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Mayors Flock to Vatican to Sign Pope Francis' Climate Declaration

Climate
Mayors Flock to Vatican to Sign Pope Francis' Climate Declaration

Mayors and governors from major world cities are convening at the Vatican today and tomorrow in a first-of-its-kind meeting to urge global action on climate change. The summit is part of Pope Francis' ongoing campaign to urge global leaders to take meaningful action on climate change at this year's UN climate talks in Paris.

The leaders will sign today a declaration stating that the Paris summit "may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2 degrees centigrade."

In one of the opening speeches, California Gov. Jerry Brown "denounced global warming deniers, who he said are 'bamboozling' the public and politicians with false information to persuade them that the world isn’t getting warmer," according to The Blaze. Gov. Jerry Brown, whose state is in the midst of an epic drought, urged world leaders to stand up in opposition to climate deniers.

“We have a very powerful opposition that, at least in my country, spends billions on trying to keep from office people such as yourselves and elect troglodytes and other deniers of the obvious science,” said Gov. Brown. The final declaration states that “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity.”

Gov. Brown's remarks were met with rapturous applause, and to Brown's credit, California's environmental policies are a model for other governments. But many believe Brown needs to do more.

David Siders of The Sacramento Bee and George Skelton of The LA Times both point out that the Pope and the governor part ways on cap and trade. Brown's administration has hailed it as a solution to "throw off the shackles of fossil fuel dependency" while growing the economy, according to Skelton.

The Pope, on the other hand, was heavily critical of the concept of cap and trade in his encyclical. Buying and selling carbon credits, Pope Francis wrote, “may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.” Skelton calls cap and trade a "euphemism" for "peddling pollution permits" as a way to raise "a ton of money for state government."

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And there's another big issue Pope Francis and Gov. Brown don't see eye to eye on: fracking. It hasn't received much attention from the press, but the Pope spoke out against fracking in 2013 when he was interviewed by a fellow Argentinian, Fernando Solanas, who produced the documentary La Guerra del Fracking, or the Fracking War.

Several groups, part of the coalition Californians Against Fracking, are hoping that the Pope will use the summit as an opportunity to convince Gov. Brown and other world leaders to ban fracking.

“We in the faith community applaud Pope Francis for highlighting the moral imperative of addressing climate change and protecting creation, and appreciate that he is bringing leaders like Jerry Brown to the Vatican to highlight the issue,” said Rev. Ambrose Carroll, a senior pastor at the Church by the Side of Road in Oakland, California, and a member of Faith Against Fracking. “We hope he will be able to get Governor Brown to see the indisputable incompatibility of his attempts to fight climate change while enabling the worst climate polluters to continue fracking.”

Yesterday, Latino communities in California, who disproportionately live near fracking and other extreme oil drilling sites in the state, sent a letter to Pope Francis urging him to intercede on their behalf. In California, more than 60,000 children—of which 60 percent are Latino—attend school within one mile of a stimulated oil well, according to Californians Against Fracking. Last week, a California family sued Gov. Brown arguing that the state's new fracking regulations do not protect the health of Latino children.

The groups are hoping that Pope Francis will sway Gov. Brown to follow in the footsteps of states such as New York, which has an outright ban on fracking, and Maryland, which has a two-year moratorium.

Gov. Brown is "an American politician who, despite having done much to further the global conversation on climate change, continues to put his own state's environmental and public health at risk by supporting the expansion of fracking and other extreme oil drilling," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

"We urge Pope Francis to send a clear message to Brown and other elected officials that fracking—in California, in Europe or elsewhere—has no place in his vision for a greener planet.”

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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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