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Our World Transcript — 27 May 2006

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," Global warming linked to more severe storms and a longer hurricane season in the Atlantic and Caribbean and movie goers charged to act on the threat posed by climate change:

GORE: "Our ability to live is what is at stake."

Former vice president Al Gore appears on the big screen with the release of "An Inconvenient Truth." Also, a progress report on global health and new promise for the hearing impaired. Hi! I'm Rosanne Skirble sitting in for Art Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our World."

The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season - which begins June 1st - will be active, but less intense than 2005 - according to the forecast released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week.

The 2005 season unleashed its furry with 28 tropical storms. The Louisiana Gulf Coast is still recovering from devastation from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher says while he doesn't expect more storms than 2005, this year promises to be above average.

LAUTENBACHER: "NOAA is predicting an above normal hurricane season with 13 to 16 named storms, of which eight to 10 are predicted to become hurricanes, and four to six of those hurricanes are predicted to become major, at category-three strength or higher."

Lautenbacher says warmer sea temperatures and wind shear - a weather pattern that enables a tropical storm to intensify - set the stage for a busy season.

LAUTENBACHER: "This convergence of conditions in the ocean and atmosphere is strongly related to something we call the 'multi-decadal signal' and has resulted in above average hurricane seasons in the nine out of last 11 years. History shows that this signal produces active hurricanes eras that can last 25 to 40 years. We are now 11 years into the current active Atlantic Hurricane era."

Lautenbacher expects ongoing high levels of hurricane activity and landfalls for another decade.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate researcher Kerry Emanuel says global warming contributes to hurricane intensity. In a 2005 study in the Journal Science he documented observed increases in storm activity in relation to sea surface temperature.

EMANUEL: "We saw a greater sensitivity to sea surface temperature than we expected to see."

Emanuel says that the number and severity of hurricanes has more to do with manmade pollution than any natural cause or cycle.

EMANUEL: "The rise of hurricane activity into the 1950s, its subsequent fall around 1990 or so and its most recent rise we now believe is mostly owing to the radiation reaching the earth that have been caused by solar variability, solar activity, sulfate aerosol pollution and green house warming and there is really no evidence that there is anything cyclic about that other than the solar variability."

Emanuel no longer expects a decadal downturn of storm action.

EMANUEL: "We will have quiet years when we have El Nino in the Pacific or a year or two when we have a volcanic eruption somewhere, but there really isn't any evidence for natural cycles."

Emanuel says climate models suggest that the overall level of activity will increase as the Earth warms. University of Georgia climate scientist Peter Webster's research supports that theory.

WEBSTER: "What we have seen in the Atlantic Ocean when you look to the last busy period, the decade of the 1950s versus 1995 to 2004, one has almost got a doubling of the number of storms overall in all of the ocean basins one is finding a double of the category four and five storms and almost the same increase with categories three, four, and fives."

In an upcoming study in the Journal Science Webster reports that warmer sea surface temperatures have also extended hurricane season.

WEBSTER: "It shows that since 1915 the number of days, the length of the season has increased by 5.5 days per decade. That's not very much, but that is over 50-60 days lengthening and that increase has become even more rapid over the last 30 years during the satellite data period. 2005 was a good example of that where the June and October storms were very active months."

Both Webster and Emanuel are calling for more research to better understand the link between climate change and storm activity. Their findings could have implications for millions of people around the world who live on or near the coast.

The threat posed by global warming is the subject of documentary released this week that features former Vice President Al Gore. When Gore lost his bid for president in 2000, he returned home to chart a new course for his life. A longtime advocate for the environment, Gore developed a slide show about the threat posed by global warming, and took the show on the road.

Over the past six years he has presented his multimedia lecture more than 1,000 times in many countries. In hopes of reaching a wider audience, Gore joined filmmakers to turn the lecture into a movie for the big screen.

The movie is called An Inconvenient Truth and … like the slide show … it opens with Al Gore at center stage.

It doesn't take long for the former Vice President to get to the point. Over scenes of crumbling glaciers and rising water, he says global warming exists and is putting the planet in grave danger:

GORE: "The arctic is experiencing faster melting. If this were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet. This is what would happen in Florida. [This is what would happen] around Shanghai, home to 40 million people …the area around Calcutta - 60 million. Here's Manhattan. The World Trade Center Memorial would be under water. Think of the impact of a couple hundred thousand refugees and then imagine 100 million."

