Bird Flu Update
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Reports of a cluster of avian flu cases in Vietnam may signal a change in the virus' ability to spread; a change that world health officials worry could foretell a global pandemic. Host Steve Curwood talks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease, about the likelihood of a worldwide outbreak. (05:30)
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Astrophysicist and New York Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson tells Living on Earth host Steve Curwood that President Bush's new choice to take the helm at NASA, Michael Griffin, has all the qualifications it takes to lead the nation's space agency through the 21st century. (06:45)
ANWR Vote/ Jeff Young
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The U.S. Senate handed drilling supporters a narrow victory by approving oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The vote was part of a budget resolution that bypassed a potential filibuster. Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports from Washington. (05:00)
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The recent Senate vote is a blow to the environmental community, but the legislative debate for ANWR isn't over just yet. Host Steve Curwood talks with Melinda Pierce, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, and Richard Glenn, an Alaska native who supports Arctic drilling in his community. (08:00)
Emerging Science Note/Sibling Rivalry
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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports on research that shows first-borns come out on top. (01:20)
A Laughing Matter
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Laughter can help the heart. Host Steve Curwood talks with a University of Maryland School of Medicine researcher who found surprising results from movie-watching participants of a new study. (03:15)
Costs of Global Warming
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Britain is issuing a warning when it comes to global warming. The United Kingdom is hosting the international Group of Eight summit this summer, and plans to become the next world leader in the new energy market. Host Steve Curwood talks with Economist magazine's Vijay Viatheeswaran about Britain's once and future role. (05:00)
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Animal communicator Dr. Kim Ogden-Avrutik created a CD of songs just for dogs called "Ask the Animals -- Songs to Make Dogs Happy!" She tells Living on Earth host Steve Curwood how she researched what songs to use and which ones received the canine paw of approval. (11:00)
HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Anthony Fauci, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Vijay Vaitheeswaran, Kim Ogden-Avrutik, Melinda Pierce, Richard Glen, Michael Miller
REPORTERS: Jeff Young
NOTE: Jennifer Chu
CURWOOD: From NPR - this is Living on Earth.
[THEME MUSIC – UP AND UNDER]
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. The deadly bird flu that keeps flaring up in Asia may be making a leap into humans, raising the risk of a worldwide pandemic. But, health officials are confident a vaccine against the flu will be ready before these microbes hit the U.S.
FAUCI: You cannot wait because otherwise, you'll find yourself behind the eight ball in timing.
CURWOOD: Also, media folks often use focus groups to find out what might please their audiences, including producers of a music CD for--yes, dogs.
OGDEN: You know, they want to hear happy things; they want to hear good times. They don't want a serious song. Now, I don't know what's going to happen with cats when we make the cats CD but dogs want happy stuff!
[MUSIC AND SINGING: Squeaky-Deakey, I love my squeaky toy! FADES UNDER]
CURWOOD: Bubblegum for Bowser and more – this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.
ANNOUNCER: Support from Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
What health officials fear most about the bird flu may have already happened in Vietnam. In the city of Thai Binh, two nurses appear to have contracted the virus from the patients they were treating. Prior to this cluster of cases, 60 people in Southeast Asia came down with the bird virus called H5N1. But all of them caught it directly from poultry, with the exception of a single case. Most have died. These new cases could be a signal that the virus is morphing into forms that can more readily jump from human to human. Health workers warn that if the virus keeps evolving this way, a global pandemic may not be far behind.
Dr. Anthony Fauci joins me now. He's director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Fauci, hello.
FAUCI: Hi, there.
CURWOOD: So, there's news that a cluster now of avian flu cases has developed in Vietnam. What do you know of the specifics of this case?
