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

  • Friday, July 3, 2015 2:25pm

    Now that a solar-powered plane has set an amazing record, we're ready with the next question: Will there soon be a fleet of solar-powered planes?

    Not quite, but airlines are moving in that direction.

    On Friday, Andre Borschberg, in a plane powered completely by the sun, pushed past Amelia Earhart-esque territory — completing a five-day solo flight across the Pacific, from Japan to Hawaii. It the longest leg on a planned around-the-world trip for the solar-powered plane.

    Not only did Borschburg make it, he got a lei around his neck.

    "This particular flight is really on the edge of the envelope," MIT aeronautics professor John Hansman says. 

    Borschberg touched down outside of Honolulu at dawn this morning. At 120 hours, it was the longest solo flight ever. And the plane did it without a drop of fuel. It was powered instead by 17-thousand solar cells mounted on its 236 foot-wide wings.

    Borshberg says he himself was also powered through the flight by yoga and meditation.

    First thing he says he wants to do now, after five days in the air, is take a shower. And the next stop for Solar Impulse 2 after a layover in Hawaii is Phoenix, Arizona, en route to Abu Dhabi, where the plane first set out on March 9.

    Will Solar Impuse 2 inspire a whole fleet of solar planes? Even small planes? Not quite yet, says Hansman, given the power limitations of current solar panels.

    However, those panels are improving rapidly. One start: biofuels.

    Earlier this week, United Airlines announced it was investing $90 million in a 10-year effort to use jet fuel made from solid waste.

  • Friday, July 3, 2015 1:16pm

    It's never been seen in the wild before now, as least in reptiles. Researchers have published a study demonstrating that when the mercury rises, the Australian bearded dragon changes its sex.

    The study, in the journal Nature, refers to the change as "sex reversal"  which means that the bearded dragons actually have genes and sex chromosomes of a male individual, but they look, act, behave and, incredibly, reproduce just like females.

    Even more surprising is the reason the sex reversal takes place. The researchers showed that by incubating the bearded dragon's eggs in very warm temperatures (above 89.6 degrees) you can trigger them to reverse sex.

    The lizards switch from having its sex determined by genes to having it determined by temperature.

    There are examples of sex reversals known in fish like the parrotfish that start life as females and change to males. There are amphibians as well. But, it's the first time the it's been demonstrated in the wild by a reptile.

    Is this remarkable change a positive thing for the bearded dragon? That is, does this suggest that animals are adapting and surviving, or will something like the temperature increases from climage change ultimately lead to them becoming extinct?

    "That’s actually one of the big questions that we don’t quite have an answer to yet," say Clare Holleley, lead author of the study. "There’s sort of two definite possibilities: If the climate does continue to warm exponentially and they don’t have a chance to adapt then of course the populations are going to become increasingly female. If you go to the complete extreme where there is only females, that’s of course going to threaten the survival of the species."

    However, there is a possibility that they may be able to adapt to climate change.

    "Indeed, some could argue that maybe being able to manipulate your sex ratio by adapting and laying your eggs in different temperatures in different regions, could potentially be a benefit to the species," Holleley says. "We’re not to sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing yet."

  • Wednesday, July 1, 2015 5:30pm

    Journalist Zoe Sullivan spent months documenting a small community of marisqueiras living south of Recife on the eastern coast of Brazil.

    Marisqueiras are women who harvest mollusks, crabs and other shellfish from the waters of Brazil's coastal mangrove swamps. It's an occupation they've pursued for generations. But the steady expansion of a nearby port and industrial complex is threatening their livelihoods and their health. We asked Zoe about these women and the challenges they're facing. 


    Anne Bailey

    Anne Bailey: What initially drew you to report on the marisqueiras in Brazil?

    Zoe Sullivan: I spent roughly half of 2009 in Brazil, where I reported on the conflict between fisher folk in Rio's Guanabara Bay and Petrobras, which was building a liquid natural gas pipeline across the bay. Shortly thereafter, I moved to New Orleans and covered the BP oil spill and its aftermath. Both experiences got me interested in issues facing traditional fishing communities in places with large oil industries; places where women’s issues also seemed particularly underrepresented to me.

    The Atlântico Sul shipyard looms in the distance as Valeria Maria de Alcântara heads toward a mangrove to harvest shellfish.

    The Atlântico Sul shipyard looms in the distance as Valeria Maria de Alcântara makes her way toward a mangrove to harvest shellfish.


    Zoe Sullivan

    AB: These women harvest mollusks, sand crabs, brown crabs and other shellfish from the tidal mangrove swamps along the coast. What’s their technique?

    ZS: To draw crabs out from their hiding places in the mangroves' roots, the marisqueiras whistle and tap on the trees with a knife or a stick. The crabs are attracted to the sounds and come out. Then the women dangle a piece of bait from a hand-made fishing pole, and when the crab grabs it, they swing the crab into their buckets.

    Vania Maria de Alcântara stands chest deep in a swamp to free shellfish from low-hanging tree limbs.

