Just as the British government slashes subsidies for solar power and gears up to open up large swathes of the countryside to fracking, a coalition of human rights lawyers and academics have announced an international tribunal to put fracking “on trial."
Based on a descendent of the Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal of the 60's, the so-called Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), which is based in Rome, is an internationally recognized public opinion tribunal. It functions independently of state jurisdictions.
From June 1979 to the present date, the PPT has held some 40 sessions, including examining the world’s worst chemical disaster at Bhopal in the early 80's which killed thousands of people, injuring hundreds of thousands.
Tribunals apply internationally recognized human rights law and policy to cases brought before them and are nearly identical to traditional courtroom proceedings.
What this allows is ordinary people to compile and submit prima facie evidence about how the shale gas industry has impacted their health, their environment, their livelihood or human rights.
Hearings will be held both in the U.S., which has been at the forefront of the fracking boom and the UK and will take place in front of 5 to 7 jurists experts in international human rights law.
This said, the PPT will be inviting witness testimony from citizens all over the world who will be invited to also hold preliminary mini-tribunals in their own country.
The experts will then decide whether there is sufficient evidence to indict certain nation states on charges of “failing to adequately uphold universal human rights as a result of allowing unconventional oil and gas extraction in their jurisdictions.”
One of the organizers, Dr Tom Kerns, director of the Environment and Human Rights Advisory in Oregon said: “The Tribunal will consider the human rights dimensions of a range of potential impacts: human and animal health, environmental, climatic, seismic, hydrologic and economic impacts, as well as those on local physical and social infrastructures.”
Dr Damien Short, director of the Human Rights Consortium at the University of London and another one of the instigators of the PPT, added that “Fracking has taken place around the world in spite of serious public opposition and with large numbers of people alleging that their human rights have been ignored by those who supposedly represent them. This PPT aims to consider those allegations in an even handed and judicial way.”
The hearings are not due to start until the Spring of 2017, giving communities affected by fracking enough time to compile the evidence of impact and harm.
Meanwhile, the British government’s plans to slash subsidies to solar was widely condemned yesterday. Britain’s sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas labelled the government plans as “short sighted”.
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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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