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The Online Spider Market Is Massive—and Crawling With Issues

The Online Spider Market Is Massive—and Crawling With Issues

Stewart says public interest in spiders and scorpions has exploded as people realize they are actually low-maintenance pets that don’t need walking three times a day and can be kept in apartments or small homes without a backyard. “They’re fascinating creatures, and they’re beautiful,” says Stewart, who has been collecting them for the past 20 years.

That said, he agrees that international spider trading can be a problem because unethical collectors can decimate wild populations. “We don’t just like tarantulas because they look cool,” Stewart says. “We’re more fascinated by them and want to preserve them in the wild, so you don’t want to buy a wild-collected tarantula. Now it almost makes you a pariah because you’re part of the problem.”

Stewart doesn’t breed tarantulas himself—he says he buys them from reputable dealers—but he says it’s just a lot cheaper to breed them than to import them from the wild. “Importing tarantulas is a very expensive and time-consuming process,” Stewart says. “There’s a lot of red tape you have to go through. You have to get permits from the US Department of Agriculture and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Even collectors have to prove that these are ethically sourced and that they were taken out of the wild with correct permits just to get them imported into the country.” Stewart advises people to avoid dealers who can’t identify the source of their arachnids, and to research dealers on chat groups such as Arachnoboards.

Still, without any kind of international certification program, it can be difficult for a tarantula-lover to actually know the creature’s origin—is the seller a legal breeder here in the US or a collector who plucked it from its nest in a tropical forest and smuggled it out of the country? In 2019, just weeks after scientists in Malaysia discovered a new species of tarantula, later named Birupes simoroxigorum, a trio of collectors from Poland went on an expedition and sent several of them to the United Kingdom without proper permits, according to a report in the journal Science. Members of that same rare species, which is also commonly known as the neon blue leg tarantula, are currently being sold online in the US. While no US law prohibits the purchase of this particular species, international and US laws do protect certain tarantulas from Sri Lanka, making it illegal to import them into the US or transfer across state lines unless they are gifted to a zoo or a university, according to Stewart.

Overall, most regulations fall on suppliers, not customers. Each country requires its own permits to collect wildlife. And in the US, federal permits are required to import tarantulas and other exotic pets, but not to purchase them.

Currently, each state also has its own laws governing the ownership of exotic pets, although new legislation that has passed the House of Representatives would ban the sale of non-native exotic pets across state lines. The proposed legislation is in the form of amendments to the anti-wildlife-trafficking Lacey Act and is currently before a Senate committee. The proposal is designed to crack down on invasive species entering the US, but some veterinary groups say the legislation will make it more difficult for owners of exotic pets to get veterinary care.

Still, Sérgio Henriques, invertebrate conservation coordinator at the Indianapolis Zoo, says that even legal sales boost demand for colorful and rare spiders and scorpions, putting an increasing strain on wild populations.Even legitimate breeders often purchase wild specimens to boost the genetic diversity of their captive stock.

“I would just invite people who love these animals and care for them to find out how those species are actually faring in the wild,” says Henriques, who also co-chairs the IUCN’s spider and scorpion specialist group. “If you love these animals, let them thrive in the wild. And let’s not be in a position where they are available now for you, but they will be gone for the next generation.”

Take Action Against Climate Change With These Tools and Resources

Take Action Against Climate Change With These Tools and Resources

Fortunately, there are some awesome resources and tools that can help you manage climate anxiety, increase your personal resilience, and take the guesswork out of meaningful climate action. There are high-tech and low-tech ways to take care of our hearts and our world. It doesn’t matter which or how many you choose, only that you find something that works for you.

Updated April 2022 to include information from the IPCC’s most recent report.

Apps and Tools to Make a Difference

Public pressure can be an impactful way to drive change. We Don’t Have Time (iOS, Android) is a social network “for everyone who wants to be a part of the solution to the climate crisis.” We Don’t Have Time leverages social media influence to hold politicians, decisionmakers, and companies accountable for climate change. The app connects users directly to companies and organizations to collectively push for more sustainable and climate-friendly behaviors, and it calls out companies for damaging practices. Users can review company initiatives and send climate action suggestions and petitions to decisionmakers. The news tab provides global climate and energy news to keep users informed.

Understanding our own actual impact on climate change can also help us identify behaviors we can change and reduce our climate anxiety.

The Earth Hero app (iOS, Android) helps you calculate, track, and reduce your personal carbon footprint, and it connects users to climate action groups. You can set emission-reduction targets for yourself, browse suggested actions based on IPCC recommendations, track your progress, and join a community of climate activists. Each action includes an explanation about its relevance and importance, along with tips for various levels of implementation.

Good Empire (iOS, Android) is a new social app whose mission is “to gather, unite, and empower an empire of good humans to save the f**king world.” Good Empire features challenges that highlight direct actions individuals can take to help reduce their carbon emissions and plastic waste, address hunger and poverty in their communities and around the world, and empower women and girls. Actions must have measurable impacts and are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Good Empire launched in September 2021.

