The World

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A one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe.

After years of wrangling, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have agreed to a controversial hydroelectric dam, Africa's biggest, being built on a major branch of the Nile River.

Under the deal, Ethiopia will give Egypt a share of the electricity from the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. Ethiopia also has promised the project will “not damage the interests of the other states” involved.

It’s a breakthrough in a region that has a history of tension among the countries that share on of the world’s great watersheds.

Sand. Civilizations modern and ancient have been held up by the stuff. It's one of the main building components in construction.

When you look at those mega-cities in sprouting up in China, one could say you're looking at giant sandcastles.

But sand is finite. And people are starting to kill for it.

Vince Beiser explores this for Wired magazine in "The Deadly Global War for Sand." Before you dive into the incredible read, here are seven things Beiser says you should know about sand:

For these activists, oil and art just don't mix

May 25, 2018

On a recent cold night in Trafalgar Square, a group of 30 or so people rehearsed a new piece of musical theater in front of Britain’s National Gallery of Art. But if the venue was highbrow, the production — including sinister characters and lyrics such as “A gallery of art-wash ... to benefit the oil boss” — definitely was not.

Even for a country used to flooding, this has been something beyond pretty much anyone's experience.

Roughly 175,000 people displaced, widespread destruction of staple crops like maize, and a looming public health crisis following what observers say is the worst flooding in Malawi in half a century.

I haven’t told my 5-year-old daughter about global warming. There are some obvious reasons for that but one purely practical one is that she’d just be damn confused. Especially these last couple of weeks. The snowbanks outside our house in Boston right now are high enough for her to climb up into our cherry tree and sled down onto the sidewalk. How would she square that with her dad telling her the world is warming up?

You could say the people living along the banks of the Thondwe River in southern Malawi were lucky. At least they’d been warned of the flash flood in early January that would burst through an earthen dike, wash away their homes and crops, and leave more than 4,000 of them homeless.

Amazingly, no one in the dense cluster of villages called Makawa died in the flood. But they’ve been living in pretty desperate conditions here since.

Imagine a Hawaiian island rising up out of a huge lake and you’ve got something like Nicaragua’s Ometepe. It’s the largest island in Central America’s largest lake, Lake Nicaragua. It’s where Luvys and Dayton Guzman grow plantains in the dark soil nutured by the volcano Concepción and water their cows on a black sand beach.

It’s a pretty sleepy place, which is why Luvys Guzman was surprised when a team of surveyors showed up a few months ago.

“They measured everything,” she says, “including our water tanks, laundry, houses and sheds.”

Wolfram Walter is a man obsessed with things electric.

He’s electrified his bicycle. He’s electrified his Porsche. When he introduces his dog, Paula, you almost expect him to tell you that he’s electrified her, too.

Part two in a Series: Innovation to ease the green energy bottleneck

Too much solar and wind power. Really? Is that possible?

It’s a good problem to have, because if we’re going to beat climate change, we’re going to need way more low-carbon energy than we get now.

But it’s still a problem for Germany.

In a city bursting with 20th century history and 21st century glitz, the scrap of Berlin I’ve found myself in on a grey winter’s morning is the definition of ordinary, an American-style mini-mart /gas station where my companions and I are ordering bad coffee to a soundtrack of generic schmaltzy pop.

No one knows for sure what started the West Africa Ebola outbreak, which has killed 10,000 people. But some scientists think it might have begun with a 2-year-old Guinean boy, a hollowed out tree he liked to play in, and a colony of free tailed bats that lived in it.

So the idea of standing in a grove of trees in central Tanzania below hundreds of roosting fruit bats isn’t exactly comforting. But it’s the kind of place the researchers I’m with need to be.

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.

If hockey is Canada's religion, its cathedral is the great outdoors.

Generations of young Canadians have learned the game on ponds and homemade outdoor rinks — even hockey god Wayne Gretzky. The story goes that Gretzky's dad made a rink in the family's backyard to help his son develop the skills that would one day make him arguably the best player ever.

She opposed Putin. They tried to take away her kids.

May 25, 2018

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.

The United States, Canada and Mexico share borders and trade agreements, and now a new plan announced this week by the White House might have the three countries cooperating around butterflies and bees as well.

Beekeeper Jon Otis runs Lake Superior Honey. He has hives here and there around the city of Duluth. He says the idea is that the honey each hive produces has the flavor of the neighborhood it’s in, from the different flowers that grow there.

Recently, Lake Superior Honey started a new project. They’re selling a mix of wildflower and grass seed. They don’t make money off the seeds. They just want more people to tear out their lawns and put in habitat for pollinators.

Take a step back from Zanzibar’s white sand beaches and big hotels and you’re in a very different world. One where the island’s dusty, inland villages largely go dark once the sun sets. This is when the differences between people who have electricity and those who don’t are most pronounced.

