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New York Takes Giant Step to Divest From Fossil Fuels

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New York Takes Giant Step to Divest From Fossil Fuels
People's Climate March NYC. Elizabeth Stilwell / Flickr

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released separate plans on Tuesday to divest state and city pension funds from coal, oil and gas companies.

Environmentalists are celebrating this major win in the global movement for fossil fuel divestment, as the state and city's public pension funds are among the largest in the world, representing a combined $390 billion.


Gov. Cuomo said Tuesday he was working with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to study how the $200 billion Common Fund can stop "significant" investment in fossil fuels and reinvest in renewable energy and a low-carbon economy.

New York's pension fund holds shares in more than 50 oil and gas companies, including oil giant ExxonMobil. Divesting from such polluting entities, Cuomo said, would lead to "a more secure retirement fund for countless New Yorkers while also helping to achieve the state's clean energy goals."

Cuomo cited recent examples such as Norway's intention to divest its $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund in oil and gas holdings, as well as the World Bank announcement that it will stop financing oil and gas exploration after 2019.

That same day, Comptroller Stringer separately announced that New York City would also explore a plan to de-carbonize its portfolio.

"Today, I'm announcing that my office will bring a proposal to the trustees of the NYC pension funds in the coming weeks to examine ways to de-carbonize the portfolios, including the feasibility of ceasing additional investments in fossil fuels, divesting current holdings in fossil fuel companies, and increasing investments in clean energy," Stringer said.

The state and city's moves follows five years of powerful advocacy from thousands of climate activists.

"The dam has broken: after years of great activism, New York has taken a massive step towards divesting from fossil fuels," said Bill McKibben, the 350.org co-founder who helped launch the growing divest movement. "Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It's a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels."

To date, more than 800 institutions representing more than $5.2 trillion in assets have committed to divest. Other New York institutions that have cut ties with fossil fuel companies include Cooperstown, Barnard College, Columbia University, Syracuse University and the American Museum of Natural History.

Rachel Rivera, a member of New York Communities for Change, also praised her lawmakers for their proposals.

“During Sandy, the water took everything from me in a storm supercharged by climate change. My family back in Puerto Rico is still without power and resources due to a devastating hurricane. This did not happen by chance, I know this is caused by corporations like ExxonMobil that continue to profit from a business model that destroys the planet,"Rivera said.

"Today, I am happy to congratulate Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli for making New York the leading state in the country fighting against climate change. It's both morally bankrupt and bad finance to invest our public funds in climate destruction. Now at the city level, [Public Advocate Tish James, who urged divestment], has pointed the way, and Comptroller Stringer has rightly responded by moving forward with fossil fuel divestment to protect all New Yorkers and the planet."

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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