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Cape Spin—An American Power Struggle

Energy
Cape Spin—An American Power Struggle

Stefanie Penn Spear

One of my favorite events of the year is right around the corner—the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF) from March 22 to April 1. There are many aspects of the festival I enjoy, but perhaps what I find most valuable is the opportunity to engage in conversation on the plethora of topics addressed in the documentaries shown during the 11-day event.

Though I attend the festival to watch a variety of films, the environmental documentaries are always a favorite of mine. This year, EcoWatch is sponsoring Dirty Energy, which documents the personal stories of those directly affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and their struggles to rebuild their lives amidst the economic devastation and long-term health risks afflicting the area. Stay tuned to my column during the next two weeks for more details on this documentary and the other It's Easy Being Green films that are playing at this year's CIFF, one of the nation's finest and most attended festivals.

In preparation for my participation in the FilmForum on March 30, I previewed the acclaimed documentary Cape Spin. This film portrays the two sides in the fight over the approved plan for this country's first offshore wind farm which will place 130 wind turbines as tall as 440 feet about ten miles offshore of Nantucket Sound's cherished Horseshoe Shoal which is surrounded by the islands of Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod.

Cape Spin provides an in-depth look into the well-funded political tug-of-war that has transpired since the original 2001 proposal for Cape Wind's energy project. The two sides combined, as of August 2011, have spent more than $70 million in the struggle over this project. And, with numerous lawsuits pending, challenging rulings on fishing, navigation, endangered species and tribal rights, the costs of this monumental battle are sure to increase.

I've been following the Cape Wind project for years, but this film provided an inside glimpse of what this community has been going through for more than a decade. It's clear to me that proponents of this project, outside of the developer and the people being paid to promote the project, desperately want to see the U.S. transition to a sustainable and secure energy supply, and are willing, for the most part, to support any project regardless of its location and financial beneficiaries. Many of the opponents of this project support a renewable energy future, but refuse to sacrifice the public resource of Nantucket Sound to a privately-owned industrial wind farm that will generate electricity at more than double the average wholesale price at today's rates.

The film illustrates how the unlikely alliances that have formed on both sides further complicate the issue and cloud the debate. Cape Spin is entertaining and does a great job showing the comical side of this fight. However, our energy future is nothing to laugh about. Controversies like the Cape Wind project are being played out across the country where privately-owned industrial-sized renewable energy projects are being proposed or installed on our public lands. There are 17 utility-scale renewable energy projects—nine solar, six wind and two geothermal—representing about 7,000 megawatts that have been given priority status by the Bureau of Land Management.

I don't know if the Cape Wind project will ever be built, but I encourage you to see this thought-provoking film and decide for yourself which side you're on.

Cape Spin will be shown at the CIFF at Tower City Cinema at 230 Huron Rd., Cleveland, Ohio 44113 on the following days:

Thursday, March 29 at 11:45 a.m.
Friday, March 30 at 4:30 p.m. with FilmForum
Saturday, March 31 at 6 p.m.

To purchase tickets to Cape Spin, click here.

 

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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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