FAUCI: Some of the clusters that we're seeing are being investigated for the possibility that one or more of the infections could have actually been transmitted from person to person. There's one clearly documented case in Thailand months ago in which a mother was infected, not from a chicken but from her child who had been infected by a chicken. And, the mother was infected and actually died from the influenza. What it tells us is that it's rare and inefficient for this virus to go from human to human, although it's progressively getting better at jumping from bird to human. So, when you see a cluster like you're seeing in Vietnam, it puts a red flag up to make sure and investigated thoroughly that we're not dealing with a situation in which it's actually transmission from person to person.
CURWOOD: What kind of timeline are we looking at now in terms of how fast this virus could spread? I know this is a favorite question to you doctors, Doctor...
CURWOOD: How soon?
FAUCI: The answer, the favorite answer, there's no way of predicting. You just cannot predict because it's possible that it will do what it's doing now and then just hit a dead end and stop. That's unlikely that that would happen because the infection among bird flocks in Asia is really, in many respects, out of control. It's so pervasive among the chicken flocks that it becomes progressively more difficult to eliminate them all. Another important issue is that there are migratory birds that can easily fly from country to country which can then cross-contaminate even new flocks that are brought in. So, it's a very perplexing problem that, at least from the standpoint of the chicken flocks, is almost out of control.
CURWOOD: What's the reaction that you're seeing at the National Institutes of Health and, for that matter, in the U.S. public health sector at this recent news?
FAUCI: There are several things that are going on. The Department of Health and Human Services has a pandemic flu preparedness plan that involves greater surveillance and preparedness on the part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our CDC who have extensive monitoring in Asia and in this country. We are already starting clinical trials on an H5-N1 vaccine that has been contracted for by a couple of companies. The material is made and imminently the material will be going into humans for clinical trial, for safety and to determine what the correct dose is. And we've also contracted for two million doses of this vaccine to put into our strategic national stockpile.
CURWOOD: So, you're on the way to developing a vaccine and if you're satisfied, you'll ramp it up to a couple million doses.
FAUCI: It's already been ramped up. So we're assuming it's going to be okay. You cannot wait because otherwise you'll find yourself behind the eight ball in timing. The issue is is that if we do develop the beginning of a pandemic, you can ramp up those two million doses to be tens of millions of doses.
CURWOOD: Tell me, what could the scenario of a pandemic be? What would we be talking about?
FAUCI: Well, generally, in the United States on any given regular seasonal flu year, there are about 36,000 deaths from influenza. If you have a pandemic flu in which the population has no immunity essentially against it, that mortality can go up considerably. You can't predict what that mortality will be, but it certainly could increase by several fold above what we generally see in a regular influenza year.
CURWOOD: In terms of preparedness, compared to past year flu pandemics and the threat of pandemics, how do you think we rate today?
FAUCI: When you're dealing with a possible evolution of a pandemic, there's no amount of preparedness that's going to be absolutely safe guard everyone. Of course, that's not going to be the case. But already now, we're involved in things that are geared toward responding rapidly in the eventuality of there being a pandemic. So, I would say, that compared to other years, that the awareness of the resources that have been put into influenza, pandemic flu preparedness is certainly greater than what we've had in the past.
CURWOOD: So, news that there are now clusters of avian flu cases, no reason to panic?
FAUCI: Definitely, no reason to panic.
CURWOOD: Dr. Anthony Fauci directs the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Fauci, thanks for taking this time with me today.
FAUCI: You're quite welcome.
[MUSIC: The Ventures "The Forth Dimension" The Ventures in Space (EMI) 1963]
CURWOOD: Michael Griffin has been nominated to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Right now, Professor Griffin heads the space department at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He's also held positions at NASA and in the aerospace industry. If Michael Griffin is approved by the Senate, he'll take the helm as the eleventh administrator of NASA at a time when the agency is facing questions about its budget and its mission.
Dr. Michael Griffin
Joining me now is Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of New York's Hayden Planetarium and a regular contributor to our program. Dr. Tyson, welcome back to Living on Earth.
TYSON: It's a pleasure. Thanks for having me again.
