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Our World Transcript — December 10, 2005


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

MUSIC: Our World theme

Straight ahead on "Our World" ... Washington hunkers down at a climate change conference ... The business of wind power ... and protecting poultry in a time of avian flu ...

RHODES: "We don't want to take anything that we have into them because they are in total confinement. They have no access to wild birds, wild animals, to nothing, only to us. We are the only thing coming in there. "

Those stories, a brand new blog on our Website of the Week, and more ... I'm Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our World."

The United States came under renewed pressure this week at an international climate meeting in Montreal.

Washington resisted a commitment to future talks on limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Bush administration has not signed on to the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gases, saying it would be too costly and does not adequately restrict emissions from developing countries such as India and China.

Prime Minister Paul Martin of host country Canada told what he called "reluctant countries" — including the United States — that "now is the time for action" to limit greenhouse gases.

An emerging scientific consensus says that emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat may already be raising global temperatures, which could lead to catastropic climate change.

While the policy makers duke it out, there are things individuals can do to make a difference. Jonathan Pershing of the World Resources Institute says one place to start is with transportation, which produces one-third of greenhouse gas emissions.

PERSHING: "At the very local level, one of the big questions is around individual choices: What kinds of cars do you choose to buy? What kinds of vehicles in general? Are you going to be using a very dirty three-stroke [engine] for a small moped, or maybe a slightly cleaner one? Can you maintain the one that you've got slightly better? All those things, if you add them up, start to make a difference."

Or even better, take public transportation instead of driving.

One of the issues facing negotiators looking for a global solution is how to reconcile the aspirations of people in developing countries with the environmental costs of that lifestyle.

PERSHING: "I think the paradigm shift we're looking at is to have those kinds of services with reduced emissions. And that's a combination of some choices, both in the technology side and in people's behavior. So it is a shift, but it needn't be a shift away from the expected lifestyles that we'd like to see."

Jonathan Pershing of the World Resources Institute spoke to us from Montreal.

Greenhouse gases are seen as the main cause of global warming, but a report out this week in the journal "Science" says climate can be affected by another human activity — land use.

FEDDEMA: "What we really wanted to do was introduce the idea that one of the big human impacts on the globe is really what we do to the earth's surface. And those actions have impacts on climate."

Dr. Johannes Feddema at the University of Kansas has been studying how human activity such as clearing forests and planting crops affects climate. He says that in any one area, the effect can be significant, though worldwide the regional effects seem to cancel each other out.

FEDDEMA: "On a global scale it's really very small. But in certain regions it has significant impact. So the Amazon is one. For example, with global warming in the Amazon, most simulations suggest maybe a 1.5-2 degree warming. Turns out, when you deforest the Amazon, the land cover change also results in about a 1.5-2 degree warming. So you're basically doubling the amount of warming if you have land cover and global warming at the same time."

To reach his conclusions, Dr. Feddema built on established mathematical formulas to predict climate out as far as the year 2100.

Climate modeling, as these projections are called, requires incredible amounts of computing power. His simulations required weeks of full-time number-crunching on some of the world's fastest supercomputers.

Johannes Feddema stresses that his findings are not to be taken as the final word, since even his sophisticated model doesn't yet include all possible variables.

FEDDEMA: "The point of our paper is, this is sort of a test, and I want to keep it at that. I don't think this is a climate prediction particularly. You know, we're just trying to show that it's potentially really important to include land cover if you're looking at regional climate changes. So if somebody wants to know [for example] what's happening to southwestern United States, they need to consider a little bit more than just global warming in this case. They might want to think about how their policies might affect what's happening in the Amazon or somewhere else if they're really concerned."

A commentary also published in this week's edition of "Science" suggests that the U.N. agency charged with monitoring climate science — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — should consider land use factors in its analysis.

One way to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases is to use power from alternative sources, such as wind and solar. Both wind and sunshine are available for free in abundant quantities, but harnessing them presents unique problems. For example, companies wanting to put up wind turbines may face opposition by those who object to the visual pollution of the nearby towers. In rural America, the companies need to find windy land ... and then cut a deal with the landowner. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Shawn Allee looks at one developer's search for its next wind farm.

ALLEE: The search for wind power could turn into a modern-day gold rush. Wind's becoming a profitable way to meet growing demand for clean energy, but wind power companies face an obstacle: they can't just find a windy spot and throw up some wind turbines.

