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As Scientists Sound Climate Change Alarm, States Lead on Solutions

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As Scientists Sound Climate Change Alarm, States Lead on Solutions
View of the damage caused by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, on Oct. 13. HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP / Getty Images

By Abigail Dillen

This column originally appeared in USA Today.

The world's leading panel of climate experts sounded the alarm this week that we are running out of time to get rising temperatures under control. Its latest report calls for "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented" steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, from worsening wildfires and extreme drought to rising sea levels and more powerful storms. It also reminds us what is at stake if we fail to act: our health, our food and water security, our environment and our economy.


These risks are no longer hypothetical. Across the country, we are already seeing the devastating impacts of extreme weather fueled by climate change. As the Carolinas deal with the aftermath of catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Florence and Florida deals with Hurricane Michael, wildfires across the West have burned an area larger than the state of Maryland.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is ignoring the threat of climate change and continuing its assault on critical protections of our air, water, land and wildlife. With a president determined to prop up the fossil fuel industry at the expense of public health and the environment, it is easy to feel discouraged.

But there is reason for hope.

States Are Picking Up the Federal Government's Slack

In the absence of leadership in Washington, DC, states are stepping up to the plate. They are building powerful and diverse coalitions that center the voices of those most directly impacted by pollution. They are standing by our international climate commitments, despite President Trump's pledge to withdraw from the Paris agreement. And they are enacting smart policies that move us towards a clean energy future, even as the Trump administration tries to turn back the clock.

California recently passed SB 100, committing the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

This is no small feat for the fifth largest economy in the world, and one of the nation's largest oil producing states. California is already home to half a million clean energy jobs, and this move accelerates the state's momentum towards a carbon-free grid. With SB 100, California is proving that a healthy environment and a thriving economy can—and must—go hand-in-hand.

California follows Hawaii, which passed a similar measure in 2015 to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. And in Massachusetts, the state Senate recently passed a bill to power the state with 100 percent renewable energy by 2047. As clean energy becomes increasingly affordable, these targets are within our reach.

Inclusivity Is the Key to Smart Climate Policy

This November, voters in Washington state will consider a ballot initiative that would cement the state's leadership on climate change. Initiative 1631 would impose a modest fee on the state's largest climate polluters, generating billions in revenue for clean energy infrastructure, clean transportation options, job training and the local communities most impacted by pollution. The initiative would become the first-of-its-kind to be enacted directly by voters.

Initiative 1631 was crafted through an inclusive process that brought stakeholders together from more than 250 organizations. It is backed by tribal nations, groups representing communities of color, health professionals, businesses, scientists, faith groups and clean energy advocates. The result is a thoughtful approach that will ensure a smooth—and just—transition to clean energy.

Both SB 100 and Initiative 1631 demonstrate how inclusivity and collaboration lead to smart climate policy that benefits all of us. They also underscore the critical role of states in solving our climate crisis, especially at a time when politicians in DC are letting us down.

At Earthjustice, we're fighting the Trump administration's attempts to gut environmental protections with more than 100 lawsuits filed in federal court—many of which attempt to protect communities and the planet from pollution caused by fossil fuels. We're working to ensure that our transition to clean energy advances equity and justice for those communities impacted most by climate change. And we're partnering with states on the frontlines of our climate fight that are setting an example for the country and the world.

Even in the Trump era, progress is possible on climate change—and states must continue to lead the way.

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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