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World’s Appetite for Coal Continues to Grow

Energy
World’s Appetite for Coal Continues to Grow

Stefanie Penn Spear

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a new annual publication, Medium-Term Coal Market Report 2011, released Dec. 13, global demand for coal will continue to expand aggressively over the next five years despite public calls in many countries to reduce reliance on the high-carbon fuel as a primary energy source.

Unfortunately, the recent United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa did not result in an agreement that would reduce the appetite for coal and slow carbon emissions. Overall, the grassroots environmental movement feels that the governments participating in the Durban talks listened to the carbon-intensive polluting corporations instead of listening to the people who want an end to our dependence on fossil fuels and immediate action on climate change.

According to Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, “Right now the global climate regime amounts to nothing more than a voluntary deal that’s put off [an agreement] for a decade. This could take us over the two degree threshold where we pass from danger to potential catastrophe.

“Our atmosphere has been loaded with a carbon debt and the bill, carrying a Durban postmark, has been posted to the world’s poorest countries. The chance of averting catastrophic climate change is slipping through our hands with every passing year that nations fail to agree on a rescue plan for the planet,” said Naidoo.

Coal is the single-largest source of electricity generation globally, and the IEA report says the main reason for the projected increase in coal demand over the next five years is surging power generation in emerging economies.

“For all of the talk about removing carbon from the energy system, the IEA projects average coal demand to grow by 600,000 tons every day over the next five years,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. "Policy makers must be aware of this when designing strategies to enhance energy security while tackling climate change."

The IEA report included the following key findings:

• Growth in coal demand over the next five years will mostly occur in non-OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, with China and India accounting for the majority.

• Growing demand means poorer deposits will have to be exploited, which will likely lead to upward pressure on mining costs and therefore on coal prices.

• Despite the rise of new exporting countries, like Mongolia and Mozambique, traditional exporters will meet the bulk of demand growth.

• While coal has traditionally been considered a cheap and secure energy resource, this perception may be tested in the years ahead. Six countries account for more than 80 percent of global coal exports, and as demand surges, markets could experience more of the infrastructure bottlenecks that in recent years caused coal prices to more than triple.

The IEA report and the dismal outcome of the Durban climate talks certainly speak to the complexities and challenges facing the global energy crisis, and the overall public desire to transition to a sustainable global energy system that relies on low-carbon and renewable energy sources.

For more information on this report, click here.

 

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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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