This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
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And I'm Faith Lapidus. This week, we will tell about an agreement to
limit temperatures in Earth's atmosphere. We will tell about an incident that
brought attention to climate change disputes. And we will report on a study of China's giant pandas.
The World Meteorological Organization says two thousand nine was
probably the fifth warmest year since eighteen fifty. It also says the
past ten years may be the warmest ten-year period ever measured.
Controlling rising temperatures was the subject of an international conference
last month in Copenhagen, Denmark. The United Nations called the conference to replace a nineteen
ninety-seven agreement, the Kyoto Protocol. The protocol contains measures
designed to fight climate change.
Almost two hundred countries were represented at the conference. In
the end, only five of them were able to negotiate an agreement. They are Brazil, China, India, South Africa and the United
States. The agreement
is known as the Copenhagen Accord. It asks major polluting countries to voluntarily
reduce gases linked to what scientists call the greenhouse effect.
Scientists say Earth's atmosphere acts like a greenhouse. Carbon dioxide
and other gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun. They prevent the heat
from escaping into outer space. This balanced system makes it possible for
plants, animals and people to survive on Earth. However, the balance is
changing. Human activities are producing increased amounts of carbon dioxide
and other gases. Burning fuels like oil and coal is a major cause. Clearing
forests for agriculture is another.
The Copenhagen Accord sets a goal of one hundred billion dollars a
year in aid to help poor nations with climate control by twenty-twenty. The
accord states that limiting temperature increases to no more than two degrees
Celsius is necessary to stop the worst effects of climate change.
Many small nations wanted a stronger agreement. One hundred nations
supported a target of keeping temperature increases below one point five
degrees. The nations also say they regret that the Copenhagen Accord has no
force of law. Instead, it is voluntary.
China vetoed proposals calling for fifty percent cuts in greenhouse gases. It
also vetoed eighty-percent cuts by developed countries by the middle of the
century. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao praised the accord. He said that his
government took an important and helpful part at the conference.
Environmental activists said the accord is a declaration that small
and poor countries are not important. The representative from the Pacific island
nation of Tuvalu made an emotional appeal for a treaty with legal force. Tuvalu is the world's second smallest country. Rising seas and warming
conditions threaten its existence.
Lumumba Di-Aping was
the chief negotiator for G-77, a group of mostly poor countries. He said the
agreement is, in his words, a suicide pact.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown criticized the negotiation process
at the conference. But both he and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the
agreement provides a hopeful beginning.
The administration of President Obama says the Copenhagen Accord
represents progress. Some reports say the president was responsible for a
compromise that made the accord possible. Without his efforts, the reports say,
other countries would have gone home without any agreement.
The United States and China are the biggest
producers of greenhouse gases. Some commentators say both sides acted in
recognition of political conditions in their countries. For example, President
Obama wants Congress to take steps against global warming. But the American
economy is weak, and twenty-ten is an election year. Political observers say
the idea faces strong opposition.
Last year, an incident in Britain brought attention to disagreements about climate change. Private
e-mails and other documents were hacked from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The stolen materials included more than one-thousand e-mails and two
thousand documents. The information was placed on the Internet. Police are
investigating the thefts. The university opened an investigation of the
Climatic Research Unit. The head of the C.R.U., Phil Jones, temporarily left
The stolen materials intensified questions about global warming. Are
climate changes real? If so, were human activities mainly to blame? Most
scientists involved in climate research answer "yes" to both questions. Even opposing
scientists say human-influenced global warming has become widely accepted by
the scientific community.
Some scientists, however, do not believe the evidence for warming. Or,
they say the Earth may be warming, but human activity is not responsible.
Instead, these experts say, our planet is experiencing a normal series
of temperature changes. They say such changes are events that have always
American researcher Patrick Michaels questions the evidence supporting
human-influenced global warming. He said the stolen e-mails prove that the
evidence is not correct.
Critics also noted an e-mail written more than ten years ago by
Professor Jones of the C.R.U. In the e-mail, he used the words "trick" and
"hide the decline" when writing about a graph showing rising temperatures. The image
appeared in several scientific publications.
The critics say his wording showed purposeful misrepresentation. But
other experts offered technical explanations of how the wording was not meant
to hide a drop in temperatures. They say the word "trick" can mean a shortened
and effective way to express complex findings.
A few of the stolen e-mails showed open dislike for scientists who
oppose the idea of human-influenced global warming. American scientist James
Hansen suggested that some of the e-mails showed poor judgment. But he said
such comments should be separated from the scientific research.
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international group of researchers has produced a map of the panda's genetic
material. Scientists from the Beijing Genomics Institute led the study. The
genetic map, or genome, of the panda is the first for a member of the bear
family. And, it is the second genome for a member of the Carnivora group, after
dogs. A report about the study was published last month in Nature magazine.
long known that giant pandas mainly eat just one kind of plant: bamboo. The
animals are also known for a low rate of reproduction.
Pandas are also threatened
by a loss of land and illegal hunting. It is estimated that less than two
thousand of the animals live in the wild. They are mostly found in southwestern
China. Another one
hundred twenty pandas live in zoos and research centers, mainly in China.
The researchers identified
the genetic structure of a three-year old female panda named Jingjing. The
study showed that pandas have been in existence for up to three million years. Yet
their genetics have caused pandas to develop more slowly than human beings and
Pandas are a
subspecies of Ursidae, the bear family. But the study showed a high genetic
similarity between pandas and dogs. The panda genome is smaller than the human
genome. The human one has about three billion base pairs of deoxyribonucleic
acid. The panda genome has about two billion five hundred million base pairs.
was that the panda's genetic material differed in many places. Researcher Jun
Wang says this tells scientists that the decrease in the panda population is
not a result of inbreeding. Mating by individuals with similar genes was
thought to be a problem.
finding was the structure of the panda's taste gene. This, scientists say, can
affect the ability to taste meat and other foods high in protein. Because
pandas likely have all the genes needed for breaking down meat, scientists
believe an inability to taste meat may have led to their all-bamboo diet.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Jerilyn Watson and Brianna
Blake, who was also our producer. I'm Faith Lapidus.
And, I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about
science in Special English on the Voice of America.