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Our World — 1 December 2007


MUSIC: "Our World" theme

Straight ahead on "Our World" ... a preview of the U.N. climate change conference in Bali ... new data on the earth's vanishing polar ice ... and World AIDS Day.

FAUCI: "We need a vaccine for HIV. That's not coming for the next several years, so we have to do what we've been talking about over the last hour — prevention and education, and diminution of stigmatization.

AIDS researcher Anthony Fauci, how some young people are fighting the HIV epidemic, a new study of drug-resistant malaria, and more. I'm Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our World."

Twenty thousand delegates, observers, business leaders, and government ministers from 190 countries meet in Bali, Indonesia, beginning Monday. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, they are gathering to discuss life after the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. treaty on climate change which expires in 2012.

SKIRBLE: The Bali meeting will engage delegates in dozens of technical, scientific and financial discussions relating to the current climate change protocol. But they are also meeting to consider the building blocks and a timetable for crafting a new, post-Kyoto agreement.

Harlan Watson is a member of the United States delegation.

WATSON: "The major outcome we're looking for is to establish something called a 'Bali Roadmap' that will essentially map down and advance negotiations under the United Nations Framework and Convention on Climate Change, to develop a framework that includes all major economies."

SKIRBLE: SKIRBLE: The Bali meeting will engage delegates in dozens of technical, scientific and financial discussions relating to the current climate change protocol. But they are also meeting to consider the building blocks and a timetable for crafting a new, post-Kyoto agreement.

Harlan Watson is a member of the United States delegation.

WATSON: "The major outcome we're looking for is to establish something called a 'Bali Roadmap' that will essentially map down and advance negotiations under the United Nations Framework and Convention on Climate Change, to develop a framework that includes all major economies."

SKIRBLE: The U.S. signed the original U.N. Framework and Convention on Climate Change but didn't ratify the subsequent treaty. In later withdrawing from Kyoto altogether, the Bush Administration argued that the treaty would hurt the U.S. economy and that it failed to require industrial developing nations, such as China and India, to comply with binding curbs on emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Watson says any new framework must answer this basic question:

WATSON: "How do we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in a way that would be both environmentally effective and economic[ally] sustainable?"

SKIRBLE: The United States favors voluntary commitments over binding ones to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Elliot Diringer with the PEW Center on Global Climate Change argues that voluntary action outside a global treaty by the world's largest polluter is not an effective course.

DIRINGER: "What's essential here is developing a comprehensive agreement that does establish binding international commitments for all the major economies. What is important is that you do want to allow for some flexibility. Some might have targets as you see under Kyoto now, but some might have other types of commitments, policy commitments for instance."

SKIRBLE: Diringer says this approach offers some of the flexibility that the Bush Administration has been calling for.

DIRINGER: "But we think that all these different approaches need to be integrated into a package based on binding international commitments. Countries are not going to put forward their best effort unless they can be confident that other countries are contributing their fair share to the global effort, and that is best assured through a set of multilateral commitments."

SKIRBLE: The Bali meeting is expected to draw large delegations from non-governmental and business groups, the United States Congress and many U.S. state officials. Celebrated climate change activists like former Vice President Al Gore and actor Leonardo DiCaprio are likely to propose environmental policies significantly different from those advanced by the White House. For example, activists are likely to support a law pending in the U.S. Congress that would put a cap on U.S. carbon emissions. Jonathan Pershing with the World Resources Institute says there is a good chance the legislation will pass.

PERSHING: "It looks for a major reduction of on the order of 70 percent in the [carbon] capped sectors by 2050. That's a huge number and puts the U.S. in a very different place in a subsequent negotiation."

SKIRBLE: But observers say any post-Kyoto agreement must also include growing economies like China, which is quickly overtaking the United States as the world's largest polluter. Pershing says the good news is that China has begun to put sustainability on its economic agenda.

PERSHING: "They've got a 20 percent renewable target, which is more aggressive than any [other governments] except a handful of the most aggressive of U.S. states."

SKIRBLE: Negotiators hope to write a new treaty by 2009. Nations will then have three years to ratify it before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Pershing worries that 2009 may be too ambitious a timeline because the lead-up falls during a U.S. presidential campaign and the final year of the Bush administration. I'm Rosanne Skirble.

Meanwhile, the evidence of global warming continues to mount.

