Groups Challenge World Bank Funding of Destructive Mega-Dams
As the World Bank makes an effort to raise billions of dollars from donor governments for its International Development Association (IDA) fund, civil society groups are calling on governments to shift support for energy projects from the Bank to institutions that prioritize clean, local energy sources for the poor.
The World Bank is asking donor governments to replenish the IDA—its fund for the poorest countries—at a meeting in Moscow, Russia, on Dec. 16-17. The Bank plans to finance a new generation of controversial mega-dams, including the Inga 3 Dam on the Congo River, from the IDA fund.
From 2008-2013, the World Bank spent less than 10 percent of its loans for energy projects on the expansion of access to electricity for rural communities. The proposed increase in support for mega-dams would worsen this imbalance. The Inga 3 Dam for example will serve export markets and the mining industry, not the 99 percent of Congo’s rural population who have no access to electricity.
The International Energy Agency found that 70 percent of rural areas in developing countries are best electrified by mini- and off-grid solutions based on solar, wind and micro-hydropower. Ahead of the fundraising party in Moscow, civil society groups are calling on donor governments to shift $1.6 billion—the amount IDA has traditionally spent for destructive energy projects—from the World Bank’s IDA fund to institutions that support clean local energy solutions.
“Poor rural communities will pay the price for a new generation of destructive mega-dams, but will be the last to benefit from the electricity they generate,” commented Peter Bosshard, policy director of International Rivers. “We forced the World Bank to pull out of destructive dams through pressure on its donor governments in the 1990s, and if necessary, we will do it again.”
“Shifting resources from the World Bank to institutions that support solar, wind and micro-hydropower will send a message that the Bank’s big-is-beautiful philosophy is no longer acceptable," said Sena Alouka, the executive director of Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement in Togo. "It will also provide additional funding for projects that reduce energy poverty while protecting the climate and local ecosystems.”
“It is highly symbolic that the World Bank fundraiser takes place in Russia, which follows the Bank's model of building large export-oriented energy projects," said Eugene Simonov of Rivers without Boundaries.
"The Russian government just completed the disastrous Bogushansky Dam on the Angara River and plans to build up to 10 dams in the transboundary Amur Basin for exporting electricity to China," Simonov continued. "Investing in decentralized green energy sources would benefit the people of the Amur Basin much more.”
The NGO call is supported by advocacy efforts in Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the U.S. You can sign the global civil society call here.
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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