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Shell’s Guilty Silence

Energy
Shell’s Guilty Silence

By Andy Rowell

Yesterday was the eighteen anniversary of the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The charismatic, pipe-smoking activist was murdered by the brutal military junta for his campaign against Shell in the Niger Delta.

Although Shell has always vehemently denied any collusion in Saro-Wisa’s death, the company cannot escape the fact that it directly and indirectly helped tighten the noose around his neck.

Results of legal action suggests environmental activist Saro-Wiwa was framed by the Nigerian military. Testimonies and documents reveal that Shell's silence on the matter tightened the noose around his neck.

Testimonies and documents uncovered by legal action against Shell suggests Saro-Wiwa was framed by the Nigerian military. That was the same military that was in the pay of the oil giant.

In the days before Saro-Wiwa was so brutally murdered, as the voices calling for clemency reached a crescendo, there was one voice that remained oddly and strangely silent: it was Shell.

The company said that quiet diplomacy was the way forward. It was a stance that was widely condemned at the time. We will never know what would have happened if Shell had spoken publicly, but we know that the stance they took was proved to be horribly and tragically wrong.

The world has changed in so many ways in those long eighteen years: we have had 9/11, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring. We have witnessed a technological revolution, which has brought us Google, Facebook, Twitter and smartphones. The world is not like 1995. But for many in the Delta, life remains the same: a daily struggle of grinding, bone-crunching poverty and pollution.

And so it goes on: last week, the Nigerian Nation newspaper reported how “Two years have passed since a United Nations Report calling for the clean-up of Ogoniland in Rivers State was presented. The Federal Government, which commissioned the study, promised action, but nothing has happened so far. The people have protested. Rights activists have complained about the matter. Their calls were handled with levity.”

The problem for Shell is that it does not seem to learn from its mistakes. It does not seem to want to listen.

Take the fight over the Arctic. Shell so far has spent $5 billion gearing up for drilling in the Arctic, and has suffered a whole series of mishaps and small calamities.

The inept and incompetent way the company has carried out its operations has meant that the company’s critics have compared its operations to Nigeria. But more importantly, it has shown that the oil companies are woefully ill-prepared for any major oil spill in the Arctic.

The oil giant has also ignored the overwhelming evidence that in our fight over climate change, we need to start divesting out of risky fossil fuels first. And that means the Arctic.

After a pause to lick its corporate wounds and reputation, the company recently announced that it was pushing ahead with its Arctic drilling program. In doing so it is basically ignoring 30 years of climate science.

It has become a belligerent climate denier, no better than the flat-earth trolls who stalk the internet. It has shown it is unconcerned about the communities on the front-lines of climate change, many of whom are in the Arctic.

For anyone worried about climate change, the most worrying thing is that Alaska is the “largest single exploration prospect in the Shell group.” Shell is betting the future of the group on the Arctic.

It is not surprising therefore that Shell has also steadfastly refused to intervene in case of the Greenpeace activists, now known as the Arctic 30 who have been imprisoned by the Russians for weeks for trying to board a Gazprom Arctic drilling rig.

Greenpeace has started an online petition targeted at Peter Voser, the CEO of Shell and other partners of Gazprom, which says:

As a key corporate associate, we’re asking you to do everything in your power to pressure Gazprom to help free the Arctic 30. For Shell that means breaking the joint venture to drill in the Arctic.

The petition comes at a delicate moment as Gazprom is on the brink of signing an important deal with Shell, who have promised to provide technology and expertise to their Arctic drilling programme

At his trial, Ken Saro-Wiwa pointedly said that “I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial.” Then and now, the company is also on trial.

In the days before his death Shell stayed silent, in part claiming it could not influence the Nigerian military government. That was a lie, which is being repeated. As Greenpeace says: “Shell may claim that it has no influence over Gazprom but that’s simply not true.”

For many campaigning for the release of the Arctic 30, Shell’s silence is deafening. It is also the sound of the guilty.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page 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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