    Vania Maria de Alcântara stands chest deep in the swamp to free shellfish from low-hanging tree limbs. The Sociedade Nordestina de Ecologia found that nearly 20% of the fisherwomen surveyed suffer from gynecological infections from the polluted water.


    Zoe Sullivan

    AB: Many marisqueiras in this community say their livelihoods are suffering as a result of the expansion of the nearby Suape Port and Industrial Complex, which houses two shipbuilding firms, a Coca-Cola bottling plant, various chemical companies and other businesses. How far away is the complex and how is it affecting them?

    ZS: The complex covers approximately 140 square kilometers — which is divided into the port, industrial areas, and environmental and cultural conservation areas. Consequently, the distances between places where women fish and the complex varies. The women I visited live roughly two kilometers from the ProMar and Atlantico Sul shipyards, which are surrounded by businesses and undeveloped areas. Some communities, such as the Ilha de Tatuoca, have been completely relocated as a result of the complex’s expansion.

    The Sociedade Nordestina de Ecologia found that 17 percent of the shell fisherwomen it surveyed suffered from gynecological infections, likely a result of standing in polluted waters. Marisqueiras also complain about skin rashes and lesions caused by toxins in the water. The women I interviewed said the shellfish population has been decimated over the past decade as the port and industrial complex have expanded.  

    Children leave their flip-flops on the walkway through the mangrove swamp surrounding the fisherwomen's community.

    Children leave their flip-flops on the walkway through the mangrove swamp surrounding the fisherwomen's community.


    Zoe Sullivan

    AB: Suape Port officials argue the opposite — that the industrial complex and expansion are actually benefiting nearby communities. How so?

    ZS: The construction work linked to the expansion brought thousands of temporary and permanent jobs to the area. A wind turbine company produces blades there, Coca-Cola runs a bottling plant claiming to use primarily local ingredients. The port and industrial complex have offered some displaced residents plots of farmland to continue farming, or homes in a newly-constructed complex. These homes are often closer to schools, which makes it easier for children to get an education. The new homes are also equipped with proper electrical and plumbing systems, which reduces the risk of  electrical shock and disease.

    The marisqueiras use small pieces of fish tied to string to snare crabs after coaxing them out from their hiding places in the m

    The marisqueiras use small pieces of fish tied to string to snare crabs after coaxing them out from their hiding places in the mangroves.


    Zoe Sullivan

    AB: You mentioned that since the expansion of the Suape Port and Industrial Complex, many marisqueiras no longer feel safe in the communities where they grew up. What’s the connection between the Suape port expansion and these women’s increased fear of sexual violence and harassment?

    ZS: Thousands of predominantly male workers came from around Brazil to work on the Suape Port and Industrial Complex expansion, creating a significant gender imbalance in the area. Local residents, including fisherfolk, couldn’t get these jobs, often because of lack of training and education. Now Nivete Azevedo, the director of the Cabo Women's Center, says many women no longer feel safe going to the beach or meeting in the town square because men accost them. The region also has very traditional and conservative gender roles that fail to prepare young women to advocate for themselves in romantic and sexual relationships. For many younger women, the idea of a relationship with a worker from the port complex represents a way out of the hard work and poverty that characterize so many people's lives in the area. This vision, however, often conflicts with the men’s shorter-term goals.

    Cristina Maria de Alcântara da Silva harvesting crabs.

    Cristina Maria de Alcântara da Silva harvesting crabs. 


    Zoe Sullivan

    AB: Is this a dying occupation in general in Brazil's coastal communities? What does the future hold for these women if they can no longer work as marisqueiras?

    ZS: This is a critical question and one that fisher folk of both genders are organizing around in Brazil. For example, the struggle of fisherfolk in Rio's Guanabara Bay is getting more attention due to the upcoming Olympics and scrutiny of the bay's water quality.

    There were approximately 5000 marisqueiras in Pernambuco in recent years. Few want their daughters to follow in their footsteps. They hope that education will offer their girls better opportunities in the formal job market. In the meantime, the options are limited for women who have worked in the swamps for decades. Some seek work in beachside cafés, others in shops or hotels further from their homes. One woman I met runs a bar in her village. But for many families, the loss of this livelihood will make a move to an urban area, and a favela, more likely. Once there, the possibility of fishing or foraging for the family's meals essentially disappears, and informal employment as a street vendor offers one of the few alternatives to the drug trade.


    Zoe Sullivan

    Zoe Sullivan is a radio and digital journalist with a master's degree in participatory research methods from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Her work has been published and broadcast by Deustche Welle, Radio France International, Marketplace, The Guardian, Pacific Standard Magazine, and others. 

  • Tuesday, June 30, 2015 2:13pm

    OK, we all know how long a day is, right? One spin of the Earth, a full rotation.

    Long ago, someone somewhere chopped that full day up into bits they called hours, decided there were 24 of them in one day, and at some point the whole rest of the world decided to go along with that way of marking time. 24 hours in a day. 1,440 minutes. 86,400 seconds.

