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OFF Act Is a Climate Game Changer

Climate
OFF Act Is a Climate Game Changer
Food & Water Watch

By Mark Schlosberg

Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act) last week. This visionary bill comes as the nation bears witness to the devastation being brought by the climate change-super charged storm Harvey to Texas and Louisiana and braces for Irma's impacts. Storms like this and other extreme weather events will become all the more frequent and intense unless bold action is taken.


Gabbard's bill—the strongest yet introduced in Congress—will put us on a path towards avoiding increased climate chaos: It will place a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects and move the country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, with a focus on a rapid transition in the next ten years. The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Nanette Barragan (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

This legislation could not be more needed. While the impacts of Harvey are readily apparent to all, it is not an isolated occurrence. Evidence continues to build of the severity and urgency of the climate crisis. And while Trump flew to Texas and talked about helping communities there, he and fossil fuel-funded members of Congress continue to put the planet on a collision course with climate chaos. They deny climate change and are suppressing our government's ability to address it; they are moving to increase drilling and fracking on public lands and off our coasts; they are promoting development of more pipelines; and they are exporting more oil and gas abroad while wrecking the environment here at home.

In this dysfunctional political environment, a broad movement has grown to resist Trump's foolish and dangerous agenda. Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in the streets in DC and across the country. Thousands more have called members of Congress, written letters, and gone to town halls and community meetings opposing this destructive agenda. This is heartening and powerful, but we must do more.

To win on climate—to really move off of fossil fuels and transition our economy to 100 percent renewable energy on a time frame that will actually prevent even greater climate catastrophe—we must continue to resist Trump's agenda, but we need to do more than that: We need to propel a bold agenda for addressing the crisis—one that will protect our communities while creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs in the renewables and energy efficiency sectors. This agenda must center racial and economic justice and cannot rely on false market solutions like carbon trading and taxing programs, which are simply corporate pay-to-pollute schemes. What we need is nothing short of a World War II-scale mobilization of our economy around a quick and just transition off fossil fuels and onto 100 percent renewable energy now.

Rep. Gabbard's OFF Act is a critical step towards that mobilization. It requires 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 (and 80 percent by 2027), places a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, bans the export of oil and gas, and also moves our automobile and rail systems to 100 percent renewable energy. Additionally, it provides for a truly just transition for environmental justice communities and those working in the fossil fuel industry. The bill requires that people in impacted communities have a leading role in the development and implementation of clean energy plans and regulations, and establishes an equitable transition fund and workforce development center, paid for by closing an offshore tax loophole and repealing federal tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.

Now we must mobilize to build support for this bill. Though the prospects of passing anything in Congress right now are grim, moving members of Congress to support the OFF Act and elevating its profile are important for three reasons:

1. Create Political Consensus for Rapid Transition to 100 Percent Renewable Energy

Six years ago, when Food & Water Watch followed the lead of our grassroots partners to become the first national organization to call for a ban on fracking, conventional wisdom dictated that fracked gas was an environmentally friendly "bridge fuel." There was lots of support for stronger regulations on fracking, but little serious talk about actually banning it. Yet hundreds of organizations and thousands of people all over the country organized around the issue and held their elected officials accountable.

New York and Maryland have since banned fracking. Rep. Mark Pocan introduced legislation to ban fracking on federal lands. Banning fracking became a top issue raised by Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race, and a majority of Americans now support a ban. It took lots of hard work, but the political consensus has shifted. We must do the same thing with the urgent need to act on climate, by building support for the OFF Act.

2. Make OFF a Top Issue Now

Even though Congress is controlled by pro-fossil fuel ideologues, it is still critical that we work to get members to sponsor this bill now. If we organize to get large numbers of co-sponsors on the OFF Act, it will become a top issue that representatives will need to respond to. Even as it has just been introduced, the OFF Act already enjoys support from more than 100 organizations including a wide range of major national groups like National Nurses United, Progressive Democrats of America, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and People's Action.

3. Make Space for State and Local Action

At the same time we are working to build support for the OFF Act, there are also campaigns across the country working to move cities, counties and states to 100 percent renewable energy now. Organizing around these local efforts can and should dovetail with efforts to pressure members of Congress to co-sponsor federal legislation. Passing local measures, or getting state and local elected officials to sign the OFF Pledge, will help build the political power needed to push Congress to support the federal legislation. Similarly, getting more co-sponsors on federal legislation to stop fossil fuel projects will open up more space for state and local action. These efforts work together.

Winning the fight to move off fossil fuels will not be easy, as the thousands of people who are working to stop pipelines, ban fracking and build renewable energy projects can tell you. But these are also fights that we can—and must—win if we are to protect people and the planet and avoid the very worst of climate chaos. The OFF Act is a critical first step in what must be a major national mobilization to restructure our energy system now.

Visit OFF Fossil Fuels to get involved in your community and join our grassroots team. Let's make this happen.

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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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