They've got to sign a contract with a landowner, usually a farmer, who's willing to rent out some breezy land. Mike Donahue is Vice President of Midwest Wind Power. His main job: find windy land and the farmers who own it. Donahue says the job's changed recently.

"The biggest difference is the level of knowledge and sophistication that local elected officials and landowners have gotten regarding windpower. I mean, when we first started, they were like, 'Wind what? Wind turbine? What's that?' They didn't even know what a wind turbine looked like, let alone whether they wanted one in their field or not."

ALLEE: For their part, savvy farmers aren't waiting around for companies to call them. They're taking the initiative. David Coffey farms hundreds of acres in Illinois. A few months back, he did a little investigating.

"First of all, I just had got the information from the Farm Bureau Magazine and what was going on in other areas. And I just got it in my mind, I thought, 'Well, I've got a ridge here, what's it worth?'"

ALLEE: So Coffey got equipment from a university and tested the wind along his ridge. The initial results were promising, and the university posted the data online. Donahue's company noticed the results, and gave David Coffey a call.

Which leads us to today. Coffey's agreed to give the company a tour of the area. After some quick introductions, Donahue, his partner Tim Polz, and I, squeeze into Coffey's white pickup.

Coffey drives us along a maze of gravel-lined back roads and soy bean fields. Soon, we see the ridge that brought Donahue's company here. It's not that spectacular, really. It's just a big, rolling hill, but it spreads to the horizon.

ALLEE: Midwest Wind Power wants a large site like this, because it's hard to turn a profit on smaller ones. Several farmers own bits of this ridge, so Donahue might have to deal with all of them, and that could be a headache.

David Coffey says some locals are worried about helping out. Landowners who build support for the project might not have enough wind on their own farms to qualify for a turbine and a rental contract. Donahue says there's a way to smooth that over. If someone's been helpful but is left out...

DONAHUE: "We actually do offer a kind of good neighbor compensation package to them as well."

ALLEE: Of course, maybe other companies noticed David Coffey's wind data, too. Donahue's assistant, Tim Polz, broaches the subject.

"Have you guys had any of the other developers give you any type of financial offers?"

ALLEE: Coffey says yes, but doesn't elaborate. Donahue makes his pitch. He says his company offers more than good rent, it offers other benefits attractive to farmers.

"Along those lines, we grant a great deal of flexibility to the landowners to have input into turbine locations, access road locations, cabling routes."

ALLEE: Even with this flexibility, though, money counts. The company will pay farmers about $7,000 each year for every turbine on their property. That's a lot for an Illinois farmer. On average, they make only $30,000 in farm income each year.

Soon the conversation shifts away from money. Donahue asks whether Coffey's neighbors are mostly farmers.

"If you're in an area that has a number of non-farming residential homes, maybe built in wood lots, or people who want to live in the country, they're less accepting of having wind turbines developed in view of their homes."

ALLEE: Coffey assures him nearly everyone's a farmer out here. And with that, he ends the tour.

"Well, what do you think of the area?"

ALLEE: Donahue says the company needs to run more wind tests along the ridge, but overall...

DONAHUE: "The first impressions are very favorable as to the site and its potential. We're looking forward to meeting with your other landowners and then ultimately, meeting some elected officials as well."

ALLEE: It's not clear what will come of today's meeting. Maybe another company will land a contract, or perhaps there'll never be turbines here, but the chances for success improve with each encounter. For the GLRC, I'm Shawn Allee.

The Great Lakes Radio Consortium at GLRC.org is a production of Michigan Radio. Support comes from the DTE Energy Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.

The Pulitzer Prize is the most distinguished award in American journalism, and this week, prize administrators announced expanded eligibility for online material, even if it hasn't appeared in print. But awards will be limited to websites linked to traditional newspapers.

That would generally exclude blogs, the Internet diaries that usually just offer opinions but sometimes do actual reporting.

Blogs are a source of some of the most thoughtful online writing these days, and some of the most interesting websites are produced by museums. So we figured a museum blog was likely to be a good candidate for our Website of the Week.

EDSON: "Eye Level is the Smithsonian's very first blog, where we're trying to reach out to the public and talk about how art relates to people's lives."

