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.

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Program Headlines

  • Tuesday, May 5, 2015 2:47pm

    The attack on the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo back in January was a turning point, says Vivienne Walt, a Time Magazine reporter based in Paris.

    "Until then," she says, "there was a sense that things were pretty safe. That sense more or less is gone since January."

    The three men responsible for the attack had been on the radar of French and US intelligence services, but managed to slip through the cracks.

    "[The intelligence services] seemed to have dropped the ball on this," Walt says. In response, the French parliament Tuesday passed a new law granting new surveillance powers to the French government, including bulk collection of communication meta data.

    "[It] will allow the government to demand that telecommunications companies install what they call 'black boxes' on their networks in order to scoop up data on a large scale," Walt explains.

    The law also create a new supervisory body called the National Commission for Control of Intelligence Techniques. To many observers, including Walt, this looks a lot like the surveillance measures the US already has in place.

    “Essentially, what this will do is allow the government to have emergency surveillance declarations or commands. It will allow them to effectively bypass a fairly established and lengthy legal process in order to install eavesdropping, for example, and effectively tap into people’s Internet networks most of all,” Walt says.

    She points out, however, that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has emphasized in recent weeks that the new bill is not the same as the controversial US Patriot Act. Many French disagree, Walt says.

    In the end, Walt says that although there is great opposition to this new surveillance, it might just be something the French will have to learn to live with.

    "For a lot of French, there is a sense that they are going to have to adapt and that this is a kind of asymmetrical war and an invisible enemy that might or might not be among them — that they are going to have to live with and deal with in a way that they haven’t done until now."

  • Friday, May 1, 2015 5:04pm

    If you’re one of the millions of people around the world who’ve put solar panels on your roof, you're never happy about cloudy weather. No sun means no power.

    That in itself is old news, and a problem plenty of people are working on. But now a big name is trying to come up with a way to crack the market for cheap and efficient batteries that can literally store up power for a rainy day: Tesla, the electric car company, and its billionaire CEO Elon Musk.

    Tesla debuted an array of solar power storage systems on Thursday, intended for both homes and businesses. The Powerwall and larger Power Pack systems will allow users to store most of the electricity from their solar panels and use it as needed — at night, on cloudy days, even when the grid goes down.

    The systems will be based on the same lithium-ion battery technology Tesla uses in its cars, packaged in a sleek design with new controls designed specifically for homes and businesses.

    It’s not a new idea, or even revolutionary technology, but Musk and Tesla's investors are making a multi-billion dollar bet that their move into the stationary electricity storage market will be a game changer. The company is building a giant $5 billion battery factory in Nevada, and expects its vast production capacity will bring costs down by 30 percent.

    With a well-recognized and well-respected brand, Tesla likely has an edge in the market and a big opportunity to cash in on the growth of solar power, improvements in battery technology and the fact that few competitors have paid much attention to design and usability.

    But Musk has made it clear that his ambitions go beyond the success of his businesses. In announcing the Powerwall and Power Pack systems, Tesla’s CEO said his company’s goal is to “fundamentally change the way the world uses energy on an extreme scale,” away from fossil fuels and to cleaner renewables like wind and solar.

    Whether the company’s ambitions will be met, of course, remains to be seen. But some observers also have high hopes.

    “When I read about it, I thought, 'OK, let's put one in my house,'” says Richard Hirsh, who teaches the history of science and technology at Virginia Tech. "I currently have a gasoline powered generator as a back-up unit because, where I live, we have had some power problems. But that's always a pain. ... I'd love to have a battery that will provide power when we don't have it.”

    Hirsh says physicists and battery makers have made incremental improvements in battery technology since the early 1800s, when Allesandro Volta of Italty first figured out how to make what we would today consider a battery. “A good, cheap, economical and efficient battery has been the Holy Grail for battery makers,” Hirsh says.

    As to whether the company can deliver a commercially viable system for storing green power, Hirsch says he's “hopeful that Tesla has come up with this — but only time will tell.” 

  • Thursday, April 30, 2015 11:35am

    Abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage. The so-called pelvic issues are the ones that the head of the Roman Catholic Church really gets worked up about, right?

    Not this pope.

