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3 Climate Issues the DNC Should Consider This Week


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3 Climate Issues the DNC Should Consider This Week

By Ryan Schleeter

Monday marked the beginning of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), where the party will—in theory—come together around what it's calling the "most progressive platform in party history." And if that platform is any indication, climate change will figure heavily in the discussion this week.

Hillary Clinton poses with a supporter at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire earlier this year.Andrew Lichtenstein / Greenpeace

The Dems have come a long way since embracing a deeply flawed "all of the above" energy strategy in 2012.

Their new platform places renewable energy at the center of economic growth and job creation. It recognizes the intersections of social and environmental justice, with specific references to the Flint water crisis and the impacts of climate change on communities of color and indigenous populations. And it empowers the Department of Justice to investigate fossil fuel companies for their role in spreading climate denial.

This places them in stark contrast to Republicans, who groaned at the mere mention of climate change at their convention last week.

This week should tell us even more about the direction the Dems are heading on climate change, including how they'll address some of the platform's shortcomings. Here's what to watch for:

1. Where Does the Party Stand on Fracking and Natural Gas?

Well, it's complicated.

Fracking has no place in the platform of a party that wants to "lead the fight against climate change around the world." By not advocating a national ban on fracking, the Dems are falling short of the action we need to avoid its catastrophic health, climate and public safety impacts.

Instead, they're shirking responsibility by stating that fracking "should not take place where states and local communities oppose it." Translation: everyday people will have to go head to head with the fossil fuel industry to keep their communities frack-free. For an indication of just how difficult that is, look at Colorado right now.

On top of tepid regulations, the party leadership's problematic history with fracking is cause for concern. Both presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her vice presidential pick Tim Kaine have a long record of supporting fracking and pushing the false narrative of natural gas as a "bridge fuel."

As the Democrats try to position themselves as climate leaders, pay particular attention to how how this presumptive Democratic ticket talks about fracking or if they choose to skirt the issue.

2. Will Support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Erode?

The Dems have chosen not to oppose the TPP, the secretly negotiated trade deal that would open the door to increased corporate influence over environmental decision-making.

It's a curious decision, as President Obama is the only high profile Democrat left in favor of the deal. Both Clinton and Bernie Sanders have opposed it since last year, citing concerns over how it would outsource jobs overseas.

But that's not all that the TPP would do. It also makes it easier for fossil fuel companies to export natural gas with little to no environmental review, creating economic incentive for even more fracking (see above for why that's a terrible idea).

Look to see which side of the aisle party leaders fall on this week and if there any notable changes in position, like Kaine coming out in opposition earlier this week after voting in favor earlier this year.

3. When Can We Expect Some Actual Commitments to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground?

Unlike people across the country, the Democrats have yet to fully embrace the keep it in the ground movement, but they seem to be inching closer.

Their platform would protect the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from offshore drilling, but not the Gulf of Mexico. It calls for "reform[ing] fossil fuel leasing on public lands" and "phas[ing] down extraction," but gives little detail as to what that actually means. And of course, fracking.

The Dems should listen to communities calling for an end to new fossil fuel infrastructure, like those organizing against oil exploitation in the Gulf South and those protesting fossil fuel leasing in the Mountain West. And they won't have to look far for cues—thousands joined a march for clean energy and an end to the fossil fuel era in downtown Philadelphia on Sunday.

This week, keep an eye on how far progressive members of the party—like Keep It in the Ground Act authors Jeff Merkley (Senate) and Jared Huffman (House)—are able to push their more moderate colleagues on fossil fuel extraction.

And now for some perspective.

At this point, it's also worth a friendly reminder that the official Republican energy platform is literally terrible, Donald Trump thinks climate change is a "myth" (ever the ticket of nuance, his running mate Mike Pence prefers "hoax") and the GOP is the only conservative party in the world to deny the science of climate change.

That just feels relevant right now.

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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