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Climate Crisis Gets 10 Minutes at VP Debate

Politics
Climate Crisis Gets 10 Minutes at VP Debate
Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence participate in the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Utah on Oct. 9, 2020. PBS NewsHour / YouTube

The climate crisis was discussed for roughly 10 minutes at Wednesday night's vice-presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Utah between Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence.


The first question about the climate crisis came about 40 minutes into the debate when moderator Susan Page turned to Pence and brought up the record number of hurricanes and wildfires in 2020. She then asked if he agreed with the scientific consensus that man-made climate change is making hurricanes and fires larger and more dangerous.

Pence did acknowledge that the climate is changing, but he would not say that human activity is causing it. He insisted that the Trump administration would listen to the science before pivoting to attack both the Paris agreement and the Green New Deal.

In her reply, Harris insisted that Joe Biden believes in science. She drew a contrast with President Trump who has questioned science.

"We have seen a pattern with this administration, which is they don't believe in science," Harris said while looking straight at the camera.

She brought up that when Trump met with California Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, Trump said about global warming, "I don't think science knows, actually," as EcoWatch reported at the time.

Pence argued that the country has lowered CO2 emissions through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and through innovation. Pence then claimed that Biden and Harris wanted to ban fracking.

"I will repeat, and the American people know, that Joe Biden will not ban fracking," Harris said in her reply. "That is a fact."

The issue of fracking is something Pence glommed on to in what analysts see as a direct plea to voters in Pennsylvania where the oil and natural gas industry is prominent, as TIME reported.

Harris, in her rebuttal, noted that clean energy infrastructure is actually part and parcel of an economic recovery, pointing out that Moody's said Biden's plan will create 7 million more jobs than Trump's plan.

"Joe Biden has been very clear that he thinks about growing jobs," she said. "Part of those jobs that will be created by Joe Biden are going to be about clean energy and renewable energy."

Pence also refused to attribute the wildfires and the increased moisture and slow movements of hurricanes to human activity. As the moderator attempted to enforce Pence's time limit, he argued that there are no more hurricanes than there were 100 years ago. Prior to that, he addressed the wildfires.

"With regard to wildfires, President Trump and I believe that forest management has to be front and center, and even Gov. Gavin Newsom from your state has agreed, we have to work on forest management," Pence said.

He neglected to mention that nearly 60 percent of California's forests are on federal land, as KGO, San Francisco's ABC affiliate, reported.

When Harris replied, she brought up the wildfires currently burning, the plight of the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Delta approaches, and the Iowa farmers whose fields were flooded by a derecho storm.

She segued from there to attack the Trump administration's hostile attitude towards science, noting that the terms "science" and "climate change" were removed from a government website about energy and the environment.

"Let's talk about who is prepared to lead our country over the course of the next four years on what is an existential threat to us as human beings," she emphasized.

When asked directly by Page if the climate crisis is an existential threat, Pence dodged the question and started to discuss taxes.

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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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