Mike Edson is one of the creators of Eye Level, a blog about art, sponsored by the Smithsonian American Art Museum here in Washington. Most blogs are individualistic, often quirky expressions of their author's personality. So I wondered about a blog created by a six-member team working for a large institution.

EDSON: "We struggled with that a lot, and I think in testing this out and finding our voice we've really been trying to find the spot between an institutional voice and the voice of a quirky individual blogger."

Highlighting the paintings and other artworks in the Smithsonian American Art Museum is one purpose of the blog. The museum's landmark building, which dates to 1836, is due to re-open in about seven months after a multi-year renovation. Washington museum-goers are looking forward to that. But Mike Edson says Eye Level isn't just for hard-core art freaks — like the ones who know about 19th century landscape painter Albert Bierstadt [1830-1902].

EDSON: "Well, we are trying to have it not be that. Some of the buzz we've generated indicates there's an enormous thirst for something like this from people who like art. And there's been no place for them to go read about it and talk about it like this. So there's definitely something for them. I think one of our goals also is to give permission for people who don't know who Bierstadt is, or may not care, to enjoy experiencing new works of art they might not have seen before, just to talk about art."

Like many blogs, Eye Level is a conversation, and users can join in by posting their own comments. Give it the once-over at eyelevel-dot-si-edu, or get the link from our site, voanews.com/ourworld.

MUSIC: Duke Ellington “Pie Eye’s Blues” (alternate take, 1959)

You're listening to VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes in Washington.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization this week released its annual report, focusing this year on efforts to liberalize trade in food products.

At a briefing for reporters in Washington, the FAO's Charles Riemenschneider underscored the link between agricultural trade and nutrition.

RIEMENSCHNEIDER: "In countries where agriculture is closely integrated into world markets, they tend to have the lowest levels of undernourishment. Conversely, countries where agriculture is relatively isolated tend to have higher levels of undernourishment. ... I think we can say two things fairly confidently from this kind of analysis: One, openness to trade doesn't cause food insecurity, nor can sustainable food security be achieved in isolation."

Mr. Riemenschneider says that economic success for farmers can have an impact on urban poverty and, indeed, on other segments of the economy in developing countries.

RIEMENSCHNEIDER: "Most of the poor and food-insecure people in the world live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. As the rural poor migrate to the cities their conditions may improve, but they often remain poor, so that urban poverty to a large extent is a reflection of rural poverty. ... It's not possible to make sustainable progress on poverty reduction without addressing rural poverty."

Agricultural growth, he says, helps the economy because successful farmers buy and sell more.

Mr. Riemenschneider also pointed out that farmers in many parts of Asia have greatly increased production thanks to better plant varieties, use of fertilizer and other factors. The green revolution has largely bypassed Africa for a number of reasons, he said, including the poor quality of the rural infrastructure in much of the continent. Improving roads that transport farm products out or fertilizer in, says the FAO official, can have a direct impact on farm production and farmers' prosperity.

A balanced diet should provide all the nutrients we need. But many people, rich and poor, in every culture, don't get all the vitamins and minerals they need from the foods they eat.

One mineral that is often lacking is iron, which the body needs to enable blood to transport oxygen.

Now, scientists report that a new rice variety, selectively bred to contain more iron, helps people who eat it.

The study — using nuns in the Philippines — was led by Jere Haas, a professor of maternal and child nutrition at Cornell University.

HAAS: "We found, first of all, even the small amount of additional iron that is consumed in the rice, provides about a 20-percent increase in the total amount of iron in the diet. That in turn translates into an increase in the total body iron that is stored after consuming the rice for about nine months, which was the period of time of our study."

Professor Haas says the next step is to test the iron-fortified rice in the marketplace, which, he says, would address another series of issues.

HAAS: "Do people buy it? Do the farmers grow it? Does it have the kind of qualities that they like in terms of processing, in terms of cooking and certainly in terms of the smell and the taste and the color that they are used to consuming in their normal rice?"

Nutrients can be added in processing, but in this case the iron-rich rice was developed through breeding. Professor Haas says the natural plant approach may be a less costly and more direct way to get nutrients to the people who need them the most.

HAAS: "We believe in the long run that it is going to be much more sustainable because you don't have to rely on industry to provide those nutrients in the food supply."