Al Gore knows his stuff. Decades ago, he wrote a best-selling book about the effects of global warming, and as Vice President, he helped negotiate the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, the global treaty that the U.S. signed but never ratified. An Inconvenient Truth deploys computer simulations, graphics, charts, facts and predictions to tell its story.

GORE: "It's all about the truth of the situation we are facing now. We have quadrupled the population of the planet in less than a century. Our technologies are a thousand times more powerful. And, now all of a sudden, we are capable of doing damage to our only home, and we have to quickly grasp the danger that this creates."
The movie makes the case for reducing heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions that have been linked to severe storms, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and the spread of infectious disease.

But Fred Smith does not buy the message. He heads the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a policy forum that opposes mandatory curbs on CO2 emissions, and favors a free market approach to environmental issues. Smith says Gore's views — and the movie that represents them — are alarmist.

SMITH: "It's a sales attempt. It is not an attempt to be an objective science, [explaining] on the one hand [this] and on the other hand [that]. [Gore is saying] that everything is going to hell in a hand basket. Listen to me or else the world you live in will cease to exist. Is it effective? To me it wasn't effective. Is it a fear-mongering lecture? It is."

The Competitive Enterprise Institute broadcast a television ad, timed to coincide with the release of An Inconvenient Truth. It questions the impact of global warming and the politics of dealing with it.

CEI VIDEO: "You've seen those headlines about Global Warming. The glaciers are melting. We're doomed. That's what several studies supposedly found. But other scientific studies found exactly the opposite: Greenland's glaciers are growing, not melting. The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner. Did you see any big headlines about that? Why are they trying to scare us?"

Al Gore sees the images in "An Inconvenient Truth" as a wake up call. The movie, he says, strips away politics and ideology to direct the audience to face a planetary emergency.

GORE: "This is a moral issue, an ethnical issue and in the highest sense it really is a spiritual issue. We have to tear the mask away. Labeling this a political issue is just another way of saying that it is insignificant. This is the most crucial challenge that any of us have ever faced, and it's happening in our lifetimes."

Getting that message out is why Davis Guggenheim signed on to direct the film. He hopes "An Inconvenient Truth" becomes a catalyst for change.

GUGGENHEIM: "I would love people at the end of this movie to say, 'Controversy over. This is real. We are causing it and it's urgent. And if we don't do something right now, we will change things forever.'"

Guggenheim says in "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore is not asking for a vote for political office, he is asking for a vote for the planet.

GORE: "Our ability to live is what is at stake!"

A new study shows that a ban on ozone-depleting chemicals has led to a slow recovery of the Earth's protective ozone layer. Researchers say within the next 100 years, the ozone layer could be as strong as it was 25 years ago. But as Erin Toner reports, there's still a lot of uncertainty about the recovery process.

The ozone layer protects the Earth from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, including skin cancer and damage to the environment. The study's authors say it shows a direct relationship between ozone recovery and a ban on chlorofluorocarbons, which were used as a refrigerant. University of Colorado Researcher Betsy Weatherhead says this is good news, but people should still be careful.

WEATHERHEAD: "While ultraviolet levels are still high, and we expect them to be high for at least the next 10 to 20, possibly 30 years, we have to be particularly vigilant about protecting ourselves and our children against the harmful aspects of UV."

Weatherhead says ozone recovery faces some uncertainties… such as rising global temperatures. She says that could stall recovery or lead to record-low ozone levels. For the GLRC, I'm Erin Toner.

The Great Lakes Radio Consortium is a production of Michigan Radio. Support comes from the Joyce Foundation and the U-S Department of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service.

Coming up health news on hearing loss. You're listening to Our World on VOA. I'm Rosanne Skirble.

A new study has found that the world is healthier today than it was ten years ago, except in sub-Saharan Africa which continues to be ravaged by HIV/AIDS, and the former Soviet Union, where AIDS deaths are increasing. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

BERMAN: The Global Disease Burden Study of 2001 updates health data that were originally collected in 1990. Published in the British medical journal The Lancet, the study focuses on 136 diseases and injuries contained in health records kept in seven geographic areas.

Investigators sifting through the records report 56 million people died in 2001, almost 11 million of whom were children. But on average, researchers found a 20 percent per capita reduction in diseases over the ten year period, the result of things like better treatments for infectious illnesses such as diahrreal disease and pneumonia. The one notable exception was the number of new malaria cases, which seems to be on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers found that HIV/AIDS, which accounted for two percent of deaths in 1990, was responsible for 14 percent of moralities in 2001. But in most regions where the disease is a significant problem, investigators found a slow down in the number of new infections.

