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UK Parliament First in World to Declare Climate Emergency

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UK Parliament First in World to Declare Climate Emergency
Extinction Rebellion environmental activists block traffic in the financial district of the City of London during rush hour on April 25 London. WIktor Szymanowicz / NurPhoto / Getty Images

The UK parliament became the first national legislative body in the world to declare a climate change "emergency" Wednesday. The historic move closely follows Extinction Rebellion protests that blocked traffic in key parts of central London for a week in April.


The protest had three demands: that the UK government "tell the truth" about climate change, that it achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 and that it create a citizens' assembly to help with that process. The protesters embraced parliament's decision Wednesday as a step towards meeting their first demand.

The emergency declaration was proposed by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

"Today, we have the opportunity to say, 'We hear you,'" Corbyn told parliament, according to Reuters. "By becoming the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency, we could, and I hope we do, set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments all around the world."

The motion was approved without a vote and registers the views of the House of Commons without compelling the government to act on any particular policy proposal, BBC News explained. It also calls for the government to work towards carbon neutrality before 2050 and for ministers to draft proposals within the next six months to restore the country's environment and create a "zero waste economy."

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May had chosen not to whip party members against the motion. Her Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged the threat posed by climate change, but refused to outright declare an emergency, The Independent reported. He did promise legislation shortly to tackle both climate change and "broader ecological degradation."

"Not only do I welcome the opportunity that this debate provides, I also want to make it clear that on this side of the house we recognise that the situation we face is an emergency. It is a crisis, it is a threat, that all of us have to unite to meet," Gove said during the debate, as The Guardian reported.

However, Green Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas challenged the conservative record on climate during the debate, pointing to the party's approval for a third runway at Heathrow airport. Also on Wednesday a judges ruled against green groups and local governments who had challenged the runway, partly on the grounds that it was a breach of the UK's commitment to the Paris agreement, The Guardian reported.

Climate activists were cautiously optimistic about the declaration. Greta Thunberg, who addressed the UK's parliament last week, tweeted her support.

"Now other nations must follow. And words must turn into immediate action," she wrote.


Greenpeace UK
Politics head Rebecca Newsom said the declaration was a long time coming.

"The best time to declare a climate emergency was 30 years ago; the second best time is now," she said in a statement reported by Reuters.

Both Gove and Corbyn promised to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump on his climate denialism. Gove said he would raise the issue with Trump when he visits the UK in June, according to The Guardian.

"We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to US President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis," Corbyn said in his remarks Wednesday, as BBC News reported.

Regional and municipal UK governments have already declared climate emergencies, among them Wales, Scotland, Manchester and London.

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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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