you don’t want that lost. That’s our memory.”

  • Monday, May 11, 2015 1:56pm

    Nama Budhathoki was working on his Ph.D. in the US when a huge earthquake hit Haiti in 2010.

    A student of mapping, he quickly noticed that initial recovery efforts in Haiti lacked good, detailed maps of the island. Budhathoki is from Nepal, and he couldn't help but think about his own country. Nepal was also at great risk for a big earthquake, and the country also lacked decent maps.

    So when he returned home in 2013, Budhathoki started Kathmandu Living Labs, an attempt to get better maps for Nepals. He recruited volunteers to help map out the Kathmandu Valley using OpenStreetMap, a crowd-sourced tool that allows many people to add details to a map and share it.

    “One of the first things we wanted to map was the road networks," he says, "and then slowly we wanted to put other information like restaurants, hospitals, temples — essentially anything."

    That's far from easy: Even in the capital city of Kathmandu, there are often no street names or building numbers. “You won’t see that when you walk down the street, and that makes navigation extremely difficult, even in normal situations,” Budhathoki says.

    Imagine trying to navigate the unmarked roads during an emergency — or after an earthquake, when many of the landmarks might have been severely altered or even destroyed completely.

    That's why Budhathoki’s work has been crucial for relief efforts following last month's earthquake. Many foreign and local NGOs delivering aid have relied on the crowd-sourced maps to navigate in Kathmandu. And, thanks to their previous work, Budhathoki's team was able to focus its current efforts on rural areas where aid is badly needed.

    “Since cities were already mapped, the OpenStreetMap community could start mapping the villages," he says. "We didn’t have to focus a lot of the core of the cities, so all 11 districts that were badly hit by the earthquake were quickly mapped."

    Because of the crowd-sourced nature of OpenStreetMaps, the maps are continually updated with the latest details to aid recovery efforts.

    “I think a lot of people have started to understand the value of a map from this earthquakes," Budhathoki says. "It’s not really a map culture here, but now, for rescue operations to distribute the needed materials — even to plan the recovery process — a lot of people have started talking about the map."