This week some climate scientists gathered in a Senate office building to present some of the most current information about global warming's impact on the earth's polar regions, especially Greenland's glaciers and the ice sheet over the North Pole.

The ice cap that floats on the Arctic sea normally gets bigger every winter, and then melts back during the summer, with the smallest ice cap usually occurring in September. This year, scientists found, there was far less ice in the Arctic Ocean than they had ever observed before. The sophisticated computer programs called climate models predicted a loss of ice, but Dr. Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado said the models failed to predict how drastic the ice loss actually was.

SERREZE: "Over the period of observations, in this case going [from] 1953 through 2007, every one of these climate models is telling us we ought to be losing sea ice over this period. But as you can clearly see, you [do] comparisons with the observations, we're on the fast track of change. None of the models are getting the observed rate of decline fast enough."

This year's September ice sheet was almost one-quarter smaller than the previous record-small icecap, reported two years ago.

The melting of floating ice is bad news for polar bears, and raises some interesting economic and geopolitical issues, as the Arctic becomes navigable — at least during part of the year. And it may help accelerate global warming, since water, which is dark, absorbs more solar energy than ice, which reflects it back into space. But like an ice cube melting in a glass of water, it doesn't affect sea level.

Not so with ice on land. If it melts and the water runs into the ocean, then sea levels will rise. Which is why scientists are carefully monitoring developments in Antarctica and Greenland.

In Greenland, for example, satellite observations confirm that ice is melting at an increasing rate. A study last year calculated that Greenland is losing ice at a rate of 154 billion tons a year — about 170 cubic kilometers of ice. Melting ice flows under glaciers, lubricating and speeding their flow out to the sea. Konrad Steffen of the University of Colorado says current projections of sea level rise underestimate the impact of melting ice.

STEFFEN: "Based on our observation right now — not on a model, we cannot model it yet — we think if it continues to lose ice at that speed that we are currently seeing it, we will have one meter or more sea level rise by 2100.

Some of the same processes are at work around the South Pole, on Antarctica. You can learn more about the ice-bound continent on our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations.

This time we actually feature two websites, two different portals that work together to offer scientists and the rest of us unprecedented access to the most detailed satellite images of Antarctica ever put online.

The project is called LIMA, which stands for Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica. NASA official Robert Bindschadler says both the space agency and the U.S. Geological Survey have complementary websites to help access the data.

BINDSCHADLER: "You'll find at lima.usgs.gov, that's were the data are. It has a good viewer and it has the ability to download the data. The lima.nasa.gov website is focused on education and outreach, using LIMA as a platform. So there's really no excuse for people not learning more about Antarctica now with these incredible tools to use. And we think that's very important for the public today."

Most users will want to start with the site at lima.nasa.gov, where there is introductory material to help orient you to the frozen continent with background information and other tools.

BINDSCHADLER: "We have educational classroom activities written by educators for teachers. We have scientific documents you can read, and other links to other datasets out there. And actually you can track the motion of crevasses with a little applet."

The other site, lima.usgs.gov, has the actual Antarctica viewer, including different ways to view the images. For example, one problem with looking at these pictures is that all the white snow makes it difficult to see details. Digital technology comes to the rescue with something called "contrast-stretched" images.

BINDSCHADLER: "This is, I call the sunglasses stretch because it takes those areas that were too bright with reflected snow and darkens the rest of the mosaic and allows you to see detail in what was previously saturated bright snow."

NASA's Robert Bindschadler says you can also download the data, but be warned: even relatively small areas can be really big files, to get the kind of detail being offered here — and for free — for the first time.

The Landsat Image Mosaic Of Antarctica, LIMA, is online at lima.nasa.gov and at lima.usgs.gov, or get the links from our site, voanews.com/ourworld.

MUSIC: Yanni — "Song for Antarctica"

It's VOA's high-res science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes in Washington.

Malaria remains a major health threat in many parts of the world, especially the tropics.

Malaria rates began dropping after effective medicines were introduced in the mid-20th century.

But in the last two to three decades, malaria has gotten out of control again. As we hear from health reporter Rose Hoban, the problem is that malaria is fighting back.

HOBAN: According to Andrew Read, an entomology professor at Pennsylvania State University, the problem is actually worse now than it was at the beginning of the 20th century.

READ: "You could argue in large part that the major reason we still have malaria with us is because of drug resistance."

