PRI's The World on RADIO IQ with BBC

Weekdays at 4:00 pm on our RADIO IQ With BBC network.

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 our RADIO IQ With BBC News network of signals and streaming live on the web.

Local Host(s): 
Beverly Amsler
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Program Headlines

  • Friday, February 27, 2015 3:09pm

    You've arrived in Nantucket for your big international surfing adventure in New England. Okay, it's no Hawaii, but the waves are good.

    Except, of course, when it's February, freezing and the waves have turn into slush.

    "When I pulled up to the beach I could see the horizon just look strange," photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh, who lives on Nantucket, wrote me in an email. "When I got to the top of the dunes I saw that about 300 yards out from the shoreline the ocean was starting to freeze."


    Jonathan Nimerfroh

    Nimerfroh wasn't out on the Nantucket beaches for surfing last Friday — it wouldn't have been good anyway because of the winds coming in from the southwest, which he says would typically make for rough or choppy conditions. But he did shoot some amazing images of the 2- to 3-foot slush waves.

    "What an experience to be absolutely freezing on the beach, watching these roll in, while I mind-surfed them," he says.


    Jonathan Nimerfroh


    Jonathan Nimerfroh


    Jonathan Nimerfroh


    Jonathan Nimerfroh

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015 1:19pm

    Here are three words to strike fear into your heart: Human. Powered. Helicopter.

    And by “powered,” I don’t mean a foot on the gas pedal. I mean if you stop pedaling, it falls. The only "power" in this helicopter is the Power Bar you eat before you climb inside. And you better eat a lot of them. 

    “It is extremely difficult because the faster you go, the more power it takes,” says Cameron Robertson, co-founder of AeroVelo, a company in Canada dedicated to human-powered engineering.

    In 2013, AeroVelo won the Sikorsky Prize, a $250,000 award for building a human-powered helicopter that can stay in the air at least 60 seconds and reach an altitude of 3 meters — about 10 feet. How big a feat of engineering was this? The prize had gone unclaimed for 33 years.

    “It was much harder than we had expected at the outset of the problem,” Robertson says. “Twice we had been inches away from success and claiming the prize when the whole helicopter had broken up in mid-air. Todd was flying the helicopter in both of these enormous crashes, and so he fell from between 7 and 10 feet up in the air as the helicopter came apart around him.”

    Todd Reichert — he’s the other founder of AeroVelo — was fine, by the way. He’d been practicing judo falls and tumbling techniques.

    But given the very real risk of leg breakage, what drew them to this? Cameron has kind of a dry answer.          

    “The constraint of human power is a very exciting design challenge," he says. "It forces you again to get creative, to look for new approaches and ultimately to be much more efficient and effective at design."  

    But when you watch AeroVelo’s prize-winning helicopter flight, when you literally see a guy pedal his way into the air, it’s awe-inspiring. Their machine looks like a Dr. Seuss illustration come to life, whimsical, beautiful and incredibly complicated.

    Now imagine building one of these things for getting around underwater.

    “It’s essentially an underwater bicycle,” says Kurt Yankaskas, head of the human-powered International Submarine Races. Teams get a week to build one from scratch.

    So how hard is that? “It’s a piece of cake,” Kurt says. “You build a submarine shape, typically between 10 and 15 feet long, that can hold one or two people and has some sort of propulsion system in it that’s basically leg power.”

    Piece of cake.

    These underwater bikes aren’t airtight, by the way. They’re “wet” submarines that require scuba gear.

    But the thing that obsesses the majority of human-powered-stuff enthusiasts isn’t the water bike or the air bike — it's the bike-bike, the one that travels on land. They’re cheap, efficient, light and fast.

    The world’s fastest bike clocks in at 83 miles an hour. But it has other drawbacks, says Bob Sims, president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers: “It can’t carry very much stuff, and in fact, when it stops it would fall over because it doesn’t have the ability to do anything other than go fast in a straight line.”

