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Hurricane Katrina Proved That If Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice Must Be Top Priority

Climate
Hurricane Katrina Proved That If Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice Must Be Top Priority

Those of us from low-income communities of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. U.S. cities and towns that are predominantly made up of people of color are also home to a disproportionate share of the environmental burdens that are fueling the climate crisis and shortening our lives. One has only to recall the gut-wrenching images of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath to confirm this.

Approximately 18,000 hurricane Katrina survivors are housed in the Red Cross shelter at the Astrodome and Reliant center. Photo credit: Andrea Booher / FEMA

At a time when police abuse is more visible than ever thanks to technology and our communities continue to get hit time and time again by climate catastrophe, we can’t afford to choose between a Black Lives Matter protest and a climate justice forum because our survival depends on both of them.

As a young woman, I started organizing against racial violence and police misconduct. For the last 20 years, I have been struggling for environmental and climate justice. As descendants of slavery and colonization, our communities have lived and continue to live at the intersection of all these challenges. Both have a long history rooted in the extraction and abuse of our labor and later the extraction and abuse of our resources. Both involve people who are the descendants of historical trauma and are now faced with the catastrophe of a changing climate.

Over the years, as we were fighting for housing, jobs and better schools, decisions were being made to site some of the most toxic industries in communities with a large proportion of people of color: power plants, waste transfer stations, landfills, refineries and incinerators. As a result, communities of color have become cancer clusters and have the highest rates of asthma. In response, we in the environmental justice movement have said there is not anything more fundamental than the right to breathe—and that includes the right to clean air.

The environmental justice and Black Lives Matter movements are complementary. Black lives matter in the Gulf, where most of the fatalities resulting from Hurricane Katrina were black people and which was home to the largest marine oil spill in history five years later. Black lives matter in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where hundreds of black families waited for weeks for electricity, heat and in some cases, running water, to be turned back on after Superstorm Sandy. Black lives matter in Richmond, California, home to the largest oil refinery on the West Coast. Black lives matter in Detroit, home to the largest solid waste incinerator in the U.S. The list goes on of cities and towns that are predominantly made up of people of color and are also home to a disproportionate share of this nation’s environmental burdens.

We as people of color now face the effects of a changing climate neither our ancestors nor we are responsible for creating. Climate change demands another rhythm. The current dig, burn and dump economy is no longer acceptable. Similarly, a climate movement led by people of traditional power and privilege will not relieve the crises we face. Our communities know another way. As people of African and Indigenous ancestry, we come from societies and ways of life that protect and nurture Mother Earth. Now is the time to reconnect with our old ways. The knowledge is there—it is in our historical memory and we are doing this work. Environmental and climate justice activists are working at the grassroots level to develop indigenous leadership around local climate solutions.

This redefines the face of the climate movement and provides a just and necessary alternative to the racial and ecological structures that have led us to where we are. It will be through this process of living and working and struggling with one another that we guarantee our children and grandchildren the right to breathe free.

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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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