HOBAN: Many of the different species of malaria parasite evolved to become resistant to anti-malarial drugs. The more virulent strains seem especially unaffected by inexpensive drugs, such as chloroquine, which is now useless against malaria in many parts of the world.

Often, when someone gets the disease, they're actually infected with more than one strain. Read wondered if part of the problem of drug resistance had to do with how those different strains of malaria compete inside of a host. To test his idea, he infected mice with two different strains of malaria — one that was somewhat resistant to medications and another that wasn't. Then he gave the mice anti-malarial drugs.

READ: "If you take away the susceptible strain by killing it with drugs, then all of a sudden the resistant strain is able to grow up and become a much more successful parasite. So in other words, the removal of the competitor has made a drug-resistant strain do much, much better."

HOBAN: Read realized that flooding a patient's body with anti-malarial drugs might actually have the paradoxical effect of making drug resistance worse. Drug resistant malaria is able to grow without any competition once the medicine has killed drug sensitive strains. And then, it's the drug resistant strain that's more likely to get spread from person to person.

READ: "Our results suggest that it might be that the best thing to do would be to use the drugs only to keep the patient healthy. But beyond that, let the parasites grow, let the drug sensitive parasite grow because it suppresses the resistant parasite. And suppressing the resistant parasite means that the resistance is going to transmit less well and so the spread of resistance in the population will be slowed."

HOBAN: Read says his results are still too preliminary to suggest that patients stop taking their malaria drugs. But he says that these ideas might be important in re-thinking how we treat malaria. And as new anti-malaria drugs come onto the market, this approach might be used to prevent the development of resistance against these newer medications.

Read's results are published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I'm Rose Hoban.

An international research team says endemic cholera, a fatal diarrheal disease found in the world's poorest countries, could be effectively controlled by vaccinating half of the affected populations once every two years for only pennies per dose. The scientists based their findings on a computer model of the vaccine's effectiveness. VOA's Jessica Berman has our report on the study, which was published this week in the journal PLoS Medicine.

BERMAN: Cholera causes massive fluid loss that can kill. While oral rehydration therapy has made the disease treatable, each year an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 people die from it.

Cholera is caused by ingesting contaminated food or water.

For years, Western travelers to cholera-endemic countries have been offered an oral vaccine to protect them, but the drugs have never been used in epidemics, partly because of questions about their effectiveness. But a new study suggests the oral cholera vaccine is highly effective in controlling outbreaks.

Ira Longini is a statistician with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, and the study's lead author.

LONGINI: "We really believe that cholera, which is on the move throughout the planet, is very controllable with very cheap and effective vaccines that are there."

BERMAN: Using the results from a large-scale trial involving 200,000 women and children in a rural area of Bangladesh between 1984 and 1989, researchers from the United States, South Korea, and India created a computer model to predict the effectiveness of the cholera vaccine.

According to the model, if 50 percent of the people who live in a high-risk community receive the cholera vaccine once every two years, Longini says the number of new cholera cases would be reduced by 90 percent, to less than one case in a thousand unvaccinated people.

LONGINI: "We have very good prediction[s] about where cholera transmission is likely to occur. So, you could really have it focused where cholera is and just concentrate on those populations."

BERMAN: Jessica Berman, VOA News, Washington.

December first is World AIDS Day.

This year's observance comes less than two weeks after the United Nations updated its HIV/AIDS statistics, lowering the estimated number of people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from the 2006 figure of more than 39 million, to some 33 million people.

Officials say better estimates from India and several African nations help explain the change, as does the success of prevention programs. But UNAIDS head Dr. Peter Piot said more than 5,700 people are still dying from AIDS every day, and prevention efforts must be expanded.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the center of the AIDS epidemic, with some two-thirds of all cases. Leading AIDS reseacher Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases describes some of the reasons why.

FAUCI: "Poverty, dissolution of the family units, post-colonization, where people would leave the family and go and work in mines, go on the trucking routes, get exposed to commercial sex workers, bring the infection back to their family and infect their wives, lack of prevention modalities."

Fauci spoke this week on National Public Radio's Diane Rehm show, where he was asked about what would make a difference in efforts to stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

FAUCI: "We need a vaccine for HIV. That's not coming for the next several years, so we have to do what we've been talking about over the last hour — prevention and education, and diminution of stigmatization, particularly among those populations of people, those social groups, those ethnic groups in which the stigmatization is even greater than in the normal population."

