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Our World Transcript — November 26, 2005

This transcript is provided as a service; there may be some variation between it and the program as broadcast.

Straight ahead on "Our World," negotiators propose strategies for the next round of talks on global climate change …the United Nations and World Health Organization release a new report on the HIV/AIDS epidemic… and an earth-friendly community in New York State where ecology is a way of life…

GLASER: "We wanted a place where our kids could run around safely, that was committed to environmental values, that would enable us to really know our neighbors and to cooperate with them."

EcoVillage… a model for sustainable development… and the first map of the chimpanzee genome, which looks curiously like our own.

Hi! I'm Rosanne Skirble sitting in for Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our World."

Climate negotiators from around the world meet in Montreal next week (November 28-December 9) to discuss tougher measures against global warming when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Under the United Nations-sponsored treaty - which went into force early this year - 38 industrialized nations promised that within seven years, they would reduce their climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels.

A new report released by the private PEW Center on Global Climate Change offers the Montreal negotiators some post-Kyoto ideas for getting nations to map out specific post-Kyoto strategies.

The report is based on meetings over the last year of 25 government officials and business leaders from 15 countries including the United States, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, China and Japan. Pew Center on Global Climate Change president Eileen Claussen says the report suggests some novel approaches to addressing climate change that are practical, politically viable and effective.

CLAUSSEN: "The report says what we need is a more flexible international framework that can engage the world's major economies. Twenty-five countries account for 83 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. All of these countries must participate in the solution."

The United States rejected the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it would harm the U.S. economy, and that it failed to require emission reduction targets from major polluters in developing countries.

The PEW Center's Eileen Claussen says the Bush administration, to its credit, has initiated a series of agreement with other countries focused mainly on global warming technologies. But Ms. Claussen believes that as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, the United States must do more.

CLAUSSEN: "So far the administration has suggested that it is very busy with its own initiatives and doesn't want to participate in this. We think it has to, and we also think that the other major economies have to as well in both the developed and developing countries."

The report calls for a framework that would allow countries to take on different types of commitments to address climate change. Elliot Diringer - PEW director of international strategies and advisor on the report - says the whole process should be more open -- and flexible:.

DIRINGER: "And, the idea here is that countries (initiate) different approaches. They come into groups of like-minded countries along different tracks. For instance, major steel producing countries might talk about a sector agreement. Some of them might also negotiate economy wide targets or technology cooperation. Some of them might look at some form of policy commitments."

Eileen Claussen adds that these efforts could encourage voluntary emissions reductions by major polluting industries like power, automotive and other key sectors.

CLAUSSEN: "So, for example the aluminum industry has had discussions about a sector approach on aluminum that would result in reduced emissions. I think that is excellent and there should be a way to bring that into the process."

U.S. industrial leaders, like the Bush Administration, have long favored a voluntary, flexible approach to the global warming problem. Linda Fisher - Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer of Dupont, one of five corporations involved in the study - says the PEW report promotes that flexibility.

FISHER: "That it recognizes that there isn't one answer, that it might look different in different nations, that it might look different in different sectors and that there might be a way that we might be able to accommodate that diversity and flexibility is an important contribution (of the report). I think a lot of times people don't like the end so they don't want to begin the process, and one of the things that I found unique is that (this report) recognized is that there might not be one common end, but you can still make a lot of progress in the ultimate goal, which is reducing these emissions."

The report also calls for a high level political dialogue among the major economies outside the formal U.N. negotiating process. The goal, the report says, should be to establish a broader political consensus that can help to quicken the pace of the sometimes sluggish climate change negotiations.

The Montreal Climate Talks run through December 9.

A report on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic released this week by the United Nations and World Health Organization says that Sub-Saharan Africa remains the hardest-hit region of the world, while the epidemic continues to grow in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In 2005, according to the report, there were 5 million new cases of HIV/AIDS. Forty million people worldwide are infected and 25 million have died since the first infections were reported in 1981.

Antiviral-drugs have saved between 250,000 to 350,000 lives, but the report says access to the medications is limited, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where one out of ten people needing treatment received it.

Jim Kim with WHO's Department on HIV/AIDS says greater prevention efforts could slow the epidemic.

KIM: "We have known that for every form of transmission of the virus, we have effective ways of preventing transmission. In fact, in the United States and other developed countries, mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been cut almost to zero. Luckily, we have the means to do that in developing countries as well. We have all the drugs and the protocols are easily carried out in any developing country setting. We just haven't done it."

The report also notes that HIV patterns are changing with the increasing numbers of women infected. In several African countries, three-fourths of all young people living with HIV/AIDS are women. Desmond Johns, director of the New York office of the joint U.N. Program on AIDS, believes greater awareness of this trend will lead to better prevention strategies for young women.

JOHNS: "At least it is registered that young are particularly at risk and will be the focus of special attention in terms of the (development of) the female condom, microbicides and other female controlled methods of prevention."