If you want to boil the climate crisis down to one simple problem, it’s this: there’s too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere these days.

Here's the skinny: CO2 traps heat. There’s about 40 percent more of it in the atmosphere today than there was in the millennia of human history before the Industrial Revolution, and that number is rising fast, since we just can’t seem to curb our thirst for fossil fuels.

So what if there were a simple solution? What if we had a way to suck that excess the CO2 right back out of the sky?

At 4:30 p.m. — pitch dark and raining — Sue Natali is waiting for her son, Clancy, to get home from school. But she’s not meeting a bus. Each day, Clancy takes a ferry to and from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, to attend a charter high school.

A 45-minute ferry ride may be an unusual commute for a 17-year-old high school junior, but it’s nothing compared to the trip Clancy makes this week, to the climate talks in Paris. It’s an opportunity he earned in an essay contest his school held last summer.

James Hansen, perhaps the world’s most preeminent climate scientist, is best known for sounding the alarm to Congress about the risks of global warming way back in 1988. Since then, he’s been an outspoken critic on the lack of progress.

He’s doing that again this week at the Paris climate talks. He spoke about his 8-year-old grandson, Conner. A few years ago, the boy overheard his famous grandpa talking about climate change and started crying.  

Soldiers and heavily-armed police patrol the train stations and subways. The anti-immigrant National Front scored big gains in Sunday’s French elections. Many in Paris, and France in general, are feeling very much under siege just weeks after the Nov. 13 attacks by ISIS militants. But at the global Climate summit in a massive conference center just north of the city, it’s all about trying — trying — to bring the world together.

When President Barack Obama was pledging to lower US greenhouse gas emissions in Paris last week, Republicans in Congress were passing measures to ease controls on carbon pollution from power plants.

Attentions in Paris have been divided over the past few weeks. The devastating November terror attacks and the big UN climate change negotiations just north of the city have simultaneously grabbed international headlines. Young Parisians sit front-and-center in both stories: as victims of the deadly shootings and activists pushing for carbon restrictions.

Today, 20-something Parisians have mixed emotions as the city hosts what could be a pivotal climate summit.

One of the first things you’ll learn about Shahar Caspi is that he’s not afraid to do things differently. To a point.

“God forbid if my Jewish mother knew that I’m raising pigs,” Caspi says as he greets his pigs, Ava and Adamo, in his backyard.

But he takes his heresy only so far.

“I haven’t tasted one, because I’m afraid to go to Hell for it. We don’t eat pigs,” says Caspi.

You could source the origin of Paolo Bacigalupi's best-selling novel, "The Water Knife," right back to the day his kitchen sink went dry.

"It's just a strange sort of shock to just turn the tap and nothing happens," he says. "You know, sometimes you get an air hiss, whoosh, and you're like, 'Whaat?'"

It totally messed with his head. As it should. You know, you turn a knob. Water comes out. That how it works. That's how it always works.

Until it doesn't.

Constance Okollet is an imposing woman. She’s a peasant farmer from Uganda. Nearly six feet tall, with a stern but not unsmiling face with sad eyes.

Not at all surprising given the tales she has to tell.

“We are facing impacts of climate change, the worst part of it,” Okollet says, sitting in a small apartment she’s staying in this week in Paris. “We have floods, we have long term droughts and we have famine.

“In the past we used to have our two seasons. But these days we don’t have that. It’s just a gamble.”

Some 26 million people are being displaced by natural disasters worldwide — roughly one person per second — three times the number of people displaced by war and violence. And most natural disasters are related to climatic conditions (although scientists can’t tie a specific climatic event, like a hurricane, directly to the changing climate).

Nearly 200 countries have official delegations at the UN climate negotiations this week in Paris. As they race to finalize an agreement by Friday, getting everyone to agree on a final document will be a Herculean task. But for every national diplomat with a seat at the negotiations, there are many more perspectives that aren’t directly represented in the talks. 

Special interest groups, from farmers to youth, all vie for attention at and around the Le Bourget negotiation site just north of Paris, trying in indirect ways to influence the outcomes of the talks.

Just outside of Cologne in western Germany, about 40 miles from where UN climate delegates are meeting this week, the 12,000-year-old Hambach Forest is a vast, leafy cathedral of beech and oak. Except for the rustle of dead leaves underfoot and the occasional burst of birdsong, it's pretty quiet. But it turns out it's a great place to get an earful about Germany's vaunted climate leadership.

“Germany is not the greenest country in the world,” says a climate activist who refers to himself as Tom.

After days of growing uncertainty, President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled a much-hyped summit with North Korea, writing in a letter to its leader, Kim Jong-un, that the world “has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace.”

But in televised remarks shortly afterward, Trump said “it’s possible” the meeting, which was scheduled to take place June 12 in Singapore, “could take place, or a summit at some later date."

“Nobody should be anxious,” he added. “We have to get it right.”