Brightly.eco is a community platform with the mission to “empower conscious consumers around the world.” Brightly features news about zero waste, sustainable fashion, circular economy, clean beauty, conscious consumerism, DIY, and eco-friendly recipes. The Brightly app (iOS, Android) offers monthly eco-challenges and community chat groups. The Brightly Shop connects users to verified ethical and sustainable brands and small businesses to help you make informed decisions.

I’m not saying that the best way to alleviate climate anxiety is to rush out and buy a bunch of eco-friendly products, but we are all consumers, whether we like it or not, and our purchases have a direct impact on climate change. If we can choose brands and products that are truly ethical and sustainable, it can help shift the culture toward more sustainable options.

Carbon Offset Tools

Carbon offsets are not a stand-alone solution for climate change: They’re basically a “pay to pollute” scheme that only works if companies and individuals are doing everything else possible to reduce emissions. However, they can serve a useful role in funding emission-reduction projects and raising awareness about climate change. For an individual, carbon offsets are a tangible way to supplement other actions. There are multiple apps that let you calculate and track your carbon footprint, pledge actions, and donate to emission-reduction projects.

The Klima app (iOS, Android) lets users fund science-backed projects that can be tracked in real time. Klima selects projects with the greatest impacts in accordance with Project Drawdown rankings, supports programs designed to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and verifies projects by an independent third party. Even if you don’t have a lot to donate, it adds up collectively.

Technology Can Fix the Climate Mess—but Not Without Help

Technology Can Fix the Climate Mess—but Not Without Help

Advances in battery technology, for instance, have driven down electric vehicle prices, leading to increased adoption among drivers. The costs of lithium-ion batteries, and of wind and solar power, dropped by up to 85 percent between 2010 and 2019. In many cases, they are now cheaper than fossil fuel-derived power. This is helping industrialized nations, like the United States, actually begin to bring down emissions. (The nation is also burning more natural gas, which produces fewer emissions than coal but is still not good for the climate because it’s a carbon-rich fuel.) 

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The WIRED Guide to Climate Change

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The report also notes improvements in industry and manufacturing, such as advances in sensors, robotics, and artificial intelligence that have boosted energy management. Heat pumps, another abatement technology listed in the report, can help reduce the energy demands of buildings—which are responsible for 40 percent of energy use in the US—because instead of relying on fuel-burning furnaces, they exchange heat between the indoors and the outdoors. Because they’re fully electric, they can be powered by rooftop solar panels.

So in some ways, the energy future is looking bright. “In many areas, such as wind and solar, the technology exists to decarbonize, I’d say 90 percent of the grid, quite rapidly,” says environmental economist Mark Paul of the New College of Florida, who wasn’t involved in the new IPCC report. That potential, he says, “comes from investing money, but it also comes from regulations. We’ve seen many states that have passed clean and renewable portfolio standards to essentially force utilities to decarbonize.”

Paul adds that the price of solar has crashed 99 percent in the past few decades, so more and more people have access to the technology for their homes. (Although the report notes that the price point for EVs has fallen overall, it’s also true that sticker price varies by region and that they remain unaffordable for many drivers.)

Yet while a mixture of technologies that draw on renewable energy or are more efficient can help us decarbonize, they still comprise only a small slice of global energy generation. The report notes that in 2020, photovoltaics only made up 3 percent of the electricity produced worldwide, wind power about another 7 percent, and EVs only 1 percent of the global passenger car fleet. 

The report concludes that the sticking point is investment. While more money is flowing into climate mitigation, it’s not nearly enough. To Paul, it’s best to think of these outlays as seed money. “Contrary to the traditional economist story, decarbonization will be experienced as an economic boom,” he says. “There are plenty of jobs to be had. But it is a real problem that as of right now, we don’t necessarily have a trained workforce at the ready for things like retrofitting buildings.” That’s the second sticking point, he says: There aren’t enough people ready to install technologies like solar panels and heat pumps, or to retrofit buildings to make them more energy-efficient. 

“Germany has fairly well-evolved trade school programs, but here in the United States we’ve woefully underinvested in the trades,” says Paul. “As a result, we have real shortages in trained workers to help us decarbonize as quickly as we might like to now. Of course, that problem can indeed be resolved if the government invests in both creating these jobs and training workers.”

The Situation at Chernobyl Is Deteriorating

The Situation at Chernobyl Is Deteriorating

Two weeks ago, Russian forces seized control of the defunct Chernobyl, once the site of the world’s worst nuclear meltdown, and Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s biggest active nuclear power plant, raising concerns of nuclear risks in the middle of a war zone. 

Although Chernobyl’s last reactor went offline in 2000, the site now serves as a nuclear waste storage facility—and a highly contaminated one. The situation there is deteriorating; the facility lost power on Wednesday, and backup diesel generators have only enough fuel for two days. The 210 technical personnel and guards have not been allowed to rotate out to rest. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy and prevents nuclear weapon proliferation, says they lost contact with Chernobyl’s radiation monitoring systems on Tuesday. Unless officials can restore power, experts fear Chernobyl could once again become the site of a nuclear calamity.

