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Climate Change Committee Likely to Be Revived by Democratic House

Politics
Climate Change Committee Likely to Be Revived by Democratic House
CEO of Masdar Initiative Sultan Al Jabe testifies before the former House climate change committee in 2008 before Republicans dissolved it in 2011. KAREN BLEIER / AFP / Getty Images

Back in 2010, jeggings were the hot new fashion trend, the world learned to loathe vuvuzelas and the U.S. House of Representatives had a climate change committee.

Now that the Democrats have retaken the House, one of those things is coming back. In an interview with The New York Times Wednesday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi laid out the party's plans for the next two years, including resurrecting the committee:


Ms. Pelosi said that she would urge her caucus to revive a select committee focused on climate change, similar to the one that Democrats financed from 2007 to early 2011, to "prepare the way with evidence" for energy conservation and other climate change mitigation legislation. Republicans defunded the panel when they took the majority, but Ms. Pelosi said it was clearly still needed to educate the public about the impact of more frequent extreme weather events.

Senior Democratic aides confirmed the plan to Bloomberg News Thursday, but asked not to be named before an official announcement is made.

The former Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming could not propose legislation, but it could call hearings to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and the development of renewable energy. That information helped the House develop a cap-and-trade bill that it passed in 2009, though the bill ultimately failed in the Senate.

A resurrected climate change committee could focus attention on the results of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warning policy makers that they have 12 years to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to halt warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above industrial levels.

It would also be a way for Democrats to highlight President Donald Trump's refusal to seriously address climate change as they prepare for the 2020 elections. As Quartz explained, climate change is a growing priority for voters:

Not only are more Americans worried about climate change than ever before, for the first time, a significant portion of the electorate rates climate change as a top issue. In 2016, climate change was the sixth most important issue for liberal Democrats, according to Yale and George Mason University, while today it's their fourth most important issue. It may be higher still. A recent Marist poll found that, among all Democrats, climate change is the second most important issue, trailing only health care. And it's not just Democrats. In particularly vulnerable parts of the country, like Florida, Republicans are worried too.

But Trump has not acted like the issue matters, promising to withdraw from the Paris agreement, rolling back Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions and dismissing the most recent IPCC report by asking, "Who drew it?"

With Florida, a key swing state, beset by both nuisance flooding and increasingly intense hurricanes, this attitude may come back to bite him in two years if Democrats keep bringing it up.

"[T]he select committee can have as many messaging hearings as their little hearts desire," to "address wildfires, hurricanes and sea level rise," Anna Burhop, an environmental policy expert with Bracewell LLP, told Bloomberg News.

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 β€” 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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