The reports finds that the fastest growth of HIV infection is in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, particularly Russia and Ukraine, where the number of people living with HIV has increased 20-fold in less than ten years. Jim Kim with WHO says the epidemic there is being driven by intravenous drug users.

KIM: "The good news is that we have today measures that can be taken that can stop transmission among drug users. One is methadone maintenance therapy, to take people away from injection drug use and put them on oral pills that stave off the affects of [heroin] withdrawal. The other mechanism is providing sterile needles so that they are not sharing needles and that they prevent the spread of HIV through the use of shared needles."

On a positive note, the UN/WHO report says two African countries - Zimbabwe and Kenya, saw a decline in rates of infection. The spread of HIV/AIDS also slowed in the Caribbean, the 2nd most affected region of the world.

A new study finds that global warming is driving up rates of malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea… contributing to 5-million illnesses and more than 150-thousand deaths a year. According to its lead author, Jonathan Patz of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, most of those deaths and illnesses will occur in the world's poorest countries - the nations least responsible for the increase in greenhouse gases:

PATZ: "Already, the poor countries of the world have tremendous burdens of diseases. Take Africa, for example, where nearly 90 percent of all cases of malaria occur. Malaria is a very temperature-sensitive disease. Already you've got malnutrition, diarrheal disease and malaria and other infectious diseases in poor countries today, and these are climate sensitive diseases that, if you ratchet up the temperature a little bit, that favors an increase in some of these diseases. "

Mosquitoes that carry the parasites for malaria and dengue fever, for example, thrive in warm, wet weather. Mr. Patz, also a professor at the University of Wisconsin's Department of Population Health, calls the disparity between the nations emitting the most carbon dioxide and those feeling the greatest health impacts of climate change an enormous global ethical challenge.

PATZ: "The United States has not yet ratified this global warming treaty, the Kyoto protocol, and I think the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases really needs to step up to the plate and join the rest of the world in confronting climate change."

Some experts, however, are reluctant to place the blame for death and illness in developing countries on global warming. They argue that a lack of money prevents those nations from responding effectively to new health threats, whatever their cause

A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arkansas has developed new technology to analyze the fossilized teeth of early humans. Using computer software and a powerful microscope, scientists can better under the foods our ancestors ate.

Johns Hopkins University anatomy professor Mark Teaford says information so far implies that early humans evolved and altered their diet according to seasonal and other changes.

TEAFORD: "As we get to know more about primate behavior in modern primates, we find that their diets are extremely variable and as a result what we end up with is a better perspective on the reality of it. This technique gives us a chance to look at the range of variation in early human ancestors and say, okay, what were they possibly doing back then? And what we're pulling out of it is they were eating a wide variety of things."

Mr. Teaford says paleontologists and physical anthropologists have had a somewhat naive view on diet, in part due to the limitations of time-consuming, subjective approaches to analyzing teeth. He says it is a huge step to have a reliable technology that detects subtler diet variations.

The study was published in the journal "Nature."

Chimpanzees are our closest biological relatives. Now, as Jim Dryden reports, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine and elsewhere have completed a map and sequence of chimpanzee DNA. Their research appeared in the journal "Nature."

DRYDEN: For years, scientists have observed that humans and chimps are very closely related. Genome scientist Richard Wilson, who directs the genome sequencing center at the Washington University School of Medicine, says the new chimpanzee DNA sequence provides further proof that chimps and humans are very much alike.

WILSON: "The sequence of our genome is closer to the chimpanzee genome than to any other genome that we've looked at. They are about 99 percent identical."

DRYDEN: Wilson and colleagues from several institutions around the world have put together a rough draft of the chimpanzee genome. They found that most of our genes are very similar to genes in chimps. And, in fact, most of the differences were found in DNA regions that don't make genes, the poorly understood non-coding sequences sometimes referred to as junk DNA.

WILSON: "The regions that are most similar are the regions that encode genes. Some of the non-coding sequences in between are where we see the biggest differences, and those differences are quite small. Nature tends to not 're-invent the wheel.' There are many genes that are very highly conserved over a great evolutionary distance, much greater than human to chimp."

DRYDEN: The many similarities and few differences between the genes point up how few genetic differences are required to make different species, and Wilson says future comparisons of human and chimp DNA should help answer questions about how our genes make us similar and… different.

WILSON: "And then we can start to ask questions about what genes do we have the chimps don't have or vice versa? And how do those possibly play a role in diseases that we get that chimps don't get, or vice versa? So, it really allows us to have an opportunity to learn a lot more about our own health."

DRYDEN: Wilson says the sequencing of the chimp genome is the end of a concerted effort to produce a DNA sequence, but in terms of research, he says it is just the beginning.

WILSON: "What the chimp genome sequence now lets us do is we can make comparisons to the human sequence, which is, basically, what we've started trying to do. And so this is an opportunity not only for our lab - and the Brode Institute, who collaborated with us on this study, but for a lot of other labs to now go off and do the experiments that answer those interesting questions."

DRYDEN: Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the DNA molecule just over 50 years ago, and that discovery ultimately made the production of these DNA sequences possible. Wilson says the chimp, human and other sequences will make future discoveries possible.