    Sim's organization runs competitions for bike-type vehicles in places like Mexico, India and Pakistan. And these things have to be practical, says ASME’s Tatyana Polyak.

    One of this year's entrants in ASME's HPVC Human Powered Vehicle Challenge, in India.

    One of this year's entrants in ASME's HPVC Human Powered Vehicle Challenge, in India.


    Courtesy of American Society of Mechanical Engineers

    “For example, in India the roads are not well-paved, so the vehicles have to withstand all those bumps and still be functional,” she says.

    You also have to make do with the materials on hand. One Indian team at the 2015 competition built their bike entirely out of recycled parts, including an office chair and desk drawers.

    These custom-built vehicles are kind of like pets: They end up reflecting the personalities of their owners. And that brings us to the Quadyak.

    The Quadyak -- part bike, part boat. Randy Ridings came up with the idea to solve a nagging problem.

    The Quadyak -- part bike, part boat. Randy Ridings came up with the idea to solve a nagging problem.


    Courtesy of Randy Ridings

    Part bike, part kayak, it was invented by Randy Ridings, an outdoor enthusiast in Carthage, Missouri, to address a very specific problem. “If you take a kayak to a river and you get in the river and you go down the river, then you have no way to get back home,” Ridings says.

    Then he discovered the Quadyak was useful around town, too. “I ride with a bike club here in Carthage, and go pick up my groceries at Walmart with it as well," Ridings says.

    The Quadyak requires zero gas, has ample room for camping tents and groceries and it can cross a lake. Randy has travelled 1,500 miles on it so far.

    Seriously, who needs an SUV?

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015 7:32pm

    President Barack Obama this week made good on his longstanding promise to veto a bill mandating the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the US. But the action is far from the end of the Keystone story.

    Republican leaders in the House and Senate say they'll try to override the president’s veto. Even if that fails, Obama could still approve construction of the pipeline later this year. So the volume on the debate over Keystone will likely only rise over the next few months.

    But let's get a little perspective here.

    With all the political grandstanding over the past few years, it's easy to forget that the pipeline would be just a small part of the North America's vast petroleum infrastructure.

    “This industry doesn't rise or fall on one pipeline or one oil rig,” says journalist John Cushman, who covers the industry for Inside Climate News. He argues Keystone is rather “a litmus test of President Obama” and his commitment to taking on the challenges of climate change.

    That’s because a decision to build Keystone would lock in a major piece of fossil fuel infrastructure for the next 50 years — and one that would bring a very dirty kind of oil from Alberta’s tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries — at the same time much of the world is trying to back away from those sources of energy.

    “It's a contest of wills between President Obama and his environmental allies and the Republicans in Congress and their fossil fuel allies,” Cushman says. “The Republicans are pretty much unanimous in support of the fossil fuel industry, and they’re determined to confront Obama’s climate agenda across the board. [Meanwhile,] the environmental movement suffered their big defeat when they lost on broad-based carbon legislation early in the Obama administration. This is their attempt to recoup.”

    Cushman says grassroots opposition to Keystone has been “profoundly influential … in stiffening the spine of the Obama administration” on the issue.

    That opposition has multiple concerns about the pipeline. For one, the pipeline was first proposed during the midst of a huge boom in petroleum production and investment in oil transport all over North America. Cushman says that raises big questions about safety, because “pipeline and other infrastructure is really strained by the explosion of oil production.”

    It also raises economic questions about the wisdom of new investment. Cushman says the pipeline could end up as a stranded asset if the global economy moves away from carbon-based fuels.

    But despite the long delays in the review process — the project needs approval by the administration because it would cross the border between Canada and the US, and it’s been caught up in electoral politics for years — Cushman says the company behind the pipeline still has a strong business case for building it.

    TransCanada remains committed to this because a big pipeline like KXL is an engine for TransCanada’s cash flow,” Cushman says. “The other great beneficiary, of course, is the big oil refineries on the Gulf coast. They were built to handle the dirtiest kind of oil, and for them, tar sands oil from Canada is just what the doctor ordered.”