Iron is the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world, affecting more than half the population — an estimated three and a half billion people, largely in the developing world. People with iron deficiency often experience extreme fatigue, which can affect their productivity.

The study appears this month in the Journal of Nutrition.

Bio-security is serious business on poultry farms in the United States. A national network — including diagnostic laboratories and state agricultural services — is in place to monitor and respond to an incident that could put animals or humans at risk. VOA's Rosanne Skirble takes us to a poultry farm on the eastern shore of Maryland for a look at bio-security in action.

SKIRBLE: Posted on trees at the entrance to Jenny Rhodes' poultry farm is this warning: "Access Restricted."

Five times a year, 80,000 day-old chicks are delivered to her doorstep. She raises them in chicken houses on the property until they are ready for slaughter eight weeks later. Ms. Rhodes takes no chances with their health.

RHODES: "We don't want anyone coming on our farm. It's fine for people to my homestead, to my house to visit, but only myself and my sons and a serviceman who comes once a week [can come on the farm]. You could bring in something in to our chickens - on your feet, in your nostril, anywhere. So we have to be very careful."

SKIRBLE: Visitors on business must suit up in full-body bio-security garb… complete with cap, boots, gloves and facemask. Jenny Rhodes and her two college-age sons take the same precautions, always changing from street to work clothes for farm chores.

RHODES: "We don't want to take anything that we have into them because they are in total confinement. They have no access to wild birds, wild animals, to nothing, only to us. We are the only thing coming in there. We have to protect our investment. That is a big investment that I have."

SKIRBLE: Two thousand farm families raise poultry on the Delmarva Peninsula, where parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia come together. It is a $1.7 billion a year business — one of the country's top poultry producing regions.

With increased awareness of the highly infectious bird flu in Asia, Delmarva growers want to assure the American public that their poultry is safe.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which has led to the slaughter of 140-million birds globally, has not reached the United States. Even so, Maryland State veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus says health surveillance has been stepped up as part of a coordinated effort to monitor poultry across the country.

HOHENHAUS: "We're in the process right now on the Delmarva Peninsula of increasing our flock surveillance from about 40 percent of the flocks going to slaughter, to 100 percent of all flocks being tested for avian influenzas of pretty much any kind, so that we are very confident when a flock goes to slaughter and ultimately goes to market, that it does not have any avian influenza in any way."

SKIRBLE: Not only could an avian flu incident harm the chickens and hurt the economy, it could also become a public health problem, should humans become infected with the highly pathogenic avian virus. Half the 120 people who have contracted the disease from birds in Asia have died.

If the virus emerges in their birds, Delmarva growers have an emergency plan.

Poultry trade group executive, Bill Satterfield, says the plan builds on disease prevention measures, like those on Jenny Rhodes' Farm, and on recommended government public health guidelines for workers who would respond to an incident.

SATTERFIELD: "The plans call for the use of bio-security equipment, respirators, health monitoring before the people go in the houses, health monitoring after they leave for several weeks to make sure they did not pick up any virus, the use of antibiotics, the use of antiviral drugs, and just good biosecurity practices."

SKIRBLE: Within a day of diagnosis, all birds on the affected farm would be slaughtered and composted, the property quarantined, and neighboring farms put under intensive surveillance. Bill Satterfield says Delmarva growers are cautious, but not fearful of widespread disease.

SATTERFIELD: "We've had a plan in place for 20 years and we had an [avian flu] episode two years ago. We managed that very effectively. We learned from that. We are building on those ]successes and we're better prepared than we had been, but we are not panicking by any stretch of the imagination.

SKIRBLE: Bill Satterfield says the plan is a pro-active approach to prevent an outbreak of avian influenza in animals and humans. He is confident that the bio-security measures in place can help prevent, control and respond to any health incident, large or small. Back on the farm, Jenny Rhodes says precautions remain a way of life. I'm Rosanne Skirble

That's our show for this week. If you want to get in touch, Email us at ourworld@voanews.com. Or use the postal address:

Our World

Voice of America

Washington, DC 20237 USA.

Our show was edited by Faith Lapidus. Eva Nenicka is our technical director. And this is Art Chimes, inviting you to join us online at voanews.com/ourworld or on your radio next Saturday and Sunday as we check out the latest in science and technology...in Our World.

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