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NYC Public Schools to Excuse Climate Strikers

Climate
NYC Public Schools to Excuse Climate Strikers
Students hold a Youth Strike for Climate Change Protest in London, UK on May 24. Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

The New York City public schools will allow their 1.1 million students to skip school for Friday's global climate strike, The New York Times reported Monday.


Students will need consent from their parents to attend, and younger students will only be able to leave the school with a parent, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) said when it announced its decision Thursday.

"We applaud our students when they raise their voices in a safe and respectful manner on issues that matter to them. Young people around the world are joining the #ClimateStrike this week — showing that student action will lead us forward," the DOE tweeted.

The strike is being organized to push for action on the climate crisis ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit, which begins Sept. 23 in New York. In the U.S., there are at least 800 demonstrations planned in 50 states, and organizers hope it will be the nation's largest climate protest to date. The New York City DOE's decision could further this goal.

Olivia Wohlgemuth, a senior at Manhattan's Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, told The New York Times that the announcement convinced students who had been unsure if they would attend the strike.

"This completely changes things, and it's our doing," 17-year-old Beacon High School senior Xiye Bastida told The New York Times. She said she and other activists had persuaded 15 City Council members to request the excused absences from the DOE.

It is too soon to tell if other districts will follow New York City's lead. A Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman told The New York Times that the district was still "finalizing" its plans. The Cambridge, Massachusetts City Counsel is discussing whether or not to excuse students Tuesday.

In New York City, however, students have the support of the mayor himself.

"Today's leaders are making decisions for our environment that our kids will have to live with," Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Thursday, as MSN reported. "New York City stands with our young people. They're our conscience. We support the 9/20 #ClimateStrike."

For some, that support was controversial.

"All this is out-and-out government sponsorship of a particular point of view — not just that human activity contributes significantly to climate changes, but that this is an extinction-level threat that justifies specific radical action," The New York Post Editorial Board wrote. (The "view" that human activity contributes to climate change is shared by around 99 percent of scientists, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2018 that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would require social and technological change for which "there is no documented historic precedent.")

Others expressed doubt that the school district should support striking over classroom instruction. A Queens teacher told The New York Post he supported the rally itself, but thought giving students a whole day off from school went too far.

"Maybe they would be better served learning about the subject in class," he said. "Maybe I'm behind the times."

The U.S. Youth Climate Strike is organized by eight youth-led climate groups, and they have put forward the following demands for Friday's event:

  1. A Green New Deal: Transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and ending fossil fuel extraction.
  2. Respect of Indigenous Land and Sovereignty: Ending all extraction or infrastructure projects on indigenous land and legally recognizing the Rights of Nature.
  3. Environmental Justice: Investing in frontline communities and welcoming those displaced by the climate crisis.

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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