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2016 Was Deadliest Year Ever for Earth Defenders

Climate
2016 Was Deadliest Year Ever for Earth Defenders
Global Witness

By Jessica Corbett

Last year was the deadliest in history to be an environmental activist, according to a new report that found, on average, nearly four people were killed per week.


Defenders of the Earth, released by UK-based human rights group Global Witness, lists the names and locations of 200 environmental advocates who were killed around the world. While the report found Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines were the nations with the most murdered environmentalists in 2016, Honduras has been the deadliest country for environmental activists over the last decade.

Last year, Nicaragua was the most dangerous country per capita, where at least 11 environmental activists were killed—all but one were indigenous. In 2013, the Nicaraguan government agreed to allow a Chinese company to build a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; the canal will also force up to 120,000 indigenous people to relocate, according to the report.

"We have carried out 87 marches, demanding that they respect our rights and we have had no response. The only response we have had is the bullet," Nicaraguan activist Francisca Ramírez said of her government's response to protests. "They sell the image that we are against development. We are not against development, we are against injustice," added Ramírez, who has been threatened, assaulted, and arrested for protesting the canal.

"Governments, companies and investors have a duty to guarantee that communities are consulted about the projects that affect them, that activists are protected from violence and that perpetrators are brought to justice," Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather said in statement. "States are breaking their own laws and failing their citizens in the worst possible way. Brave activists are being murdered, attacked and criminalized by the very people who are supposed to protect them."

Key findings from the report include:

  • "The phenomenon isn't just growing, it's spreading." In addition to a nearly 10 percent increase from deaths documented in 2015, Global Witness reported murders in 24 countries, eight more than those documented the previous year.
  • Among those killed, 60 percent lived in Latin America, and 40 percent of all victims were indigenous.
  • "Conflicts over the control of land and natural resources were an underlying factor in almost every killing in 2016." The most dangerous sectors to protest are logging, agribusiness, and mining, with at least 33 activists killed for organizing against mining and oil projects.

John Knox, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said to the Guardian:

"There is now an overwhelming incentive to wreck the environment for economic reasons. The people most at risk are people who are already marginalized and excluded from politics and judicial redress, and are dependent on the environment. The countries do not respect the rule of law. Everywhere in the world, defenders are facing threats.

"There is an epidemic now, a culture of impunity, a sense that anyone can kill environmental defenders without repercussions, eliminate anyone who stands in the way. It [comes from] mining, agribusiness, illegal logging and dam building."

James Savage of The Fund for Global Human Rights responded to the findings on Twitter:

Since 2010, Global Witness has recorded nearly 1,000 murders of environmental activists, "with many more facing threats, attacks, harassment, stigmatization, surveillance and arrest."

Though the group did not document any murders of environmental activists in the U.S. in 2016, U.S. environmentalists across the country encountered violence. Notably, as Common Dreams reported, North Dakota police, clad in riot gear, responded to Indigenous-led protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) with rubber bullets, water cannons and teargas grenades. Though the DAPL protests carried on for several months, in a single night last November, 26 unarmed protesters were hospitalized and more than 300 were injured following a confrontation with law enforcement.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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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