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Newsroom/World View

NEWSROOM for August 21, 2000

Aired August 21, 2000 - 4:30 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: Seen in classrooms the world over, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

RUDI BAKHTIAR, CO-HOST: NEWSROOM kicks off a brand new week. Glad you're with us. I'm Rudi Bakhtiar.

ANDY JORDAN, CO-HOST: And I'm Andy Jordan.

There's lots ahead. Starting, with the rundown.

BAKHTIAR: In "Today's News," efforts to reach 118 submariners trapped at the bottom of the Barents Sea press on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But while Russian and Norwegian sources may differ over detail, their priorities would appear to be the same. To get inside the submarine and ascertain once and for all whether any of the crew members are still alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JORDAN: Then, in our "Environment Desk," why efforts to save the California condor are faltering mid-flight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But the program that's attempting to save this endangered species may be putting the bird and even humans in danger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAKHTIAR: From threatened species to a planet on the brink. Why scientists say all life on Earth could become extinct.

JORDAN: Then, in "Chronicle," young Catholic pilgrims celebrate World Youth Day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not Woodstock, but "Popestock," is the way one newspaper puts it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAKHTIAR: In today's top story, the continuing effort to save the sunken Russian submarine.

It's now 10 days since the Kursk sank with 118 men on board in the Barents Sea. It appeared late Sunday that efforts to gain entry to the sub were pointing toward failure. Russian President Vladimir Putin, widely criticized for his slow response to the crisis, suggested Sunday there is little hope of anyone in the sub surviving.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): The sailors are doing their best to rescue their friends and colleagues; unfortunately, at this times, it is the events that dictate for the developments, not us. But to the very last minute, we shall continue doing the best we can to rescue everyone. We shall fight for the life of each and everyone of our sailors, and we shall hope for the best.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAKHTIAR: On Sunday, a Norwegian diving team worked most of the day and well into the night in the Barents Sea, struggling to open the escape hatch of the sub. Of course, CNN is following this dramatic story, and you can tune in for the very latest.

We get more details now from Mike Hanna.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Norwegian led dive team operating over 100 meters, more than 300 feet, below the ocean surface. This dramatic footage from remote cameras lowered by the support team in the command vessel above.

The divers' efforts are centered on removing an escape hatch at the back of the submarine. They succeed in undoing the bolts around the hatch using tools that have been hastily manufactured on site, but then discover that the hatch cover is clamped tightly to the hull.

ADMR. MIKHAIL MOTZAK, CMDR, RUSSIAN NORTHERN FLEET JACKSON: One of the reasons could be the impact of the submarine on the sea bed. Another possible reason, the systems ensuring the waterproofing of the sub were destroyed. Or maybe some sailors were trying to escape the sub at the depth of 100 meters, which of course is not possible.

HANNA: But there's apparent disagreement as to the extent of the damage. A Norwegian defense spokesman has denied the Russian assertion the hatch is damaged beyond repair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Despite the different messages being out in the national media today, we can confirm that the hatch is OK. So it should be possible to work further with that. We can also say that the area beneath that hatch is not filled with water. So what we are now working on the situation. HANNA: While Russian and Norwegian sources may differ over details, their priorities would appear to be the same, to get inside the submarine and ascertain once and for all whether any of the crew members are still alive.

(on camera): Within hours of deployment, the international team was providing information that, publicly at least, had not been available before. It's a fact that will not go unnoticed by a Russian public that has been deeply angered at the delay in asking for international assistance.

Mike Hanna CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JORDAN: Russia called upon Britain and Norway, since they are NATO members. But Norway also shares an Arctic Ocean border with Russia. That makes Norway particularly susceptible to any potential radioactive leaks in waters used by Russian nuclear submarines.

Walter Rodgers looks at what precautions Norway has taken since the Kursk sank.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not far from the Russian border, Norwegians have accelerated their testing for possible radioactive leaks from the sunken submarine, Kursk, with its two nuclear reactors lying on the bottom of the Barents Sea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Usually, we change these filters once every week, but in this situation, we change it once a day.