WILSON: "Finishing the human genome sequence wasn't the end of the Human Genome project. Now you have to do all of the tough stuff, the interpretation. Getting the mouse sequence was another key tool to help you understand the human sequence. Getting the chimp genome sequence, same thing. You better understand the chimp, but you also better understand humans."

DRYDEN: "And that's what it is about. Wilson says there is lots of information out there now, and the common goal for each sequencing project is to use that information to better understand, prevent and one day to cure disease."

EcoVillage at Ithaca has been called an earth-friendly community. Like a growing number of new communities across the United States, this one in central New York State is guided by principles of sustainable development. Its ecological mission, in one sense, has become a way of life.

GROUP TOUR LEADER: "Let me just tell you what's coming up. We are going to take a tour of the Common House, briefly tour the neighbors…"

Every week visitors come to EcoVillage for a tour. They want to see how the 100 adults and 60 children who live here put their commitment to the environment into practice.

The first stop is always the Common House where residents meet and relax, do laundry, take classes and eat dinner together several times a week.

The Common House is also where EcoVillage co-founder Liz Walker has her office. She directs the non-profit educational arm of the community, and moved in when the first homes were built nine years ago. She explains that so-called 'green architecture' is a central design concept.

WALKER: 'All of our buildings here are passive solar. So we have a beautiful glass window wall on the south side, and we are overlooking a pond, which we created, which is full of fish and frogs, and we swim in it in the summer and ice skate on it in the winter. And it is quite beautiful and reflects light into the Common House."

SKIRBLE: But there is also something growing above our heads.

WALKER: "That's right. There are wonderful vines all over the ceiling of the common house. We have a dropped ceiling with plants growing over it. It is actually not only an esthetic thing, it is also that it helps reduce sound in the Common House because if you have meals with 60-80 people it can get a little noisy. So the plants help to deaden the sound."

Pedestrian walkways lead from the Common House to two neighborhoods of tightly clustered wood homes. Cars are restricted to an area beyond the homes, so the neighborhoods are a safe place for children to play. And, Liz Walker says, getting people out of their cars allows them to meet and mingle.

WALKER: "The pedestrian street is more like a pathway and it is curvilinear so it has got these beautiful sensuous curves and it has fruit trees and flowers in front of people's homes. There is a sandbox area and it has a homemade trellis over it with grape vines and it is a very popular area on a warm day, not so much on a snowy day like today."

The 60 houses in the community were built close together to conserve land and they share a common exterior wall to save energy. In addition, a variety of strategies - from passive solar design to an innovative hot water system - make the homes more energy efficient. Energy consumption in EcoVillage homes is 40 percent less than a typical American household and residents want to reduce their ecological footprint even further.

That shared value is why people live here. They also come in search of a deeper sense of community. While residents own village property, manage their own households and hold jobs, everyone is also expected to take part in EcoVillage life.

They serve on committees, plan community events, work on the EcoVillage farm, keep the Common House clean and, like Sara Pines, cook shared meals. Standing over a bubbling pot of minestrone, Ms. Pines says she gave up a big house in nearby Ithaca nine years ago and never looked back.

PINES: "When I am away and I come back, there are a hundred voices welcoming me back. Well, that never happened to me before. That is really nice and for a person who is getting older - I'm 69 - it's great to know that I unlike many of my friends will not be eating alone, will not be living my life in a very lonely, isolated, alienated way in what years I have left. That is a good secure feeling."

SKIRBLE: So, what's on the stove right now? Can we take a look?

PINES: "Oh it is cooking very nicely!"

Linda Glaser is also in the Common House kitchen, slicing bread and making salad dressing. She discovered EcoVillage on the Internet and says she and her husband moved their family here three years ago to get away from the isolation they felt in a New Jersey suburb.

GLASSER: "We wanted a place where our kids could run around safely, that was committed to environmental values, that would enable us to really know our neighbors and to cooperate with them. We just wanted a place where we could be intentional about our lifestyle and really live what we cared about."

SKIRBLE: What about the balance between your private life and community life. Here you are making dinner for 60 people.

GLASSER: "Sometimes it gets to be a little tricky to balance everything. Because you have your own life, but there is also stuff happening in the community. I am the kind of person that wants to be involved. So sometimes I walk a fine line in being over involved. But it is hard not to be because I care about the place and I really enjoy doing things with the people that are here. Don't tell anybody that I said this, but I like going to meetings because I get to hang out with people that I like."

EcoVillage is not utopia. Decisions are made by consensus and not everyone is happy with the outcome. But, EcoVillage co-founder Liz Walker says the community is taking positive steps toward building a culture that values cooperation among diverse peoples and with nature. She hopes that can be a model for other communities… and a healthier planet.

HOST: And, that's all for this week. Rob Sivak edits the program. Our technical director is Eva Nenicka. I'm Rosanne Skirble. Join us online at or on your radio next week at this same time with Art Chimes as we explore the latest in science and technology on Our World.