Canadian Scientists Expose Their Government's Tar Sands Obsession at DC Briefing
A delegation of Canadian scientists and activists participated in a briefing today at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to set the record straight on the government’s strategy to undermine anything that might stand in the way of its goals to triple tar sands production, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Sierra Club press release.
As the Canadian government launches a $24 million pro-tar sands advertising campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper digs his heels in by saying he “won’t take no” for an answer on the Keystone XL pipeline.
“The Harper government will stop at nothing to ruthlessly promote tar sands expansion," said Tzeporah Berman, Canadian author and resource development activist, and panel member at today's briefing. "We have witnessed a steady erosion of rights and a concerted attack on critical environmental legislation, all as part of a plan to turn our economy towards tar sands. Democratic opposition is no longer tolerated in Stephen Harper’s Canada.”
At a breakfast briefing this morning, a delegation—featuring respected scientists, artists and activists—presented a compelling case to President Obama that Canada was unfit to make any sort of climate deal in exchange for the Keystone XL. The delegation described how the government’s tar sands obsession has cost Canada its international credibility, according to the NRDC.
“The Canadian government has failed to implement a plan to reduce carbon pollution," said Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada. "It is on track to miss both its own and international targets for carbon emissions reduction, yet is recklessly pursuing plans to triple tar sands production. To date, the government has shown no ability to act as a credible partner to the U.S. on climate actions.”
During the press event today, the delegation presented the following examples on how the Canadian government's concerted efforts cleared the path for reckless tar sands expansion:
- An aggressive $24 million public relations blitz to paint the tar sands as an environmentally responsible project.
- More than 6 years’ worth of failed climate plans and broken promises when it comes to controlling pollution from the tar sands.
- Failure to take meaningful action on the current Canadian emissions trajectory, which will significantly miss Canada’s climate goal—one that is shared with the U.S.
- Dismantling of decades worth of environmental legislation, leading to a withdrawal of federal protection of more than 2 million rivers and lakes, including waterways that would have triggered environmental assessment in pipeline projects.
- Changes to public participation legislation in environmental hearings, including lengthy and arbitrary application processes to participate or submit comments in hearings.
- Implementing communications policies that require federal scientists to have all media lines pre-approved, leading to an 80 percent decline in coverage of climate change in the first year the policy was implemented.
- Public and internal attacks by government on citizens, artists and First Nations who express concern about the impacts of tar sands and related infrastructure.
“There is a systematic attack on science and democracy taking place in Canada, and the Harper government isn’t even trying to hide it," said scientist Dr. David Suzuki. "But scientists cannot and will not be silenced, not when we are facing an irreversible climate catastrophe like the tar sands.”
“Canadians’ right to free expression is being quietly eroded by a pro-oil government insistent on promoting tar sands and silencing anyone who might interfere with those plans," said panel member Franke James, a Canadian artist. "Rather than the friendly neighbor to the north, Canada has become the dirty old man.”
Plans to triple tar sands production by 2030 are incompatible with Canada and the U.S.’ shared commitment to keep global temperature changes below two degree Celsius.
“Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. is on track to meet our 2020 climate targets," said Bill Burton, of the League of Conservation Voters. "It would be counter-productive and counter-intuitive to implement strong climate policies at home, while giving Canada the go-ahead to develop its tar sands industry by approving Keystone XL.”
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.
"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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