The major exception continues to be the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, which continue to be ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, according to study co-author Majit Ezzati of Harvard University's School of Public Health in Massachusetts.

EZZATI: "The magnitude has become enormous and has become enormous, you know, probably beyond what a lot people may have thought even ten or fifteen years ago."

BERMAN: To their surprise, researchers also found an increase in AIDS-related deaths in central European countries that once were part of the Communist bloc.
Harvard University's Ezzati says the increase in AIDS deaths could be due to a number of factors.

EZZATI: "Alcohol seems to be a big part of the story. ou know, how big it is people still do not completely agree. But it seems to be that alcohol has a set of very acute outcomes."

BERMAN: Ezzati says AIDS and other health problems in centralEurope might also be a reflection of fragmented medical care in the post-Soviet era. Overall, heart disease and stroke were the leading causes of death in low, moderate and high-income countries, together responsible for more than one-fifth of all deaths worldwide. In developed countries, lung cancer is the third leading cause of death. But that's not the case in developing countries, where the next five out of ten major causes of death are, and remain, infectious diseases.

Widespread screening for newborn hearing loss has become routine in many countries over the past decade. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine [May 18th], William Nance of Virginia Commonwealth University says the spread of such programs throughout the world has produced a revolution in health care.

NANCE: "The whole premise behind newborn hearing screening is that there is a critical period during the development of an infant when, if they do not develop language, they will never be able to develop it to their full potential."

Despite its success, screening could be improved, Nance writes. He calls for quicker results, better recognition of infants at risk for delayed onset of hearing loss, more focus on the causes of hearing loss and a new battery of genetic tests.

NANCE: "The molecular tests on newborn blood spots would identify the most common genetic cause of deafness at birth, the most common genetic cause of late onset hearing loss, the most common environmental cause for hearing loss at birth and later in infancy, and the most common preventable form of hearing loss."

For example, Nance says, a genetic test could detect an extreme sensitivity to a common antibiotic used in newborns that in rare instances can cause deafness.

NANCE: "If you simply identify individuals who have this gene for sensitivity and don't give them this antibiotic, you can prevent them from ever being deaf in the first place."
Nance says 50 to 60 percent of childhood hearing loss in developed countries is due to genetic factors. He says detecting the problem early and making accommodations for it can improve success in school and in life.

Nearly one third of people over age 65 have hearing loss associated with environmental and genetic factors. Environmental causes include exposure to loud noises, such as industrial machines. Researchers from Indiana University are a step closer to identifying the gene linked to hearing loss as we age. In a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, co-author Terry Reed says scientists analyzed 400 genetic markers in fifty sets of elderly fraternal male twins who reported hearing loss.

REED: "You look for markers that are shared more commonly than you would expect."
And that's what researchers found. Reed says the results suggest that this might be the place on the chromosome responsible for hearing loss in the general population. Reed says the same location was identified in a 2001 German study of progressive hereditary deafness.

REED: "This was a form of deafness that the onset occurred in the teen years and later and gradually got worse. It started out with high tone hearing loss and [there were] a lot of parallels to the hearing loss with age."

Reed says the results - if confirmed - suggest that age-related loss and early onset loss may be on the same gene, but adds that much more research remains to be done to determine whether the two are linked.

People who use hearing aids often complain that the devices are useless in crowded noisy places. Now, a team of Dutch researchers at Delft University of Technology may have solved the problem… with a pair of hearing eyeglasses. Each arm of the eyeglass frame has an array of four tiny directional microphones. Project leader Rinus Boone says the design allows users to hear in a more natural way.

BOON: "When you [set the control] on 'high directivity' it [produces] a calm atmosphere where you only have loud sounds from the direction you are looking. Usually that is the [individual] with [whom] you are having a conversation."
"How do you use the hearing glasses?

BOON: "You use them in the normal way as normal eyeglasses. You put on the glasses and there is a small connector which fits on the arms of the spectacles and which connect(s) to a very tiny loudspeaker. From there on we have an air tube that goes to the ear, which is like [a behind the ear hearing aid] which guides the sound through it to the ear."

The hearing glasses - which run on batteries and can be recharged at night much like a mobile phone - are currently on the market in the Netherlands under the trade name Varibel.

MUSIC: "Our World" theme

And, that's Our World 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 as we explore the latest in science and technology on "Our World."