RODGERS: Besides testing the air, plant life and water are also being checked for radioactivity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, it's a concern, it's a potential risk. It's about 250 kilometers to the sunken submarine that are out there in the Barents Sea.

RODGERS: So far, the readings show normal amounts of radioactivity. Norwegian officials say they accept Moscow's assurances that there are no nuclear weapons aboard the submarine and that the two reactors are safe for the time being.

(on camera): Ever since Russia's 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Norwegians have been vigilant about radiation monitoring. Then their sheep and reindeer herds were seriously contaminated with radiation. And with the Russian border but five kilometers from here, people in this area are ultra-sensitive to cross-border nuclear leaks.

(voice-over): There are about 90 Russian submarines rusting and leaking nuclear waste into the Arctic Ocean, according to environmental groups like Greenpeace. Small wonder, that under this mountain, Norwegians still maintain a huge nuclear fallout shelter a decade after the cold war. The bomb shelter doubles as a gymnasium.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, it's not like any other gym, it's a bit strange, maybe.

RODGERS: It is parents that seem to worry most about the latest Russian nuclear accident.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Norwegian government are just taking tests all the time and I trust them. So, if they say it is dangerous then I will move, but not before.

RODGERS: Most here simply prefer not to think about the hazards. Still, in this nuclear neighborhood, people can only hope the cloud hanging over their town is fog and mist, and not radioactive.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Kirkens, Norway.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JORDAN: We are keeping watch of a couple of other stories in today's news. First those wildfires burning in the Western part of the United States. Eleven states are currently battling flames consuming more than 1.3 million acres. The fires are raising health concerns, not only for those in harm's way, but smoke is taking its toll on the respiratory systems of firefighters and area residents alike.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREG LEFEVRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For a firefighter, the quality of the air is never good. But here in the Bitterroot Valley, it's especially bad, even dangerous. The air is already thin at 7000 feet elevation, a firefighter gasping for air gets mostly smoke.

BRUCE REID, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT: It's shortness of breath and then you can't get clean air, so it is actually oxygen depletion in the system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sell all this area right here, that's all smoke.

LEFEVRE: Satellite images downloaded at the valley fire camp show nearly every corner of Montana blanketed in choking smoke.

STEVE STOLL, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: It's just been invecting or moving that smoke into our area. And we are sitting kind of like in a bowl here and, where there is smoke, if we get the atmospheric condition the smoke just funnels in here.

LEFEVRE: Health alerts posted miles from the fire line warn people to stay in doors. Hard to do when there's high-school football practice, or the weekend trip into town.

JUDY GRIFFIN, RAVALLI CO. HEALTH DEPT.: This certainly is true in every aspect of the valley, be it the children, the athletes, farmers, everywhere, because you can't go anywhere to escape this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we go through copious quantities of cough drops.

LEFEVRE: Coughs and respiratory problems keep the fire medics busy. Reason: soot in the air everywhere.

DEBBIE ANDERSON, MEDICAL UNIT LEADER, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: I think a lot of the symptoms, the actual symptoms themselves, are being caused by the air quality.

LEFEVRE: Normally, the mountain air here has about 60 parts per million of particular matter, mostly dust and pollen.

(on camera): The fires are pouring out 15 times that amount and all of it bad: soot, ash, carbon monoxide. That won't change until the fires die down. And that may be weeks away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JORDAN: Air quality is also proving to be a health risk in another part of the country, the southeast part of the United States. But fires aren't to blame this time, it's smog.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For this afternoon, hot, high in the upper nineties, code red smog alert day again.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Code red, or unhealthy air, has become almost routine in Atlanta during these late summer days. In fact, Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency alerted four Southern cities: Houston, Baton Rouge, Charlotte and Atlanta that their residents should limit outdoor activity.

Atlanta had actually experienced two code purple days earlier in the week; purple is worse than red; very unhealthy.

