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Secretary Kerry Aggressively Pursues Major Climate Pact, Could Close Door on Keystone XL Pipeline

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Secretary Kerry Aggressively Pursues Major Climate Pact, Could Close Door on Keystone XL Pipeline

By Tina Casey

The tubes have been buzzing over a new New York Times report on Secretary of State John Kerry’s aggressive pursuit of a new global climate agreement, which  has some clear implications for approval of the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. In a nutshell, things ain’t looking so good, and that has us wondering if the U.S. coal industry is also going to face some serious problems down the road.

Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would pull the rug out from under everything that Secretary Kerry has been working for. Photo credit: Center for American Progress

The Keystone XL pipeline requires White House approval because it crosses a U.S. border. For those of you new to the topic, the Canada-based project will convey diluted bitumen (yes, that dilbit) down from Canadian tar sands (yes, that tar sands) oil fields through the U.S. midsection to Gulf Coast refineries, destined for overseas markets.

However, tar sands oil is not the only fossil at stake here. As a fossil fuel export-enabling project, Keystone XL is a big, fat, square peg aimed at the round holes of Secretary Kerry’s global climate policymaking efforts. Now, think about that for a minute, and then take a look at what the New York Times article implies about that other square peg, coal exports from the U.S.

Coal Is The Canary In The Coal Mine

The Times notes that in the absence of Congressional action on climate management, President Obama has focused on executive action. That includes, notably, a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation that will eventually shut down the worst-polluting coal fired power plants in the U.S. while preventing the construction of new ones.

That’s all well and good but we’ve frequently noted that as U.S. coal consumption declines, U.S. coal exports have gone up, so as a matter of global emissions the EPA action simply shifts the problem overseas.

This is where Secretary Kerry comes in. According to the Times, he is looking ahead to the negotiation of a major climate pact in 2015, which means that coal-hungry China will be front and center.

Now let’s connect the dots. If the 2015 pact does happen, and if it sets some meaningful milestones for transitioning out of coal fired power production, the global market for U.S. coal will start to dry up.

The key to Secretary Kerry’s success is U.S. credibility on the subject of greenhouse gas management, which is certainly helped by the EPA action. Additionally, the Times notes that Secretary Kerry has established some important trust with his counterparts in China, having just brokered an agreement with that country for a joint phase-down of hydrofluorocarbon production.

Now take a look at that Keystone XL pipeline, and you can see how approval of the project would pull the rug out from under everything that Secretary Kerry has been working for. It puts the U.S. in the position of aiding and abetting the introduction of more fossil fuel into the global market, while putting domestic safety and security at risk.

John Kerry And The Keystone XL Pipeline

Kerry has stated that he will not involve himself directly in the Keystone review process, which was well under way when he became Secretary of State. However, Keystone XL raises the kind of red flags that he has been pursuing over a decades-long record of climate action, one highlight being the 2007 publication of This Moment on Earth, a book on the power of individuals to change environmental policy.

More recently, one of Secretary Kerry’s first major speeches as new Secretary of State in 2013 was a real barn-burner, in which he outlined the economic benefits of an aggressive global policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if you imagine that there is no scientific consensus on the relationship between fossil fuels and global warming:

Well, the worst that can happen to you if you would employ a lot of people in alternative and renewable and clean energy; you would have less hospitalizations, cleaner air, more children with less asthma; and you would create an enormous number of jobs by moving to those new energy possibilities and policies and infrastructure. That’s the worst that can happen to you.

Having said all that, we’d be surprised as anybody if the Keystone XL pipeline does get approval. However, now might be a time to get your forks ready.

Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL and CLIMATE CHANGE pages for more related news on this topic.

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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