    That has been pretty clear to anyone listening to Pope Francis since he took over at the Vatican in 2013. “It is not necessary to talk about all these issues all the time,” Francis told an interviewer that same year. 

    Now, Francis seems determined to talk about global climate change. And lots of people are listening.

    This is not the first leader of the Catholic Church to talk about the importance of environmental stewardship. Pope Benedict and John Paul II both did so. But Francis has a real knack for grabbing international media attention. And with such a politically divisive issue like climate change, especially here in the US, Francis is already making waves.

    For about a year, Francis has been meeting with scientists and policy experts to get their advice on addressing the environmental degradation caused by climate change. This process will culminate in June or July, when Francis comes out with a highly anticipated papal encyclical on the environment.

    An encyclical is the highest teaching issued by a pope. It is essentially a church policy paper, meant to offer guidance on specific issues for the bishops, priests and faithful that make up the family of about 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide. The pope finished writing his “eco-encyclical” in late April. It will be the first time a Catholic leader has dedicated an entire encyclical to environmental issues.

    “I don’t know exactly what the pope will say about climate change,” says Christiana Peppard, an expert on Catholic theology and the environment at Fordham University. “A lot of people have already begun to speculate on this and seem to have a lot of horses in the race.”

    The Vatican’s point man on climate change is Cardinal Peter Turkson, who has offered some clues about how Francis will frame the issue of climate change in moral terms. “[T]he ever-accelerating burning of fossil fuels that powers our economic engine is disrupting the earth’s delicate ecological balance on almost-unfathomable scale,” Turkson said at an international climate change conference hosted by the Vatican this week.

    “We clearly need a fundamental change of course, to protect the earth and its people,” Turkson said. “[T]he wealthiest countries, the ones who have benefitted most from fossil fuels, are morally obligated to push forward and find solutions to climate-related change and so protect the environment and human life.”

    “[Wealthy nations] are obliged both to reduce their own carbon emissions and to help protect poorer countries from the disasters caused or exacerbated by the excesses of industrialization,” Turkson said.

    Francis is likely to expand on this point with his eco-encyclical, Peppard says, because climate science shows that people in the developing world are indeed most at risk.

    “These people not only are the first affected, but they have also done the least to contribute to these human-amplified processes; and they are, by means of their poverty, the least able to respond or adapt effectively,” Peppard says.  

    “That’s a moral triple whammy. And I think the pope being from South America and having poverty be a theme of his pontificate thus far is really attuned to that.”

    This is the kind of talk that makes conservatives in the US, including many Roman Catholics, uneasy. Take John Boehner, for example. The House speaker and Ohio Republican is both a Catholic and a skeptic on climate change. It was Boehner who invited this pope to speak on Capital Hill. But the GOP leader will not be the only one squirming if Francis speaks bluntly about the need to cut back on fossil fuels to curb carbon emissions. Conservatives also bristle at the notion that wealthy nations have a moral obligation to address severe inequities in the global economy.

    Close to a third of the US Congress is made up of Catholics. In addition to Boehner, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan are among the Catholic members of the GOP who might find themselves very much out of step with the pope on what he sees as an urgent moral issue.

    Brian Burch of CatholicVote.org says he worries that the eco-encyclical will be reduced into a “political manifesto” by advocates of specific policy positions. At the same time, he adds that, “there’s a difference between carbon emissions and whether or not we ought to defend the life of an innocent human being in the womb.”

    “For a Catholic legislator,” Burch says, “there’s a lot of room for good people of good will to disagree on what the political solution ought to be.”

    But Francis apparently feels there is no time to waste.

    “The time to find global solutions is running out,” the pope wrote late last year. And he also warned about the dangers of inaction.

    Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech and an evangelical Christian. And she says the science shows that the pope is right.

    “For so long, climate change has been this issue that only matters to the polar bears up in the arctic. Today, climate change is happening right here in the lower 48 and it’s happening not to our kids, not to our grandchildren, it’s happening to us here and now,” Hayhoe says.

    “That’s a really important message. It’s no longer something that we can afford to shove off and say, ‘We’ll deal with it when it comes.’ It’s come. So, the time to deal with it is now.”