“To have a long-term loss of power is certainly a concern,” says Ed Lyman, a senior global security scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and coauthor of the book Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster. Some of Chernobyl’s waste has been transferred into dry casks, but considerable quantities of fuel rods remain in a pool that requires cooling. That’s where the biggest risks currently are. “Without electrical power to the cooling pumps, the spent fuel pool will start heating up,” Lyman says. Water will gradually evaporate or boil away, exposing the fuel rods and releasing radioactive gasses. 

Chernobyl’s New Safe Confinement structure also needs electricity. This is the facility built around the concrete “sarcophagus” that surrounds what’s left of the damaged reactor Number Four, which melted down in the 1986 disaster. The confinement structure’s ventilation system must run to prevent the exposed nuclear fuel within it from becoming more hazardous. Without power, the site’s 1.5 billion-euro decommissioning program could be imperiled, Claire Corkhill, an expert on nuclear material degradation at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, wrote on Twitter and in an email to WIRED.

Some experts worry more about the personnel, who haven’t been able to leave after their shifts, which normally would have ended two weeks ago. “I’m concerned about the poor and heroic staff workers, and whether they’re in a good mental state to run all the equipment,” says Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, a scientist-in-residence and nuclear physicist at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. He likened them to stressed and sleep-deprived passenger jet pilots flying in a combat zone. “You wouldn’t want to be flying in that airplane,” he says.

Not everyone agrees about how dangerous Chernobyl’s situation might be. Lyman estimates that if the cooling system isn’t running the way it’s supposed to, there’s a window of at least a couple of weeks before the threat of meltdown arises. Dalnoki-Veress thinks it might be months until the risk becomes high. On Wednesday, Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the IAEA, tweeted that so far there is “no critical impact on safety,” although in a press statement the agency said that “the lack of power is likely to lead to a further deterioration of operational radiation safety at the site.” But on the same day, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmitro Kuleba wrote on Twitter that the limited power to cooling systems makes “radiation leaks imminent.” 

The Amazon Rainforest May Be Nearing a Point of No Return

The Amazon Rainforest May Be Nearing a Point of No Return

The Amazon is also taking longer to recover from perturbations like weather events, which unfold over weeks or months, as well as the longer time frames of drought. “That suggests that the system is slowing down,” says climate scientist Chris Boulton of the University of Exeter, lead author of the new paper. “It’s taking longer to recover from the short-term fluctuations that are perturbing it away from its happy place.” 

You wouldn’t know that from a more simplistic measurement of the Amazon, like satellite images that show only the rainforest’s land cover—where the forest is and isn’t. VOD allowed Boulton and his colleagues to parse the biomass in much finer detail, giving them a more complete picture of how the Amazon responded to extreme droughts. Not well, as it happens: Loss of resilience spikes when the landscape dries out. “There’s been three 1-in-100-year droughts in the Amazon fairly recently,” says Boulton. The team saw a spike in their signal during the droughts of 2005, 2010, and 2015, he continues, “which suggests that it’s picking up that kind of change in resilience. But that’s alongside a general increase in the approach toward a tipping point, regardless of those individual events.”

Another major threat is logging, including a kind that’s done by thinning selected trees but leaving others. But even if loggers don’t completely raze an area, they can still destabilize the forest. “What is concerning is in addition to deforestation, which is relatively easy to monitor and keep track of, we’re seeing a big increase in what is called forest degradation, where biomass is extracted from the forest,” says environmental scientist Pontus Olofsson, who studies the Amazon but wasn’t involved in the new work. “So they’re cutting down trees, but not to the point that the land cover is changing. So that land cover remains forest, but with fewer trees.” 

Ranchers, too, contribute to a more subtle weakening of the landscape. They may fell trees but leave a patch of forest standing. Because the animals left inside that little patch are now surrounded by barren land, they don’t dare leave their island. Even birds won’t risk trying to make the journey out of the patch. At the same time, the edges of that rainforest are now exposed to open air, and they rapidly degrade. A rainforest is supposed to be wet, but now its edges are baking in the sun. Over time, rainforest vegetation dies off, and savanna-style grasses creep inward. 

This can even happen on a smaller scale when people slice through the Amazonian biomass to build a road or electric lines—the edges of that slice will dry out, initiating that creep. “What happens in the deforested area doesn’t stay in a deforested area,” says tropical ecologist Paulo Brando of UC Irvine, who studies the Amazon but wasn’t involved in this new research.

This new study found that the Amazon loses resilience when it’s butted up against human activity. Brando’s own research has found that about 17 percent of the southeast Amazon, where deforestation is particularly acute, is within 100 meters of one of these dried-out edges. That’s a huge problem, because the Amazon is an extremely sensitive hydrological machine: Trees soak up rain and release water vapor as they photosynthesize—so much water, in fact, that the Amazon generates its own rain. “Evapotranspiration is very important in the water cycle to produce precipitation,” says Gatti. ”The Amazon can put in the air a comparable amount that the Amazon River discharges to the ocean—it’s a very big amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.”