CURWOOD: So, tell me, what do you make of the choice of Michael Griffin for NASA administrator?
TYSON: Oh, I think it's a brilliant choice. I served on the president's commission to study the implementation of the new space vision. And, among the myriad of tasks we set out for NASA to accomplish, it included making sure the engineers talked to the scientists so that engineering problems don't get too far ahead of the science drivers and that science doesn't get too far ahead of the engineering enablers. We called for an act of participation of the private sector which, as far as we could judge, is the only truly buoyant force of any long-term program in this capitalist society in which we live. We also called for the stimulation of entrepreneurship so that the entire space exploration effort is not driven by one or two companies, but is spread around. There's a lot of smart, clever people found in a lot of unlikely places and you combine all these factors.
You say, well, who you have on the docket to lead this? Is there a politician? No, it could be useful for some things, but not the whole rest of this list. You look at the pedigree of Mike Griffin. He's got a bachelors in physics and a Ph.D. in engineering and an MBA and he's head of a space physics lab and he once worked at NASA, heading up an engineering group. He's all these factors and he worked for the private sector as COO of a division of a major space corporation. It's all rolled up into one person. If there's a better candidate for the head of NASA, at this chapter of NASA's history, I don't know of one.
CURWOOD: But, some say that Michael Griffin doesn't have the Washington experience of the man who's leaving, Sean O'Keefe, who was what, navy secretary, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget right there at the White House; that he may know the science and the engineering, but he may not have the experience in politics.
TYSON: Well, keep in mind he worked at Johns Hopkins University which is in Baltimore, which is in throwing distance of Washington. There is a Washington proximity effect whereas you're near Washington, you're more close to Washington politics and Washington issues. So, you're right, he's not a complete insider the way his predecessor was, Sean O'Keefe. However, my personal goal here--and I think it should be all of our goal--is for the public to take ownership of NASA. And when that happens, then we have taken ownership of our elected representatives with regard to our presence in space. And when that happens, we don't need the insider to get things done because it's happening by the normal democratic process that has made this nation great over the past.
And so, my hope and expectation is the same way the public, think about this, the public has taken ownership of the Hubble telescope. The mere announcement that it might not get repaired...you saw the replies, the op-eds, the debates on talk shows. People said, 'this is our telescope' and we learned that that telescope did not belong to NASA; it did not belong to the astrophysicists. It belonged to the people and I was very heartened by that. I don't know any public outcry for any scientific experiment in history that compares in any way to what happened with the Hubble telescope.
The public needs to take ownership of NASA the way they took ownership of NASA in the 1960s. That was our collective space program. It was our collective achievement. They don't say NASA landed on the moon in the 1960s; they say America landed on the moon in the 1960s. So, when we take ownership then we grease the pathways for Michael Griffin to bring his formidable expertise in science and engineering to get the job done.
CURWOOD: And, assuming Mr. Griffin is confirmed by the Senate, what are the challenges he faces as head of NASA?
TYSON: Yeah, he'd have to have some serious skeletons in his closet to not be completely confirmed by the Senate. And, what are his challenges? Well, consider that in this new vision, the whole solar system is part of the portfolio of what NASA will be exploring, not only robotically and scientifically, but with humans, as well. Yet, the history of NASA and its formation is traceable to an enterprise that had a singular mission and that was going to the moon. So, the challenge is, how do you morph an organization with that kind of legacy into one that has the entire portfolio of the solar system on its docket? And, to do this, he's got to smooth over what has historically been an uneasy relationship between NASA and the efforts of entrepreneurs, the business community, NASA has, in many ways, considered it distinct from the private enterprise. But, in fact, going forward, they're going to have to intersect in ways that have never before been dreamt. And, it's the private enterprise, that is our read from serving on the commission. It's the private enterprise that will provide the buoyant force to keep NASA vibrant over multiple election cycles and through multiple economic cycles. So, he's going to have to stimulate a more meaningful relationship between NASA, the private sector, NASA and entrepreneurs. He's going to have to rework the structural form of NASA to work in the service of multiple missions treating the entire solar system as a destination and not as a singular object.
