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Welcome to DC's #DirtyEnergyWeek

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Welcome to DC's #DirtyEnergyWeek

By Andy Rowell

The ultimate corporate greenwashing experience starts in Washington, DC Monday, when some of America's dirtiest polluters participate in what is being billed the "National Clean Energy Week." In the current political "post-factual" era, it would be easy to be fooled.

The promotional material sounds great. What is there not to like?


According to a website set up to promote the week:

"Across America, clean and readily abundant forms of energy are powering more than homes and businesses. Taken together, our capacity for safe and reliable energy generation is driving a clean energy renaissance that is creating jobs, strengthening America's national security, and preserving our environment."

Tomorrow is the star event when there is a Symposium & Demonstration Fair on Capitol Hill, where speakers will include some of the top officials in the Trump Administration, including Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke and Energy Sec. Rick Perry.

By now your alarm bells should be ringing, because there is no way you could call these two clean energy advocates.

Let's dig deeper. Who are the companies and trade organizations who are promising to preserve our environment? A quick look at the steering committee members also raises some serious red flags. There are lobbyists for the "Nuclear Energy Institute," the "American Gas Association" and "Center for Liquefied Natural Gas." None of these are clean or green. They are dangerous and dirty.

Both the nuclear and gas industries have tried to re-package themselves as clean and green on both sides of the Atlantic for years. For example, the trade body for the nuclear industry in the UK, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), for years ran this banner headline on its website: "Nuclear: climate friendly energy."

One of the key nuclear spin doctors in the UK, Philip Dewhurst, who was the chair of the NIA, said the nuclear industry was spreading its messages "via third-party opinion because the public would be suspicious if we started ramming pro-nuclear messages down their throats."

And that is exactly what "National Clean Energy Week" is all about. You don't see the dirty nuclear industry, with its intricate links to nuclear weapons, its never ending issues around waste and its long term safety issues. You think instead of a clean, sustainable future. It's greenwashing in its purest form.

Moreover, there is nothing clean about fracking, with an increasingly large amount of scientific evidence linking the industry to water and air pollution and climate change.

But they are not alone. The Steering committee also includes a lobbyist for biomass burning, which has been highly criticized as a false solution to climate change.

It also gets worse. If you look at the "Participating organizations," they include the American Petroleum Institute, the leading lobbyists for the oil and gas industry, which has been at the forefront of trying to undermine environmental protection, deny climate change and open up the U.S. to oil and gas drilling for years.

Other companies involved include carbon capture and storage (CCS) and waste incinerator companies. None of these are remotely clean or green, either. Let's not forget the whole life-cycle of dirty coal, from mountaintop removal to sulphur emissions. Coal companies are trying to argue that CCS is the answer to our climate change problems, but capturing carbon takes a huge amount of energy.

So who is the real driving force behind the coalition? If you try to find out who is behind the website—you will find that it was set up by proxy and the client name has been prohibited. For a coalition promising to secure America's energy future, this secrecy is worrying.

This is just one of the deeply concerning issues that this initiative raises along with why some of America's wind and solar companies are jumping into bed with dirty energy lobbyists. It can only harm their reputation.

Indeed, a letter has been written to members of Congress by numerous environmental organizations, including 350.org, Friends of the Earth and Oil Change International, arguing that the sponsors of National Clean Energy Week "include some of the dirtiest actors in the energy industry … Dirty energy lobbyists prefer to work in a "post-fact" environment, but greenhouse gases, air pollution, and toxic wastes from these technologies demonstrably impact our health, our environment, and our changing climate."

They are urging members of Congress to support investments in truly clean energy, like energy efficiency and solar, wind, and geothermal power. Taxpayer dollars should not support dangerous and dirty technologies masquerading as "clean energy."

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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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