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University of California Will Divest From Fossil Fuels

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University of California Will Divest From Fossil Fuels
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.


In a joint op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Jagdeep Singh Bachher and Richard Sherman, University of California's chief investment officer and the chairman of the UC Board of Regents' investment committee, declared that since they are charged with protecting the financial interests of one of the world's best public research universities, investing in fossil fuels posed too many financial risks.

"We believe hanging on to fossil fuel assets is a financial risk," Bachner and Sherman wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "That's why we will have made our $13.4-billion endowment "fossil free" as of the end of this month, and why our $70-billion pension will soon be that way as well."

They went on to refute the idea that their decision is born of political pressure or a desire to dive headlong into the green movement, but acknowledged that while their investing is not borne from a moral imperative, their thorough analysis has led them to the same place as activists.

"We have been looking years, decades and centuries ahead as we place our bets that clean energy will fuel the world's future," they wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "That means we believe there is money to be made. We have chosen to invest for a better planet, and reap the financial rewards for UC, rather than simply divest for a headline."

While this divestment alone will not cripple, the fossil fuel industry, it sets a precedent that might if other universities follow suit. In 2016, Peabody Energy declared bankruptcy and cited divestment as one of the forces that hampered its operations, according to Rolling Stone.

Writing in the New Yorker, 350.org co-founder, Bill McKibben said the divestment campaign has not only been effective, but revealed a lot about the morally bankrupt character of the fossil-fuel industry. "The divestment campaign has brought home the starkest fact of the global-warming era: that the industry has in its reserves five times as much carbon as the scientific consensus thinks we can safely burn," he wrote.

"The pressure has helped cost the industry much of its social license; one religious institution after another has divested from oil and gas, and Pope Francis has summoned industry executives to the Vatican to tell them that they must leave carbon underground."

McKibben goes on in that essay to suggest divesting from the major banks that are funding the fossil fuel industry, mining operations, and Amazon deforestation.

The Bachher and Sherman article appeared yesterday; the same day that the University of California's president and all 10 chancellors signed a letter declaring a climate emergency, according to a University of California statement.

The University of California's leaders agreed to a three-point plant that includes an increase in climate research and environmental education and to achieve climate neutrality by 2025. The university has pursued the carbon neutrality by 2025 goal since 2013, when Janet Napolitano left her post as Secretary of Homeland Security to takeover as University of California president. Since she announced that initiative, the university moved away from fossil fuels and rapidly expanded its use of solar power and other renewable energy sources, according to the UC statement.

"We have a moral responsibility to take swift action on climate change," UC President Janet Napolitano said in the statement. "This declaration reaffirms UC's commitment to addressing one of the greatest existential threats of our time."

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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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