CURWOOD: Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and director of New York's Hayden Planetarium. His latest book is called, "Origins: 14 Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution." Thanks for taking this time with me today.
TYSON: It's a pleasure.
CURWOOD: Coming up—pro drilling forces win a major battle but the war to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil industry isn't over. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: The Ventures "Love Goddess of Venus" The Ventures in Space (EMI) 1963]
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For more than two decades, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been the focus of the national fight between the oil industry and conservationists. And, oil just won a big round. On March 16, the U.S. Senate voted to open portions of the refuge to oil exploration as part of the federal budget, a move that avoided the threat of a filibuster. It's a hard-won victory for drilling proponents and a bitter defeat for conservationists who invested millions over the years to keep the drills out. But, as Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports, the Arctic oil dispute is not over yet.
YOUNG: The Arctic Refuge's would-be protectors found themselves over a 56-dollar barrel. That was the eye-popping price for a barrel of crude the day the Senate took up debate on the future of the refuge. And it's why South Dakota Republican Jim Thune says let the drilling begin.
THUNE: How high do gas prices have to get before we realize what the American people have realized a long time ago? And that is that we have an energy crisis here in America today.
YOUNG: Thune is among the five newly-elected Republicans who expanded the majority's margin of power and helped drilling proponents squeeze out a narrow win. The last Senate rejected drilling by four votes; this one approved it, 51 to 49. Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning says the country's growing dependence on foreign oil makes opening the refuge a matter of national security.
BUNNING: We must utilize our own natural resources if we're going to do what's necessary to defend America.
YOUNG: The vote could allow leases in two years for oil exploration in one and a half million of the refuge's 19 million acres. The area in dispute is on the coastal plain and is the last five percent of Alaska's northern coast not open to oil exploration. It's not clear how much oil is there. The best guess is based on seismic testing from the U.S. Geological Survey that indicates the refuge could produce about a million barrels a day, about the same as the output from Texas. The U.S. now uses a little more than 20 million barrels a day. Drilling opponents like Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry say that's not worth risking damage to the refuge's wild landscape and the caribou, bears and migratory birds that depend on it.
KERRY: The fact is the price of oil will not drop, the price of energy will not drop, the price of gasoline will not drop because with three percent of the oil reserves of the world in our hands, including Alaska, you can't drill your way out of America's predicament.
YOUNG: Kerry's numbers come from the government's Energy Information Administration, projecting the country's dependence on foreign oil, 20 years from now.
LIEBERMAN: If they can use this end run, this trick, they can use it to do what they want with the Great Lakes or to allow for offshore drilling off the coast of Florida, or to enter other public places throughout our country.
YOUNG: That suspicion was reinforced when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas summed up the purpose of Arctic drilling in one word: precedent.
NORTON: That is clearly not the case.
YOUNG: Interior Secretary Gail Norton, however, dismisses that idea.
NORTON: The president has supported the moratoria that protect Florida waters. We also know that if you take our most rich potential oil resource off the table, then that does increase pressure for every place else.
YOUNG: Perhaps no one was happier with the Senate's action than Alaska's Senior Senator, Republican Ted Stevens. Stevens has pushed to open the refuge for 24 years and a few days before the vote, that effort was clearly wearing him down.
STEVENS: As I said, I'm really depressed. In fact, I'm seriously, I'm seriously depressed, unfortunately, clinically depressed. I've been told that because I've just been at this too long.
YOUNG: After the vote, Stevens was back to his normal, temperamental self, shouting down a reporter's question and asserting that voters endorsed Arctic drilling last November.
STEVENS: And, my friend, it's called an election. We won the election and we promised we'd do this when we won that election.
