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Bill McKibben Speaks at Oberlin College

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Bill McKibben Speaks at Oberlin College

EcoWatch

By Stefanie Penn Spear

On Nov. 28, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, spoke in Oberlin, Ohio, about the next steps for the Keystone XL pipeline and future of the modern-day environmental movement.

I had a chance to catch up with McKibben and talk about what's needed to pass strong environmental policy, continue collaboration among the grassroots environmental movement and keep the momentum going.

McKibben spoke to a full-house on the Oberlin College campus to students, community members and national environmental leaders, including David Orr and Brad Masi.

He spoke of the recent International Energy Agency's report warning that we need to stop relying on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy, and adopt bold policies to prevent a world-wide energy crisis.

He spoke of the floods and droughts impacting communities throughout the world. From the worst flooding in Pakistan to record rainfall in the northeastern region of the U.S. where communities broke one-day rain records by more than 25 percent to droughts in Australia to Bangkok, Thailand's worst flooding in almost 70 years that has killed as many as 600 people and caused economic damages that could exceed $20 billion.

He spoke of how this extreme weather is happening with just one degree increase in temperature and unless we get our act together very quickly, one degree will be 4 to 5 degrees before this century is out, and civilization as we know it will never be the same.

He spoke about how the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrated what it's going to take to build the type of movement that can create real change, and what will be needed to confront the people and companies that are putting profits above the health of people and the planet.

McKibben said, "We are not going to stop climate change one pipeline at a time, there are just too many pipelines, too many oil wells. We need to put a price on carbon and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere." We are allowing the fossil fuel industry to spew carbon dioxide into the air at no cost and that has to change.

We need to take on corporate power directly and take on this idea that corporations are people and that they are allowed to spend as much money as they want in the political arena. Corporation are not people.

McKibben knows that we'll continue to need passion, spirit and creativity to continue this movement, but we're going to need to use our bodies and participate in nonviolent civil disobedience to create real change.

He concluded by saying that he can't promise that we'll win this fight, but that he knows people will not stop trying, and he'll continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with us all.

For more information, visit 350.org and tarsandsaction.org.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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