RAFAEL BALLAGAS, GEORGIA EPA: We have a lot of stagnant air, hot, humid air, that causes the ozone to cook.

CABELL: That cooking has forced cancellation of outdoor high school football practices, left school playgrounds empty, and kept the children inside. The students learn physical education in the gym. They take recess in the classrooms.

RENEE DAVIS, ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: They'd rather be outside, but they understand the reasoning behind it, so they're OK with it.

CABELL: A good thing, because children are especially vulnerable to smog.

JUNE DEEN, AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION: They have smaller lungs, but they're still taking in the same toxins that we as adults are, but it's just spreading itself over a smaller area to process. CABELL: Also at greater risk during the hot and smoggy days: the elderly. There's little relief in sight, not with the temperatures soaring, not with traffic and industry emitting toxins into the air. The children, the schools and all residents will just have to adapt until the atmosphere clears up and cools down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BAKHTIAR: Some wildlife experts say the effort to bring the California condor back from the brink of extinction is faltering, and they're blaming humans. Or more specifically, the inadvertent influence or change caused by human interaction with animals. For example, when a zoo feeds a lion or tiger every day, the animal forgets how to hunt for food.

In our next story, we'll see how this phenomenon is threatening the flagship of the endangered species conservation program.

Kim Hunter has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KIM HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It had all the makings of a soaring success story: the endangered California condor, the largest bird in North America, more than tripling in population after dwindling to just 30 birds two decades ago. But the program that's attempting to save this endangered species may be putting the bird and even humans in danger.

STEVE BEISSINGER, CONSERVATION BIOLOGIST: Some birds have come into a local California town and perched on the roofs of residents houses and pulled off the shingles and damaged television antennas. And a group of eight even went into one resident's bedroom and started pulling out chunks of his mattress.

HUNTER: In the mid-1980s, all wild condors were captured and bred, and many of their young were raised by condor-like puppets so the parents could go on breeding. But some scientists say those young, now released into the wild, crave human interaction, and are approaching people, cars and buildings. Birds have been shot, poisoned by drinking antifreeze and electrocuted by overhead wires.

Meanwhile, the condor faces another threat: lead poisoning.

BEISSINGER: Birds feed on dead animals, mainly carcasses of what might be hunted or killed deer or maybe livestock, jack rabbits. And oftentimes there might be some bullet pieces or whole bullet fragments left behind.

HUNTER: To keep the condor population from heading into a tailspin, Beissinger suggests alternative ammunition for hunters and an end to puppet-rearing practices.

(on camera): The authors of this study say their next step is to call for a committee of independent scientists to review the condor reintroduction program and make sure it stays on the right track. Kim Hunter for CNN, Berkeley, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JORDAN: In "Worldview" today, we look at animals around the world, especially those species that are endangered. It's a problem that's growing around the globe and it has scientists concerned, because some of the wildlife we're losing could be crucial to us all.

BAKHTIAR: When we think of extinction, many of us think of the dinosaurs. But the truth is, many species that existed in the year 1000 do not exist in the year 2000.

And Gary Strieker warns that, in this new millennium, the list of extinct species could grow at an alarming rate. It's a problem that threatens animal and human populations around the world. Scientists say we're at the onset of a disaster they call the "sixth extinction."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY STRIEKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The tiger, the rhinoceros, the blue whale and the giant panda, familiar endangered species, their numbers now so small they seem destined for extinction and could soon vanish from the Earth.

While losing these unique creatures would be a tragedy, scientists tell us it is nothing compared with the mounting crisis of extinction threatening all life on our planet.

STUART PIMM, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Nothing humanity has ever done has been as dramatic as this. If this rate of extinction continues, we will lose perhaps 40 percent, 50 percent of all life on Earth.

STRIEKER: It might sound incredible, but as many as half of all plant and animal species face extinction in the next 50 to 100 years. And this is no wild theory. There is no disagreement among experts.