    In that sense, Hayhoe says Pope Francis has already succeeded by creating so much buzz around the issue of climate change. Hayhoe's hope now: That the encyclical will spark discussion all the way down to people in the pews at churches across the country.

  • Tuesday, April 28, 2015 5:01pm

    There is another side to this story.

    It’s hard to write about the creative power of earthquakes amid the awful destruction and loss of life that we’re seeing in Nepal. The human misery and economic damage are front and center in coverage of such tragedies, as they should be.

    But when such disaster strikes it actually helps — helps me, anyway — to keep the long view in mind. Along with their awesome destructive power, earthquakes, and the slow, inexorable drifting and grinding of the earth’s massive plates that cause them, help make our planet what it is: fascinating, diverse, beautiful, habitable.

    The earthquakes that rocked Nepal over the weekend were a result of the ongoing impact of the Indian subcontinent smashing into Asia at roughly 2 centimeters a year.

    Credit:

    USGS/Reuters

    An earth without earthquakes would be an earth without the dramatic coasts of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka. An earth without distinct continents and many of their unique animals, plants and landscapes. An earth possibly without even a breathable atmosphere. (Plate tectonics, through earthquakes and their kin volcanos, release huge amounts of gases into the air, including carbon dioxide, the raw material of photosynthesis, which releases oxygen.)

    Earthquakes churn up minerals from the depths that are vital to life and valuable to humans. They create valleys, lakes, bays, and oceans — diverse habitats for life to thrive and differentiate.

    And they create mountains.

    Imagine the earth without the Rockies, the Alps, the Andes. The Himalayas, in which Nepal and its unique culture and spectacular beauty, rest. Everest itself. The mountain on which so many died in Saturday’s quake-caused avalanche was created by earthquakes. Mighty Everest, the tallest peak on earth, may even be a little taller this week than last. A little more of a challenge to draw humans back.

    The earthquakes — shifting, cracking, buckling of the earth’s crust — that formed and continue to form Everest, Nepal and the Himalayas are caused by the immense energy of the ongoing collision of the northward-drifting Indian subcontinent with Asia, a violent merging of the two land masses that began roughly 50 million years ago and continues at an average of roughly five centimeters a year. It proceeds in mostly tiny fits and starts, pressure and tension building up in the rocks of the earth’s crust until finally some of it is released. The land shakes, buildings collapse, people die, the Himalayas grow. And India marches north. American scientists say part of India pushed one to 10 feet into Asia on Saturday.

    But that massive, slow-motion collision does more than build the region’s mountains. It’s responsible for landforms, ecosystems and even political geography thousands of miles away. One I happen to know a fair amount about, because I wrote a book about it, is Russia’s Lake Baikal, in southern Siberia, 2,000 miles northeast of Nepal.

    Baikal is the world’s deepest lake and largest body of fresh water, holding roughly a fifth of all the liquid fresh water on the surface of the earth, as much as all of North America’s Great Lakes combined. It's also a cauldron of evolution, a sort of inland Galapagos with almost 2,000 plants and animals that live nowhere else.

    Baikal lies in a rift zone, a cracked, weak spot in the earth’s crust that’s been slowly collapsing and splitting open over at least 25 million years. The region has its own peculiar geology, but many geologists believe that the energy that drives the processes that created the lake and continue to expand it — one day, they think, it may grow to split eastern Siberia in two and open into the Arctic Ocean—comes from that massive continental mash-up to the south.

    And then there is Siberia itself, a place generations of Russian prisoners and exiles have been sent to be gotten out of the way, disappear, die. A place synonymous with remote, uninhabitable, frozen hell on earth.

    As with Baikal, many factors contribute to Siberia’s unfortunate place in the world’s mind. But one is its topography.

    Siberia is largely one gigantic, continent-sized swampy forest. A main reason for that is that all of its rivers run north, toward the Arctic. That means the mouths of those rivers are the last part of their systems to thaw every spring. Which in turn means that instead of draining easily into the ocean, the rivers back up, spill over, waterlog the landscape, and make it difficult to build on or even farm. And the reason all those rivers flow north is that the collision of India with Asia has pushed the southern part of the Asian landmass up, causing a long, slow, northward slope from Tibet all the way to the Arctic.