Reaching people infected with HIV ... or those at risk .. requires getting the right message, delivered in the right way.

Here in Washington, D.C., we have one of the worst AIDS epidemics in America. A new study by the city government found that Washington alone accounts for nine percent of the pediatric AIDS cases in the entire country — a rate 45 times the national average.

To bring the message of AIDS prevention to Washington's young people, as we hear from Véronique LaCapra, one local organization is empowering them to teach each other.

TENNER: "We estimate that there's approximately one HIV-infected young person in every classroom in the District."

LaCAPRA: Adam Tenner is the Executive Director of Metro TeenAIDS, a Washington, D.C. group that works with local youth to help them better understand and confront the AIDS epidemic. Some 100,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 24 live in the nation's capital.

TENNER: "We know that young people are being infected, mostly young African American women and young Latino and African American men who have sex with other men."

LaCAPRA: Even with the high infection rates, Adam Tenner says that it can be difficult to get local teenagers to take AIDS seriously.

TENNER: "In many of our neighborhoods we see young people [whose] goal is [just] to live to the end of the year, because so many people are shot, even accidentally, in their neighborhoods. Where that kind of low expectation exists it's hard to really worry about a virus that may kill you ten years from now."

LaCAPRA: To get HIV information to teenagers, it helps to mix in a little fun.

So, to get young people to come out for National HIV Testing Day this past summer, Metro TeenAIDS organized a basketball tournament.

Along with fun, informational events, Metro TeenAIDS provides young people with year-round reproductive health education in D.C. schools and through community organizations. They also provide HIV counseling and testing services. As Metro TeenAIDS program director Anne Wiseman puts it, the group creates "a space," where young people can get answers to the questions they need, but are often afraid to ask:

WISEMAN: "I tell young people. I kind of set the stage for them that there's nothing they can ask me that's going to knock me off my seat, because I've heard it all. So I mean there [are] questions about how to negotiate with their partners about not having sex, kind of how to fight peer pressure, there [are] questions about, I had unprotected sex two weeks ago, and this is what happened. Am I at risk, or what kind of risk am I at?"

LaCAPRA: Another way that Metro TeenAIDS creates a supportive environment for young people is through its after-school youth center, called Freestyle.

Twenty-three year old Dwayne Lawson-Brown has worked and volunteered for Metro TeenAIDS for the past seven years. He started an "open-mike night" at Freestyle: an evening when young people can come to the center and sing, rap, or read poetry.

LAWSON-BROWN: "She says she's close to the edge. Life's pushed her too hard and if God's really there, this would be time for one of those miracles: She just found out that she's HIV positive…"

LAWSON-BROWN: "We don't turn anyone away from Freestyle, whether you're positive, you're negative, straight, gay, bi, lesbian, transgender, black, white, Latino, Asian. It doesn't matter, we're pretty accepting."

LAWSON-BROWN: "...that you must live while you can."

LaCAPRA: Acceptance and empowerment are at the core of Metro TeenAIDS' mission. Executive Director Adam Tenner says the group's peer outreach program plays a critical role:

TENNER: "We employ currently 15 young people who we train to take the messages of HIV out to the streets, so that it's not some adult coming to them, and saying, 'Hey, you should do this or you should do that.' And it's incredibly effective."

SMITH: "My name is Desha, I'm 15, and I live in Washington, D.C."

LaCAPRA: Desha is small for 15, and at first she seems like she might be too shy to walk up to other teenagers on the street, hand out condoms, and talk to them about HIV.

SMITH: "No, it's very easy. It helps me out because it helps me learn about AIDS and HIV, and it helps me protect my friends and stuff, so this is the best job that I could have! It is."

LaCAPRA: Desha says that young people her age really need to know about HIV and AIDS - because many of them are already sexually active.

SMITH: "I just want to get it out there that it's bad — HIV and AIDS — and it needs to be stopped in D.C."

LaCAPRA: I'm Véronique LaCapra.

MUSIC: "Our World" theme

That's our show for this week. If you'd like to get in touch, email us at ourworld@voanews.com. Or use the postal address —

Our World
Voice of America
Washington, DC 20237 USA

Rob Sivak edited the program. Eva Nenicka is the 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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