THOMAS LOVEJOY, THE WORLD BANK: There is unanimity in the community of biological scientists that this is happening. There really is no biologist who disagrees with this imminent crisis. There just isn't one.

STRIEKER: Extinction is said to be necessary in the process of evolution: old species vanish, new ones take their place. During hundreds of millions of years, scientists say, mass extinctions have periodically wiped out most forms of life. The causes are unknown: possibly huge volcanic eruptions, or climate change.

Sixty-five million years ago, a collision with an asteroid is believed to have caused a global die-off that included all dinosaurs. Scientists recognize five such mass extinctions in history, and they say we're now at the onset of the sixth.

ANDREW KNOLL, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: These are rates of extinction that can only really be compared with these brief moments in the past when biological diversity has come crashing down. STRIEKER: Biological diversity is the web of life on the planet. The total variety of plant and animal species, all living things. And like the others, this sixth mass extinction is a biological diversity crash.

EDWARD O. WILSON, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Not just big animals, but little animals, down to insects and plants, too, are disappearing. And we're in the middle of a species extinction crisis that is unique, for the last few tens of millions of years.

STRIEKER: But there is a big difference between this mass extinction, and those in the past.

PIMM: In the past, the causes of extinction were unavoidable: perhaps a collision with an asteroid or a massive volcanic eruption. This sixth extinction has only one cause, and it's us.

STRIEKER: A mass extinction caused by an expanding population of humans, industry and agriculture consuming natural habitats, contamination poisoning the food chain.

KATHARINE FULLER, WORLD WILDLIFE FUND: It's happening everywhere. It's happening in our own backyards and it's happening in the most far-flung corners of the planet, from Antarctica to the depths of the seas, from the tropical rainforests of Brazil to the deserts of Chihuahua.

LOVEJOY: The loss of biological diversity is essentially the bottom line of what we're doing to the planet. You can fix physical problems like pollution, but you can never replace massive number of species lost to extinction.

STRIEKER: Most extinctions are now concentrated in a few critical areas around the world. Scientists call them "hot spots."

WILSON: And a hot spot is a place where there are large numbers of animal and plants species that are found nowhere else, and where that entire area of natural environment is itself endangered so that when that environment is destroyed, a lot of species go extinct, there's a mass extinction.

STRIEKER: A new study has investigated hot spots like the forests in Indonesia and Madagascar. The study shows 25 major hot spots, covering less than 2 percent of the Earth's land area, shelter nearly two-thirds of all plant and animal species.

KNOLL: Mother Nature has put her eggs in a very few baskets.

STRIEKER: And most of those baskets are hot spots of tropical forests, where vast areas are chopped down or burned every year.

KNOLL: The rate at which we're destroying rainforests worldwide is such that almost all of the rainforests will be gone within 50 years or so. And it's that more than any other factor that leads us to believe that we could lose so much of biological diversity. STRIEKER: Mass extinction in habitats as rich as these sweeps away not only more familiar species like the orangutan in Southeast Asia and many endangered birds in Hawaii, but also hundreds of thousands of others, many still undiscovered.

KENTON MILLER, WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE: It's subtle. We can't put the dead bodies of species extinction on the table and look at them because most things don't even have names yet, but we know it's happening and we can see the forest being reduced.

JANET ABRAMOVITZ, WORLDWATCH INSTITUTE: We are losing, in essence, pages and volumes from nature's library before we've even had a chance to know the titles of these books, much less to know their contents and their importance.

WILSON: As unglamorous as these creatures, these weeds and creepy-crawlies may seem at first glance, in the aggregate they are what sustain us. They really make up the bulk of the biosphere that our very lives depend upon.

MILLER: That's what we depend upon as people for a life support system. That's what puts food on the table, water in the tap, and lets us breathe. This is a massive industry of many component parts, all doing different things to make life possible on this planet. Those are the things that keep the planet alive and humming.

STRIEKER: And that is the real threat from the sixth extinction. We rely on all other species around us for food, for medicines, for clean air and water. How would our future be affected by such a massive loss of life on Earth?