    Imagine a world without earthquakes and you imagine a world without Siberia.

    All these processes of plate tectonics, continental collisions, upthrust, mountain-building, play out over millions and even billions of years. A single earthquake plays out in a matter of minutes, even seconds. The earth-shaking events that bring untold hardship to people are just a blip in the unimaginably long history of a planet constantly reshaping itself.

    Knowing this does nothing to help the dead and suffering in Nepal, it does nothing to help the country recover, and it certainly does nothing to keep such a thing from happening again. Hopefully even writing about it so soon after the quake won’t seem callous to some readers.

    But for someone half a world away, who can do nothing else but watch, send money and maybe help send a reporter to tell stories of the affected people and places, it is strangely comforting. With destruction by nature comes creation by nature. Some people suffer, others benefit. But the earth doesn’t care or measure. We live on an amazing, ever-changing planet that’s indifferent to the fate of individuals, species, civilizations.

    In the face of what we do to the earth, some greens like to remind us that nature always wins in the end. I prefer to think of it as nature just doing what nature does, creating and re-creating a place where life for us humans is not just possible, but where, for the most part, it’s fantastic.

  • Tuesday, April 28, 2015 12:54pm

    They arrested her. Called her a spy. Then they tried to take away her children.

    All for opposing the bulldozing of a forest preserve that President Vladimir Putin supported.

    After years or pressure, leading environmental activist Evgenia Chirikova has left Russia, the latest departure among a long list of people who have antagonized Putin.

    A recipient of a 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize, Chirikova plans to continue her work from across the border.

    Her efforts defending a forest near Moscow set her off on what she calls her “unexpected adventure” as an activist and critic. It began when she discovered that a highway connecting Moscow with St. Petersburg was planned to be built through a protected forest preserve in her hometown of Khimki.

    There were a lot of money and powerful people behind the project, including Putin. But the preserve was a place she loved, where she took her children for walks.

    Her activism earned her renown as a leader of both the forest debate and the larger civil society unrest in Russia. It also earned her the ire of her government and much of the pro-government media. She’s been arrested numerous times, called an American spy, and the authorities have tried to take away her children.

    Ultimately she says it was that threat — of being separated from her children, and unable to protect them — that motivated her move.

    She also believes that it’s better to leave Russia than to go to jail and become a martyr, as other activists have done.

    “I'm against matyrdom.” she says. “Unfortunately, the number of political prisoners in Russia has grown to the point where society can't even keep track.” People tend to forget them, she says, and it's very difficult for them to continue their work from prison. Chirikova feels she can accomplish a lot more continuing her work from outside the country. 

    She also notes that she hasn't given up her Russian passport.

    Among her current projects is the new website Activatica, which she says shines a light on eco-movements within Russia. And she believes her work strikes a strong nerve in her country, where she says the environment is the number one issue.

    “Global warming in the Arctic and Siberia is happening two times faster than anywhere else on the planet,” she says, and argues that the results are clearly visible in things like wildfires currently sweeping Siberia and the huge craters recently discovered in the Siberian tundra, likely caused by giant bubbles of methane gas bursting from thawing permafrost.

    The environment is the one issue that most Russians really connect with, Chirikova says, and the one issue most likely to foster political change.

    “People better understand why they need to defend their land than somewhat abstract ideas like elections or talking about ‘rights’.  A political party can be shut down easily, but people trying to defend their land, favorite tree, or favorite local park? They’ll never stop fighting.”

    And Chirikova sees an Achilles heel in the Kremlin's reliance on the fossil fuel industry.

    The more Russians move away from fossil fuels, she says, the less powerful Putin becomes.  

    Despite her self-imposed exile, Chirikova remains fairly positive about the prospects for long-term change in Russia. She compares environmental work to missionary work — if you just keep at it little by little she says, change will slowly occur.

    In fact, she argues that any change is actually better when it happens slowly. Rapid change, she says, damages the environment and political environments.

    Water the tree every day, she says, and it will grow. Only now she’ll have to do that from Estonia.

    This story has been updated to include more details and a more complete translation of quotes from the original Russian.