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Activist Tom Steyer Announces Big-Spending Election Plan to Take Down Climate-Denying Candidates

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Activist Tom Steyer Announces Big-Spending Election Plan to Take Down Climate-Denying Candidates

There's no dark money in Tom Steyer's green coffers.

Alongside his political action committee, NextGen Climate, the billionaire environmentalist and Democrat on Wednesday announced plans to spend big on seven election races this November, with hopes to elect senators and governors around the country who are dedicated to combating climate change. He will spend at least $50 million supporting such candidates, while also fundraising another $50 million from other donors.

Tom Steyer is ready to put his money where is mouth is in anticipation of pivotal midterm races across the country. Photo credit: NextGen Climate

“The debate on climate change is settled: It is here, it is human-caused and it is already having a devastating impact on our communities, but we need to accelerate the level of political support to address this critical issue before it’s too late,” said Steyer, who founded NextGen in 2013. “This means making politicians feel the heat—in their campaign coffers and at the polls.”

Here are the races Steyer is targeting and why, as described by NextGen:

  • Colorado U.S. Senate Race: Fossil fuel development and its adverse health impacts affect Colorado’s most vulnerable communities, yet Senate candidate Cory Gardner—a science denier—has taken hundreds of thousands in donations from fossil fuel companies while voting for their interests.

  • Florida Gubernatorial Race: While communities across Florida are threatened by sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion and rising flood insurance costs, Gov. Rick Scott is a climate denier and has decimated efforts to “preserve environmentally sensitive land.”

  • Iowa U.S. Senate Race: Iowa’s farms and rural communities are feeling the pain in their wallets and on their land due to record floods coming on the heels of a record drought, while State Sen. Joni Ernst has “not seen proven proof ” that climate change “is entirely man-made” and former energy CEO Mark Jacobs is “not convinced that man-made causes are causing” climate change.

  • Maine Gubernatorial Race: The forestry industry in Maine is at risk and fishermen are already experiencing the negative effects of higher ocean temperatures, yet Gov. LePage denies that climate change is a threat, rather saying it offers Maine “a lot of opportunities.”

  • Michigan U.S. Senate Race: Air pollution is affecting kids’ education across Michigan, with over half of Hispanic and African American children attending school in the most polluted areas, yet Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has the support of the Koch Brothers who are spending millions on her race and have threatened the state’s water and air quality with their dirty energy stockpiles.

  • New Hampshire U.S. Senate Race: New Hampshire’s tourism industry—which supports more than 60,000 jobs—stands to be devastated by the effects of climate change; meanwhile Senate candidate Scott Brown looks out for the Koch Brothers and his Big Oil buddies, taking their campaign dollars and voting to protect $24 billion in oil subsidies.

  • Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Race: Low-income communities in Pennsylvania are disproportionately affected by asthma and often live in the shadow of the state’s biggest polluters; meanwhile Gov. Corbett favors powerful corporate energy executives over Pennsylvania families.

NextGen says it will use climate change as a "wedge issue" to inspire voter turnout while exposing why climate deniers would make poor leaders and legislators.

“This is the year, in our view, where we are able to demonstrate you can use climate—if you do it well and in a smart way—as a wedge issue to win in political races,” Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist known as Steyer's right-hand man, told a group of reporters on Wednesday, according to The Hill. “The side that does a better job of changing or expanding the voter pool is the side that has the competitive advantage.”

Lehane said NextGen's strategy will be heavy on data and localizing issues, while NextGen's statement says an "all-star political team" will be on deck to drive home the message. For instance, if flood insurance rates have gone up in an area impacted by climate change, potential voters will hear about it. The same goes for health issues brought on by fracking and drilling.

While Steyer spent about $8 million on last year's Virginia  gubernatorial race to successfully land Terry McAuliffe in office, NextGen realizes climate denying candidates and their funders will be tough to take down.

"We are never going to have as much money, but all we need is enough for David’s slingshot is to fire through," Lehane said, "and to fire fast and to fire quick to be able to reach the big oil Goliath.”

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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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