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Blocked Heathrow Airport Expansion Celebrated by Climate Activists

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Blocked Heathrow Airport Expansion Celebrated by Climate Activists
Aircraft come in to land at Heathrow airport over horses in a field on Feb. 27, 2020 in London, England. Plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport have been ruled illegal. Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty Images

The British government's plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050 conflicts with its long-standing plan to level a village to expand Heathrow Airport, one of the world's busiest airport hubs. Now an appeals court in Britain has ruled that the expansion is illegal since the government did not take into account how building a third runway would jibe with the government's commitment to fight the climate crisis, according to The Guardian.


Heathrow currently handles around 80 million passengers per year. A third runway would cost nearly $18 billion to build and would increase traffic by about 700 planes per day, spurring a huge rise in carbon emissions, according to The Guardian

The court ruled that the British government made firm commitment to the Paris agreement, but did not work that into its plans, as CNN reported. Climate activists who brought the suit celebrated the decision on the court steps.

"We have not found that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the United Kingdom's commitment to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change under the Paris Agreement, or with any other policy the Government may adopt or international obligation it may undertake," the judges wrote in their ruling, according to CNN.

"The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the Secretary of State ... and an explanation given as to how it was taken into account, but it was not," the judges added.

The future plans of the proposed third runway, which Heathrow has wanted to build for 20 years, are uncertain. Heathrow Airport said it would appeal the decision to the country's Supreme Court, but the British government said it would not appeal the verdict, according to a tweet from Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps who was the defendant in the case.

"Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment. This Govt won't appeal today's judgment given our manifesto makes clear any #Heathrow expansion will be industry led," Shapps wrote on Twitter.

Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye said they would ask the Supreme Court to rule because "We think the appeals court got it wrong," as the BBC reported.

However, Heathrow does not have a friend in Prime Minister Boris Johnson who has opposed the third runway, saying in 2015 that he would "lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction."

"This is definitely the beginning of the end for the third runway," said Rob Barnstone, of the No Third Runway Coalition, to The Guardian. "It is a very important ruling not just for Heathrow but for all projects. If the government thinks they are going to put forward big infrastructure projects and not take climate change seriously, well, they won't be able to get away with it."

Construction of the third runway would have crossed a busy and congested motorway. It would also require about 750 homes in nearby villages to be flattened, according to CNN.

Climate activists celebrated the decision for the message it sends for all future infrastructure projects.

"This judgment has exciting wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions," Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement, as CNN reported. "It's time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments."

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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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