FULLER: We face a planet that is despoiled and impoverished. We face a threat to all life on Earth, including our own, if we continue to destroy species at the rate that has been occurring. This is an interrelated, intricately woven web of life, and at some point, when you pull out one too many threads, the whole fabric disintegrates.

STRIEKER: But before that happens, say the experts, there is still a chance to stop mass extinction.

PETER SELIGMAN, CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL: There's a period today that perhaps is -- there's a window today perhaps of 50 years in which we are going to have to be wise enough, smart enough to protect these hot spots, these places where life is concentrated.

PIMM: It requires us to double, merely double the amount of land that we have in protected areas. If we do that, we can prevent the sixth extinction from taking place.

STRIEKER (on camera): But that kind of urgent action requires cooperation at local, national, and international levels, and that can only happen if there's widespread recognition that something critical is at stake, not just a few unique endangered species.

(voice-over): Some believe there's a powerful moral argument that could bring all nations together in this crisis. WILSON: There's just something I think everybody has a gut feeling about, that it's wrong to carelessly wipe out a large part of the remainder of life on Earth.

STRIEKER: It could be the biggest challenge of the millennium, reversing the course of the sixth extinction, a catastrophe that could eventually make even the human species extinct.

Gary Strieker, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BAKHTIAR: Now a story we told you about last week. World Youth Day draws Catholics from all over the world -- young Catholics, that is. Pope John Paul II came up with the idea in 1985, drawing around 200,000 people to the first event in Rome. This year's event, also in Rome, has drawn 10 times that number.

Jim Bittermann was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Along most every street, in most every piazza of central Rome, the religious fervor is inescapable as the stifling August heat. With their numbers growing each passing day, there are now thought to be more than a million young people here for a Catholic happening. Not Woodstock, but Popestock, is the way one newspaper puts it.

Still, organizers have gone to lengths to make sure the faith is not lost in the festivities. Just yards away from where Christians were sent to the lions for their beliefs, a Roman chariot track has become a huge outdoor confessional where 1,000 priests are on hand to help Catholic pilgrims make a clean breast of their sins.

The young were encouraged to add focus to their visit at morning discussion meetings with the church's cardinals bishops and priests, and there were daylong directed tourism to Rome's most important holy place. So many tried to get through the holy door of St. Peter's Basillica, two other doors were declared holy to handle the crush of people.

Even the evening fashion show, held on the steps of San Gregorio Church, had virtuous overtones. Here, the Catholic style is loose, long and modest.

LUCA PEYRON, FASHION SHOW ORGANIZER: Sometimes you will see girls walking around really naked, and this is not beauty.

BITTERMANN: Appearance was very much on the mind of the 15 young pilgrims who were picked from the hundreds of thousands to stay not in a church or school, but at the papal summer residence. At a lunch with Pope John Paul II, a young Italian worried that he should have washed the orange streaks out of his hair for the occasion. But the pope said he looked just fine. (on camera): In fact, there can be little in the World Youth Days to displease the pope. He has once again visibly demonstrated the appeal he and his church can have for young Catholics, to the ongoing pleasure and surprise of his fellow churchmen, who sometimes struggle to explain the pope's appeal to a modern generation.

CARDINAL JAMES STAFFORD, COUNCIL FOR THE LAITY: I sense they feel in him a spiritual father, a man who truly acts as a father in trusting them.

CARDINAL CARLO MARTINI, ARCHBISHOP OF MILAN: They constitute for us a kind of discovery. We did not know well what a treasure we had in these young people.

BITTERMANN: And it is a treasure, cardinals say, which, if protected, can modernize the church's image now and pay dividends in creating devout Catholics for the future.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Rome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JORDAN: Popestock -- I like that.

BAKHTIAR: Yes.

JORDAN: Well, Pope John Paul II announcing that the next World Youth Day will be in Toronto coming up in two years, so start preparing.

BAKHTIAR: All righty. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

JORDAN: Bye.

BAKHTIAR: Bye.

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