YOUNG: If Stevens seems more feisty than celebratory, it could be because he knows he still has a lot of work ahead. Arctic drilling is now tied to the fate of the resolution. And budget resolutions have died twice in the past three years. This year's version is beset with quarrels over Medicaid funding and how to pay for tax cuts. And environmental groups are pinning their last hopes on those budget battles to keep the Arctic Refuge off limits. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young in Washington.
CURWOOD: Joining me now are two people who were in the Senate chamber, holding their breath as the votes on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were being tallied. The Sierra Club's Melinda Pierce has been lobbying against opening ANWR for 15 years. Richard Glen is vice president of the pro-drilling Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. And, hello to both of you.
PIERCE: Hey, there.
CURWOOD: Now, let's start with Ms. Pierce. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have invested a lot of time and money into this campaign. In your view, what went wrong here?
PIERCE: Well, I'll tell you what, nothing went wrong in terms of the mobilization of Sierra Club members and, truly, the American public. I mean, this was a case of good, old-fashioned organizing. And, given the makeup of the United States Senate, 55/45 in terms of the division between Republicans and Democrats, frankly, I think the vote was a strong vote.
CURWOOD: But it wasn't enough.
PIERCE: Certainly wasn't enough; we need two more votes and I think, ultimately, trying to advance Arctic drilling through the budget process is objectionable and it's not going to succeed.
CURWOOD: Now, what about claims that the oil can be extracted from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with minimal disruption to the environment? I'm thinking of what Interior Secretary Gale Norton said recently, that, look, the footprint of the equipment and the facilities necessary to get to this oil is no more than 2,000 acres and in a reserve, what, roughly the size of South Carolina, doesn't sound like very much.
PIERCE: Well, I'd like to believe that the oil industry can do this in an environmentally sensitive way and they are making advances. But, frankly, you can't get away from the fact that oil drilling is a messy business and if you look at the history of oil development on the North Slope in Prudhoe Bay, it's a history of air pollution, of water pollution. They average 400 spills a year, self-reported. They just can't do it right, yet.
CURWOOD: Mr. Glen?
CURWOOD: How do you produce oil in ANWR without damaging it?
GLEN: Well, first off, you begin with an exploration program that leaves no tracks on the landscape that's done in winter, over snow cover, with low-pressure vehicles that make vibrations and don't even touch the ground surface. And then, if an exploration program warrants further study, a drilling program would ensue and the drilling is done again in winter from an ice-supported pad, a layer of ice that separates the drill rig infrastructure from the ground. And when the drilling for these exploratory wells is done, everything is cut and removed and the drill rig is gone and you don't see a trace of either the exploration or the drilling.
CURWOOD: Some might say that your organization favors drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge because of the financial interest that you might have there. How much would this be worth to your community if drilling were to proceed?
GLEN: It's in the millions. It's hugely important. What has happened is our home-rule government has developed a tax base by which it has created local schools, health clinics, roads, reliable power--things that much of the rest of the country takes for granted.
CURWOOD: How do you think your community will change with drilling?
GLEN: Well, you see, there already is Arctic drilling and so our communities have been familiar with drilling now for 30 years. We try to walk in two worlds, really. We try to keep our language and our traditions alive. We rely on fish and the caribou and the marine mammals of our region for food. Our people are kind of stitched into the fabric of the land. What's changed is modern conveniences allow us to travel safer; people use snow machines and GPS and VHF radios rather than tools that pre-date steel and electronics. And, we're faced with, over the years...we, like many other Northern communities, are faced with suicide and substance abuse and disease. So, there's a plus and minus with cultural change, just like there is everywhere else.
CURWOOD: Melinda Pierce, to what extent is this a done deal? I mean, how likely is it that drilling in ANWR will, in fact, become law this time around?
PIERCE: Well, I don't think that drilling rigs are going to be rolling into the Arctic Refuge. They have won a small victory, but the battle is far from over. It's hard to pass a budget and by adding Arctic drilling to it, in a way that limits debate and amendment, I think it throws very much in question whether they can pass an overall budget.
