3 Activists Killed Per Week in 2018, New Report Shows
Taking a stand for environmental justice and protecting natural resources is a dangerous pursuit. A new report from the UK-based NGO Global Witness showed that 164 environmentalists worldwide were killed for their activism in 2018. That averages to just over three murders per week. And that's an underestimation.
Global Witness said the true number was likely "much higher, because cases are often not documented and rarely investigated. Reliable evidence is hard to find or verify," according to US News and World Report.
Also, murder is not the only way to quash dissent. Global Witness said, although killings are at a disturbing level, companies and governments were increasingly using other tactics like criminalization, non-lethal violence, harassment and threats, as the Guardian reported. One common tactic is for governments to label activists as terrorists.
"Deaths were down last year, but violence and widespread criminalization of people defending their land and our environment were still rife around the world," said Alice Harrison, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, as the HuffPost reported.
"The drop in killings masks another gruesome reality, " said Harrison. "Our partners in Brazil and many other countries have noted a spike in other forms of non-lethal attacks against defenders — often attacks so brutal they're just shy of murder."
The bulk of the murders took place in Asia or Central and South America. In fact, more than half were in Latin America and most of the victims were indigenous or rural campaigners standing up for their communities against mining, hydrocarbon development, damming and agribusiness. The mining sector was responsible for one-fourth of the murders.
The Philippines replaced Brazil as the most murderous country, with 30 victims, followed by Colombia with 24, India with 23 and then Brazil with 20. It's the first time since the annual list began in 2012 that Brazil did not top the list, according to the Guardian. The number of reported murders there dropped from 57 the year before to 20 in 2018.
Brazil's drop from the top spot is largely due to improved reporting mechanisms for indigenous people, a growing body of media stories highlighting the peril of protecting the Amazon, and a UN conference in Rio de Janeiro that called for international recognition of the human right to a healthy environment.
That decline in murders may be short-lived since right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has made a concerted effort to weaken indigenous territorial rights and protections for nature reserves. In a troubling sign of what may lie ahead, Emyra Waiãpi, an indigenous leader, was murdered in an indigenous reserve ahead of an invasion by dozens of illegal miners, as the Guardian reported.
Guatemala had one of the highest numbers per capita and the sharpest increase with a five-fold increase, bringing the total number to 16 deaths in 2018, which Global Witness attributed to new investments in plantations, mining and energy projects, according to US News and World Report.
"In general, the surge in killings is because Guatemala is witnessing a major setback with regard to democracy and human rights," said Jorge Santos, executive director of the non-profit Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, to Al Jazeera.
His group has documented machete attacks and armed militias opening fire on indigenous people campaigning for land rights in areas that are home to mining operations, oil palm plantations and displacement of the Maya Q'eqchi' community.
Santos said that corruption and impunity have thrived under current president, Jimmy Morales, who has allowed a boom for industries that plunder natural resources, according to Al Jazeera.
"So far," the report from Global Witness reads, "governments have largely failed to listen or react, while big businesses are generally holding to the model that created the problem in the first place."
"Growing awareness of environmental issues must now be translated into concrete actions to protect the planet and the people who defend it," Harrison said to the HuffPost.
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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