    Except today. Today is 86,401 seconds — one extra second.

    I tried to explain this weirdness to my daughter, Eleanor. I wanted to talk to her about the leap second today because she’s interested in stuff like this, but also for another reason.

    Today Eleanor turns 6. And just this year, she has one extra second to enjoy her birthday.

    But why is there an extra second?

    When we talked about this last night, I didn’t exactly know myself. We were about to sit down and read what NASA had to say about it.

    “Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down a bit," NASA's press release quoted Daniel MacMillan of the Goddard Space Flight Center as saying. "So leap seconds are a way to account for that.”

    "What's that mean, 'gradually slowing down'?" Eleanor wants to know.

    Something to do with the gravity of the sun and the moon tugging at the Earth, I told her.

    Here’s the basic deal, in terms that maybe a newly-minted 6-year-old could understand, but hopefully not too basic for the rest of us.

    Turns out, Earth days are getting longer. Eons ago, a day was 23 hours long. Way in the future, it will be 25 hours long, and then even longer. The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon are basically working like very slow brakes on Earth’s spin. Right now, in fact, an average day is 24 hours plus 2 milliseconds.

    So that’s where the idea of the leap second comes in. The people who keep track of time came up with it to keep human time consistent with nature, just like people came up with the idea of adding a leap day to the calendar roughly every four years. They figured out long ago that the amount of time it takes the Earth to orbit the sun is slightly longer than the 365 days in a human year. If we didn’t add that extra day once in a while, our months slowly would get all out of whack with the seasons.

    Same thing with days and that tiny little extra couple of miliseconds.

    But here’s the thing. The Earth isn’t slowing down by a regular, predictable amount. Things that happen right here on Earth can also affect the length of the day.

    Everything from atmospheric variations due to El Niño to volcanic eruptions to changes in the Earth’s inner core can all affect the length of a day. So we don’t add that leap second every year. Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don’t, sometimes we have more than one.

    NASA says that today’s leap second will be only the fourth to be added since the year 2000.

    OK, got it?

    After half an hour or so of a meandering conversation with Eleanor, I wasn’t sure that she had it.

    When I asked her, she had to think about it for another minute.

    "Because the Earth doesn’t spin exactly at one day?"

    Nailed it.

    Now believe it or not, there’s actually a controversy over this leap second thing. There are people who say we should dump the idea altogether. I didn’t get into that with Eleanor. I won’t get into it here either. In any case, there’s no way anyone’s going to take away Eleanor’s extra second for her birthday, because she’s already got plans for it — to have an "extra special dessert."

    Well OK, maybe. I mean, it is her birthday and all.

    And as it turns out, she might get to do it at exactly the right second. Because the real extra second, the one the global time keepers are adding today, comes at midnight UTC, what used to be known as GMT. That's 8 pm here in Boston. Right when she might be finishing up her birthday dinner.


    Explaining things to kids can be a fun challenge. What's the weirdest thing YOUR kid has ever asked you about?

  • Monday, June 29, 2015 2:52pm

    Andre Borschberg's record-setting flight from Japan's Nagoya Airfield to Hawaii is over, after he landed the sun-powered Solar Impulse 2 on Friday. The historic plane landed around noon at Kalaeloa Airport.

    This leg of his flight — a five-day haul over the Pacific Ocean — was the most dangerous and difficult leg of his journey.

    The Swiss pilot has beaten the record for endurance during a solo flight by two days. However, this was only the eighth leg out of 13. Another pilot, Betrand Piccard, will now fly the plane from Hawaii to Phoenix Arizona.

    Solar Impulse 2's flight over the Pacific took such a long time because the plane doesn’t go faster than about 35 miles per hour.

    The flight was originally delayed by nearly two months because of inclement weather, but Solar Impulse 2 was able to take off early on Monday morning.

    John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, spoke to us on Monday and said conditions in the plane were punishing.

    Borschberg withstood huge temperature fluctuations as the plane rose and fell as the battery charged and drained throughout the day. Because the cockpit wasn't pressurized, he has to rely on an oxygen tank. The plane is too small to be outfitted with a bathroom, so he used a hole in his seat. On top of all that, he wasn't able to sleep more than two or three hours at a time until he lands in Hawaii.

    “You’re really pushing the envelope in the technology of wind instruction, you’re pushing the envelope in terms of the technology of the battery system, you’re pushing the envelope in terms of the physical capability of the pilot and you’re pushing the envelope in terms of having that weather window," Hansman said.

    Hansman said this technology isn’t likely to change the way we fly commercially, but it could be used for long, unmanned flights in the future. He hopes that this flight will encourage more innovation in the aviation world.

    “I think it’s a challenge that requires you to push the limits,” he said. “And I think that challenge creates innovation in terms of the airplane technology, the electrical system technology and strategies to fly the airplane. I think it’s a challenge that will push us forward.”