CURWOOD: I want to ask both of you, if you have questions for each other. First, Richard Glen, do you have any questions for Melinda Pierce?
GLEN: Well, I think it's my understanding that there are other wildlife refuges in this country that are producing oil and gas and they're doing it safely. Why can't the Sierra Club condone such a practice in a small portion of the coastal plain?
PIERCE: Because we believe that there are some places that are too special to open to development, that there are some places that we should leave as a wilderness area.
GLEN: But, the coastal plain is not a wilderness. It has landing strips, radar facilities, our people live there. So, to type it as a pristine, uninhabited wilderness is not accurate.
PIERCE: You know, when I have been there, there are no roads; there is not a manmade development that I have ever seen. This is 1.5 million acres that is presently protected as wilderness status which means no roads, no development. It is as vast and pristine an area as there is in the United States, as there is in the world.
GLEN: Well, the fact that you visited the coastal plain and were unable to see any infrastructure is the argument that I've been trying to make, that the region is big; there is room and there is room. You can visit many places even in the coastal plain and not see any sign of infrastructure, but the infrastructure is there. That's an indication of the size and magnitude that most people have failed to realize.
CURWOOD: Melinda Pierce, do you have any questions for Mr. Glen?
PIERCE: Yeah, indeed. Actually, during the course of this debate, there were a number of representatives from the Inupiak communities that came down to talk about the growing opposition to drilling because these communities like Nuiqsut and Kaktovik have seen the negative health effects that gas flaring and the development has had. What do you say to those members of the community that have traveled to DC to talk about their growing opposition to oil drilling?
GLEN: Well, there is a diversity of opinion on every issue. But, the majority of our people are in support. And, I spoke with the president of the native village of Kaktovik and he told me that the majority of his tribal members are in support. Of course, our Barrow leadership is in support; our regional corporation is in support. So, we have by no sense lockstep unity but we do have majority. We tolerate all, this is a kind of debate and discussion that we encourage but we have consensus, as well.
CURWOOD: Hey, it sounds like we're at the United States Senate, huh?
CURWOOD: I want to thank both of you for taking this time with me, today. Melinda Pierce is the senior Washington representative for the Sierra Club and Richard Glen is vice president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which represents the business interests of the Alaskan Inupiats in Barrow, Alaska. Both of you, thank you so much for taking this time with me today.
PIERCE: Thank you, Steve.
GLEN: Thank you very much.
CURWOOD: Just ahead: laughing all the way to good health. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME MUSIC]
CHU: When it comes to birth order, the saying, 'first is the worst, second is the best' doesn't ring true, according to a recent study. Census data on Norwegians aged 16 to 74 show that younger siblings tend to receive less schooling than their older brothers and sisters and are less likely to excel in the job market as adults.
For example, researchers found that when compared to first-borns, fourth born children got almost one year less schooling. Wages and employment status were also examined to determine a correlation with birth order. And researchers found that as adults, younger siblings ended up with lower paying jobs and mostly part-time work while first-borns wound up with higher pay and more permanent jobs. The study suggests that it's birth order and not the size of the family that matters when it comes to which siblings do better.
The reason for first-borns apparent advantage could be that they get more intellectual stimulation from parents early on in life. And, while popular notion has younger children benefiting by learning from their older siblings, scientists found just the opposite. First-borns appear to develop superior learning skills from teaching their kid brothers or sisters. Researchers believe these trends in Norway are applicable worldwide. So that, being first turns out to be not the worst, but simply the best. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Jennifer Chu.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Now, staying healthy does seem like such a chore. Having to exercise after a long day at work, cutting out foods that are bad for you, struggling to lose weight. But, there's evidence that some of the things you like are also good for you, like drinking wine, eating dark chocolate, making love, to name a few. And, now something new has been added to that list: laughter. A recent study lead by Dr. Michael Miller, who's director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, suggests that laughing is good for your heart. Dr. Miller, hello.
