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Bill McKibben: This Climate Strike Is Part of the Disruption We Need

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Bill McKibben: This Climate Strike Is Part of the Disruption We Need
Because we burn so much coal and gas and oil, the atmosphere of our world is changing rapidly, and that atmospheric change is producing record heat. Jennifer Luxton / YES! illustration

By Bill McKibben

Business as usual is what's doing us in.


We live on a planet that finds itself rather suddenly in the midst of an enormous physical crisis. Because we burn so much coal and gas and oil, the atmosphere of our world is changing rapidly, and that atmospheric change is producing record heat. July was the hottest month we've ever recorded. Scientists predict with confidence that we stand on the edge of the sixth great extinction event of the last billion years. People are dying in large numbers and being left homeless; millions are already on the move because they have no choice.

And yet we continue on with our usual patterns. We get up each morning and do pretty much what we did the day before. It's not like the last time we were in an existential crisis, when Americans signed up for the Army and crossed the Atlantic to face down fascism and when the people back home signed up for new jobs and changed their daily lives.

That's why it's such good news that the climate movement has a new tactic. Pioneered last August by Greta Thunberg of Sweden, it involves disrupting business as usual. It began, of course, in schools: Within months, millions of young people around the world were striking for days at a time from their classes. Their logic was impeccable: If the institutions of our planet can't be bothered to prepare for a world we can live in, why must we spend years preparing ourselves? If you break the social contract, why are we bound by it?

And now those young people have asked the rest of us to join in. After the last great school strike in May, they asked adults to take part next time. The date is Sept. 20, and the location is absolutely everywhere. Big trade unions in South Africa and Germany are telling workers to take the day off. Ben and Jerry's is closing down its headquarters (stock up in advance), and if you want to buy Lush cosmetics, you're going to be out of luck. The largest rally will likely be in New York City, where the U.N. General Assembly begins debating climate change that week — but there will be gatherings in every state and every country. It will almost certainly be the biggest day of climate action in the planet's history. (If you want to be a part — and you do want to be a part—go to globalclimatestrike.net.)

It's not a "strike" in the traditional sense, of course — no one is demanding better wages. But we are demanding better conditions. In the most literal sense, the world isn't working as it should (studies say that increased heat and humidity have already reduced human work capacity as much as 10 percent, a figure that will double by midcentury). And what we're saying is, disrupting business as usual is the way to get there.

This strike will not be the last such action. And activists are flooding into the electoral battles now underway and taking on the financial community, too. It's starting to add up: The polling shows that for young Americans, climate change is far and away the most important issue.

But it can't be just young people. It needs to be all of us — especially, perhaps, those of us who have been placidly operating on a business-as-usual basis for most of our lives, who have rarely faced truly serious disruptions in our careers and our plans. Our job is precisely to disrupt business as usual. When the planet leaves its comfort zone, we need to do the same. See you on the streets on Sept. 20!




Bill McKibben wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Bill is the founder of the climate movement 350.org and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College.

Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

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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