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Americans Are Calling for Climate Action, and the New House Leadership Is Listening

Insights + Opinion
Americans Are Calling for Climate Action, and the New House Leadership Is Listening
Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts appear before the House Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 6. C-SPAN

By Rhea Suh

Wednesday marked a watershed moment in the national fight against the growing dangers of climate change, with two governors—a southern Democrat and a northeastern Republican—kicking off the first of a raft of hearings on the central environmental challenge of our time.

Appearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts laid out the stakes, for the people of their states and for the country, in standing up to this global scourge, in a hearing aptly titled "Climate Change: Impacts and the Need to Act."


The same morning, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change hosted its first climate hearing in six years, focusing on the environmental and economic effects of our warming planet.

You read that right: The Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change hadn't held a climate hearing in six years. That's an appalling abdication of responsibility by Republican leaders in Congress and their banner carrier, President Trump, who delivered another disappointing State of the Union address last night without once mentioning the mounting perils of climate change.

No one is surprised, but let's be clear. A president who ignores threats that gather before our very eyes is failing at job one for any leader: to prepare our people for a brighter, more hopeful, and more secure tomorrow.

A great tide, though, is turning. In the House, where Trump delivered his speech, new leadership is listening to the American people, about seven in ten of whom understand the growing dangers of climate change and expect national action to fight it.

Wednesday's climate hearings are the first of nearly a dozen already scheduled in the House or expected in the weeks ahead. The link between climate change and ocean health is the focus of a hearing Thursday afternoon before the Committee on Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. And climate change will be very much on the agenda when the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development holds a hearing Thursday morning on "Energy Trends and Outlook." Among the witnesses: Amy Myers Jaffe, program director for energy security and climate change with the Council on Foreign Relations, and Ethan Zindler, head of Americas and policy analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The House Natural Resources Committee is making a major push to frame up the environmental justice aspects of the climate debate, with a stress on whose stories are being heard, whose are being ignored, and how all voices might be raised. With that approach being emphasized at the level of the full committee, the subcommittees—Federal Lands; Energy and Mineral Resources; Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs; Oversight and Investigations; and Water, Power, and Oceans—are each planning climate hearings to address areas of their specific jurisdiction.

These hearings are important. They provide a way for our political leaders and the American people to connect the dots between what the science is telling us about climate change and what we're reading about in our papers, watching on our televisions, and seeing out our kitchen windows. And they provide expert guidance to policymakers searching for solutions to this overarching environmental challenge.

We just wrapped up the hottest four years since global record keeping began in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reported Wednesday morning. The impacts are all around us. Seas are rising. Croplands are turning to deserts. We're losing entire species faster than at any other time since the dinosaurs disappeared some 60 million years ago. Storms, floods and wildfires are raging. The Great Barrier Reef is dying.

All of this will get worse—much worse­—unless we cut the dangerous carbon pollution that's driving this global scourge. And we haven't got much time.

That's why NRDC is so excited about the movement to create a Green New Deal, a comprehensive slate of policies aimed at helping us shift, as quickly as possible, to 100 percent clean energy in a way that provides a just and equitable transition away from the dirty fuels of the past and to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.

Developing a Green New Deal will take time. Some of the broad contours will start to take shape, though, in the form of a joint House-Senate resolution being crafted by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). We're thrilled by the new urgency and the new ideas behind this national movement for change, and we look forward to seeing an ambitious plan.

What's coming together is a national call to action for the policies we need in order to rapidly move to a thriving clean-energy economy that creates millions of high-quality American jobs, reduces inequality and poverty, and safeguards our communities from environmental harm. Every American needs to get behind the growing momentum for climate action that will capture the urgency of the moment, rise to the challenge we face and promote the low-carbon transition we need.

We must press for congressional action that enables the country to keep the promise we made as part of the landmark 2015 Paris agreement. We cannot break that promise and leave our children to pay the price.

And we need to work, through the new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and all the House committees that have jurisdiction in areas that impact our climate future, to put in place the policies that can help us invest in the just and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.

We're excited to see what unfolds in the coming weeks and months, on Capitol Hill and across the country. What's important is that we seize this moment to build on the growing momentum for action—while we've still got time.

Eating too much black licorice can be toxic. Nat Aggiato / Pixabay

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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.

Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

By Brett Wilkins

Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.

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