MILLER: Hi, how are you?
CURWOOD: So, tell me about your study.
MILLER: Yes, well you know, we were interested in determining whether a positive influence like laughter may, in fact, have some health benefits. And so, what we did was looked at the way the vessel lining of the artery responds after having volunteers watch a movie that would cause undue stress and also have them watch a movie that would provoke laughter.
CURWOOD: What movies did you have your subjects watch?
MILLER: For the mental stress phase, the subjects watched "Saving Private Ryan." They watched the opening segment of that movie.
MILLER: Now, for the movie that caused laughter, we showed "King Pin." The men loved "King Pin." The women, some of the women did not find it amusing, so they then choose another movie and the movie they typically chose was "Something About Mary."
CURWOOD: What's the mechanism for this? How does this work?
MILLER: Well, what we believe happens is when you laugh, your blood vessels open up and it's actually the lining of the blood vessels that are dilated. This is in contrast to mental stress which causes the lining of the blood vessels to constrict.
CURWOOD: Now, what's the difference between the effects of laughing and the effects of exercising?
MILLER: Exercise also has a variety of other benefits on blood pressure and heart rate and the level of the good cholesterol which is unlikely that laughter has.
CURWOOD: Maybe the best idea is to watch "Seinfeld" while you're running on the treadmill?
MILLER: That is, you know, I think that's, that would be a great idea. Whatever makes you laugh, if "Seinfeld" makes you laugh, exercise and "Seinfeld" would be great.
CURWOOD: What's the prescription for laughter? If it's an apple a day, keeps the doctor away, how much laughter do we need to keep our hearts healthy everyday?
MILLER: That's a great question and we don't know for sure. I would profess that, perhaps, one good laugh that makes you feel real good. Laughing clinics have sprouted up. They've started in India. I believe there are some in New York.
CURWOOD: So, okay. I hope you're ready now. Did you hear this one? A guy's sitting at home, there's a knock at the door. He opens the door; he doesn't see anybody until he looks down and sees a snail on the porch. Picks up the snail and throws it as far as he can. Three years later, there's a knock at the door. He opens it, then looks down, ah, it's the same snail. The snail says, "what the hell was that all about?"
MILLER: [laughter] I'm going to have to give that to my first cousin who's a comedian.
CURWOOD: Dr. Michael Miller is director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Thanks for taking this time to laugh and talk with us today, Dr. Miller.
MILLER: Thank you, it's been my pleasure.
CURWOOD: Just ahead—how would you like to know what kind of music makes dogs happy? One woman found out by asking them. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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[MUSIC: Charlie Parker: "Mohawk" Bird: The Original Recordings of Charlie Parker (Verve) 1988, recorded in 1950]
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
A conventional wisdom in Washington these days holds that taking steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions is akin to putting a ball and chain around the leg of the economy. But, British Finance Minister Gordon Brown turned that logic around in a very public forum that included James Connaughton, who heads President Bush's Council on Environmental Quality. In a speech to environment and energy officials from 20 nations, Chancellor Brown claimed that global warming itself, could put a drag on the world economy.
Joining me is Vijay Vaitheeswaran, global environment and energy correspondent for The Economist magazine.
Vijay, Chancellor Brown's comments were part of preparations for the Group of Eight Summit of the world's major industrial nations that Britain is hosting this July. Did we just hear a preview?
VAITHEESWARAN: Exactly. This is an interesting gathering, actually. Britain has decided that it's going to promote the cause of climate change and doing something serious about it as its top priority this year and set up a whole year of events trying to get global consensus to bring America back into the fold on climate change. But, also, to try to do something more interesting on the economic front. And, that's where Gordon Brown comes in the picture. Gordon Brown, of course, is the finance minister. He is the money man in Britain and not usually involved in things that are green. And yet, he was the guy who was hosting the environment ministers and energy ministers. And, the message that the Brits want to send is it's about time that we stop putting the environment in the ghetto of politics. By putting such a high profile, important person as Gordon Brown at the heart of this conference, they were sending a message that climate is moving up in the ranks in terms of priorities.
