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Climate Change: Young People Striking From School See It for the Life-Threatening Issue It Is

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Climate Change: Young People Striking From School See It for the Life-Threatening Issue It Is
Students take part in a student climate march on February 15, 2019 in Brighton, England. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

By David Rousell and Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles

Students around the world are walking out of school once more, as part of ongoing strikes to protest governments' inaction on climate change. Since August 2018, tens of thousands of young people have taken part in strikes across Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Canada and Australia. The movement continues to grow, with fresh protests occurring in the UK and elsewhere.


Today's young people are the first generation to have lived their entire lives under the threat of catastrophic climate change. They're now positioned as future leaders, forced to take urgent action on an issue which older generations have lacked the political will, organization and authority to address.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg called on the young people of her generation "to hold the older generations accountable for the mess they have created, and expect us to live with."

During the school strikes, young people have emphasised their concerns about the Earth's future. But the fact is, many children and young people are already living with the effects of global climate change, which include forced migration, food scarcity, drought, rising sea levels, extreme weather events and toxic contamination of water catchments.

Political debates about climate change manipulate environmental facts, values and concerns, which is contributing to a state of fear and anxiety among children and young people in many parts of the world. For example, neo-conservative and populist movements in the United States, Europe and Australia spread messages denying the scientific evidence for climate change, and challenging attempts to address it on moral, religious or political grounds. At the same time, young people are exposed to apocalyptic visions of the disastrous impacts of climate change through the internet, social media, literature and films.

Overlooked and Underestimated

As far back as 2007, an Australian study of children aged ten to 14 found that half were deeply concerned about climate change, while a quarter were worried that the world would end within their lifetimes. In spite of all the anxiety and divisiveness in the world today, the climate strikes reveal a growing international movement of young people, committed to political resistance and hope for a better future.

Political leaders have scolded young people for skipping school to strike. And while it's true that education can and should help young people to engage with the environmental, social and political dimensions of climate change, our new review of academic literature from around the world suggests that this vital issue is rarely addressed with any depth, nuance or rigour in schools.

In many cases, climate change only makes a brief appearance as a minor topic in the science curriculum. What's more, we found that schools, communities and governments rarely engage with young people's ideas, experiences and understandings of climate change. In many cases, young people are simply left to cope with the overwhelming threat and responsibility of climate change, without support from the wider community.

A Creative Response

Another research project called Climate Change and Me, which ran from 2013 to 2017, helped to establish a platform for children and young people to express and connect their attitudes, awareness and understandings of climate change in New South Wales, Australia. We worked with 135 children and young people, aged nine to 14, and encouraged them to generate their own lines of anthropological and creative research.

Making a statement. Climate Change and Me., Author provided

Their responses ranged from ethnographic studies within their own communities, to artworks, photo-essays, science fiction stories, poetry and films. Through this project, we found that young people's lives were deeply affected by climate change, and that they were politically and creatively motivated to take action. As one 11-year-old said, in an interview with one of their peers:

It's quite scary, the effects of climate change are occurring now and it's very devastating. It's selfish and horrible how humans are causing animal and plant species to die.

This sense of a combined ethical and existential crisis was echoed in young people's interviews, stories, poems and films over the course of the project. One ten-year-old envisioned a near future "in which humans fulfil every one of their selfish desires, a world that I would not want to live in". Another created a photo-essay featuring felled trees in her local neighbourhood, with the caption:

We kill many things. We are malicious killers. We do not realise that we are destroying our homes and the homes of all other organisms.

Yet these dark perspectives were accompanied by expressions of empowerment and calls to action. A 12-year-old participant in the research argued:

The difference must begin with us. We must change our values and what we believe is important to us. We must make drastic changes to how we think and make choices about our everyday activities.

As one nine-year-old in our study simply put it, "only people who care can help". Our study helped young people translate this sense of ethical care and responsibility into social actions, including a travelling exhibition viewed by over 10,000 people, and an interdisciplinary Climate Change Curriculum which has since been adopted by over 30 schools in Australia.

This contagious sense of young people caring and daring to stand up against climate inaction became one of the most salient and hopeful findings of the Climate Change and Me project. And now, we see this finding playing out on a larger scale: while climate change is darkening young people's lives, along with their prospects for a liveable future, we see children and young people using powerful and creative tactics to claim a voice and a political platform in society, and confront the greatest challenge of our age.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

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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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