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Katharine Hayhoe: Why Climate Change Should Matter to You

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Katharine Hayhoe: Why Climate Change Should Matter to You

What's one of the most insidious myths we've bought into, when it comes to climate change?

It has nothing to do with the science: It's the simple idea that we have to be a certain type of person to care about climate change.

If I'm a liberal, if I bike to work and call myself a "tree-hugger," then of course I care about climate change. But what if I'm conservative, I drive a car or I worry about the economy—does agreeing with the science of climate change mean I have to change who I am?

When I moved to Texas 10 years ago, I didn't know what to expect. I study climate change, one of the most politicized issues in the entire U.S. If we're serious about it, we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. That's not a popular message in a state best known for its oil and gas.

But Texas surprised me. It surprised me by how many different kinds of people, from oilfield engineers to Christian college students, want to talk about why climate change matters—to us and to everyone else on this planet. I've also been surprised by the questions I get—some about the science, sure; but even more about politics, faith, and other topics near and dear to our hearts.

To answer these questions, I've teamed up with our local West Texas PBS station to produce a new PBS Digital Studios web series, Global Weirding: Climate, Politics, and Religion. Every other Wednesday, we roll out a new video exploring climate change and what it means to all of us.

This episode tackles the identity myth, head-on. Climate change is not some distant issue that only matters to the polar bears. It's affecting our lives right now, in the places that we live. And if we're a human living on planet Earth, then we already have every value we need to care about a changing climate.

We all depend on this planet for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the places we live. Unless we've signed up for the next trip to Mars, this planet is the only one we have. It just makes sense to take care of it: to ensure that it will continue to support us in the years to come. It's the sensible, fiscally responsible, and most conservative thing to do, in the truest sense of the word.

There's more to it than pure self-interest, though. When I was nine years old, my family moved to Colombia—not British Columbia, but Colombia, South America. There, I learned an even more important life lesson: that there are plenty of people on this planet far less fortunate than I am, and many of those people cannot count on having clean water to drink, or safe places to live.

This hard truth has always stuck with me and it's one of the main reasons I'm motivated to study climate science: because it affects all of us, but most of all the poor the world over—those who already lack sufficient food, who are already at risk for diseases that no one should be dying from in the twenty first century, and who—when disaster strikes—have no choice other than to leave behind their homes and flee.

Climate change isn't a niche issue that only matters to people who think or act or vote a certain way. Each of us, exactly who we are, with exactly the values we already have, already have every reason we need to care.

So what's our job, as people who care about climate? Our job is this: connect the dots between what some have called the longest distance in the world, from our heads to our hearts.

Tune in to our live chat every other Thursday at 8E/7C on Facebook and Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and if you like what you hear—please share!

This essay originally appeared at The Equation, a blog of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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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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