CURWOOD: In a speech to this gathering, Finance Minister Gordon Brown said that human induced climate change threatens future economic activity and growth around the world. Vijay, what does he mean? How could global warming trip up the global economy?
VAITHEESWARAN: There are few ways that global warming could influence the global economy and not for the better, by and large. We already know that when temperatures rise we're going to have dramatic impacts in certain parts of the world on weather systems. Places that are prone to draughts might see very severe droughts. Other places might see very freakish and much more intense monsoons, for example. Neither of those things would be good for agriculture. There's already reason to think that we might see much higher waves and storm intensity and that might not be very good for shipping or for cities that have a very big port economy like parts of Los Angeles, New Orleans, Galveston, Texas. So, there are a number of ways in which we're going to see ecosystem effects, weather effects that pass through into negative climate effects and, ultimately, economic effects.
CURWOOD: In the U.S., the Bush administration has said that efforts to curb greenhouse gases, any mandatory efforts, are bad for business. Now, we have a high-ranking British finance official saying just the opposite is true. Who's right?
VAITHEESWARAN: History shows that we can tackle environmental problems while growing the economy successfully. So, I would say that the British finance minister is closer to being right. If you look, for example, at the acid rain problem which a decade ago was the biggest environmental problem in America; it wasn't global warming. The industry said there's no way we can tackle it; the coal plants in America will go bust. In fact, America found a very innovative approach called emissions trading. And through this way, we've solved the problem of acid rain in America. The utility sector hasn't gone bust and the American economy has boomed during the 1990s.
CURWOOD: The British finance minister actually went further in his speech and said that "a well-designed environmental policy can spur economic growth rather than hinder it." What do you suppose he means by that?
VAITHEESWARAN: Britain has a very ambitious vision for being the center of the clean energy revolution. Because Britain is the financial capital of Europe, they see the opportunity to be the venture capital, the carbon finance capital for the new global economy called Glo-Carbon. And, this is exactly what's beginning to happen. They're seeing a lot of opportunities, a lot of jobs, a lot of money. A lot of technology is coming up in Britain because it has a foot in the door in American-style capitalism, that is Anglo-Saxon capitalism as it's called, but they also have a foot in the world of European environmentalism. And, they see themselves as the perfect bridge to help bring the world toward this kind of innovative, new green, low-carbon economy.
CURWOOD: Sounds like they are going to be eating the lunch of American finance and energy development.
VAITHEESWARAN: As the global warming problem takes off, I think you're going to see Europeans, and particularly Britain, very well-positioned to capitalize on this. And, that's part of the reason why a lot of companies in America, Fortune 500 companies, are pressing the Bush administration for some action on climate change. They want to get in on this, as well.
CURWOOD: Vijay Vaitheeswaran is a reporter for The Economist magazine. He is also the author of a new book, "Power to the People." Hey, thanks for taking this time with me today, Vijay.
VAITHEESWARAN: It's a pleasure.
[MUSIC: Rex Harrison "Talk to the Animals" Doctor Doolittle: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Philips) 1997]
Kim Ogden-Avrutik says she can. Dr. Kim, as she prefers to be called, makes her living listening to what animals have to say to help their owners solve their pet problems. She was asked to help put together a CD of music that dogs would like to hear and after a year spent researching and conducting canine-focus groups, she and her producers came up with "Ask the Animals--Songs To Make Dogs Happy!" Dr. Kim, welcome to Living on Earth.
OGDEN: Thank you, Steve, delighted to be here.
CURWOOD: Now, you describe yourself as an animal communicator. What's that?