    So will Keystone XL ever get built? Despite his decades watching the industry, Cushman isn’t venturing a guess. “I couldn't possibly predict that,” he says.

    But even if it is, he says the companies behind it might eventually wish it hadn’t been.

    “In the long term, the world needs to move away from fossil fuels,” Cushman says. “This is widely recognized — if not in the US Congress or the oil patch, it is certainly recognized around the world. And as the world moves away from fossil fuels, that means less and less demand for oil. And it means that cleaner oil is going to be preferred over dirtier oil. 

    “So I think if Keystone is built, then the time will come when its builders and owners and operators will look at it as a mistake.”

  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015 3:05pm

    Paris woke up to a mystery today. On Monday night, at least five drones — the kind you can buy at a store, not the military variety — were spotted flying above Paris landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. The city, still in shock over the Charlie Hebdo attacks, is taking it seriously.

    "When you have something like nighttime flights of unexplained drones over the heart of the capital, it certainly might be designed to rattle the nerves of the security forces," says Time Magazine's Vivienne Walt, who's based in Paris.

    The security forces didn't try to shoot the drones out of the sky, but Walt says the government is looking for a way to keep unwanted drones out of the air. "It has put out a bid for various research to design a system that would intervene and take down unmanned objects of this kind," she says.

    But Walt finds the whole situation ironic, as France has trumpeted the homegrown companies that invented such drones. "One of the most popular drones at the moment on the market is something called the Parrot," she says. "It's a Paris company, and the government has been very proud of it. And it's been selling like crazy in stores around Paris."

    The drones were a popular Christmas gift, Walt says: "These drones are very, very popular in Paris. And I think there is something very tantalizing about flying your own drone, about getting your own aerial photos.”

    Yet flying drones in downtown Paris is actually illegal. Walt says you can't fly over central Paris below 19,000 feet, but she doubts many drone operators know the law. "I'm not sure the law has ever been written for these devices in mind," she says. "It far predates the invention of hobbyist drones, which are only a few years old."

  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015 10:56am

    Sound proof walls, moisture resistant light bulbs and a portable generator: Those are just some of the things that Canadian police discovered inside a mysterious underground tunnel in Toronto.

    A 33-foot-long underground structure was found by a Toronto and Region Conservation Officer on January 14 near the Rexall Centre Sports and Entertainment Complex on the Keele campus of York University.

    A dirt pile that drew the attention of a Canadian Conservation Officer to discover the find.

    A dirt pile that drew the attention of a Canadian Conservation Officer to discover the find.


    Toronto Police

    Police responded and found the chamber, which lay 10 feet underground. The passage was six feet high and nearly three feet wide. 

    A 33-foot-long tunnel supported using lumber.

    A 33-foot-long tunnel supported using lumber.


    Toronto Police

    “The walls had been reinforced with heavy timber, the ceilings had been reinforced, there was also a sump pump and a hose connected to drain the water out of that,” says the CBC’s John Lancaster. “There were lights and tools left behind.”

    The Toronto Police Service has consulted with national and international security agencies, but so far there are no links to possible criminal activity. According to the police, there's also no evidence of machinery used in the excavation of the tunnel.

    “We’re trying to find and establish who built it, why they built it and what were their intentions,” says Toronto Police Deputy Chief Mark Saunders.

    A generator discovered buried nearby that supplied electricity to the tunnel via a buried power supply.

    A generator discovered buried nearby that supplied electricity to the tunnel via a buried power supply.


    Toronto Police

    “There was also evidence of food and beverages down there,” says Lancaster, the CBC reporter. “One of the oddest pieces that was found down there were some rosary beads and a Remembrance Day poppy.”

    Rosary beads and a poppy found in the underground chamber.

    Rosary beads and a poppy found in the underground chamber.


    Toronto Police

    The police have since filled in the tunnel.