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Presidential Hopeful Senator Graham: Climate Deniers Will Be 'Political Problem' for Republicans in 2016

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Presidential Hopeful Senator Graham: Climate Deniers Will Be 'Political Problem' for Republicans in 2016

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican once perceived as a moderate who favored bipartisan lawmaking back when that was still a thing in the GOP, has been talking recently about how his party needs a real climate change policy. And with stories rife this morning that Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain is urging him to run for president in 2016, Graham is going to have to figure out how to rein his party's climate deniers.

Senator Lindsey Graham probably wasn't smiling like this after he heard about Congressman Steve Stockman's latest climate denier plot. Photo credit: Office of Senator Lindsey Graham

“I think there will be a political problem for the Republican Party going into 2016 if we don’t define what we are for on the environment,” said Graham. “I don’t know what the environmental policy of the Republican Party is.”

But with incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell promising to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline and gut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it seems like they may actually have one—just not one that will help Graham's cause, or the climate. And a bill offered up by departing Texas Congressman Steve Stockman, who did not run for reelection, adds fuel to the climate-denier fire.

You may remember Stockman as the Congressman in the Jon Stewart climate denier segment who grilled a testifying scientist about why climate change predictions did not take into account "global wobbling," something that has nothing to do with the climate. His new bill is more of the same. Stockman has introduced H.B.  5718 or the "Stockman Effect Act," (its official name in the Congressional Record) "to study the effect of the Earth's magnetic field on the weather."

It says, "Congress finds as follows: (1) Prior to a magnetic polar shift, there is a decline in the Earth's magnetic fields. (2) Decrease in magnetic fields could impact global temperatures. (3) There is a possibility that the reason Mars lost its atmosphere was because of the loss of its magnetic field. (b) Magnetic Field Study. The director of the National Science Foundation shall commission a study on the impact that a shift in the Earth's magnetic field could have on the weather."

Alas, Congress is not a scientific body and Stockman is not a scientist. (He was formerly a computer salesman). And there is no "Stockman Effect," at least none relating the the climate.

According to National Journal reporter Jason Plautz, "The bill doesn't explicitly mention global warming, but would put Congress on record as saying that a 'decrease in magnetic fields could impact global temperatures' and instructs the director of the National Science Foundation to commission a study on the impact a shift in the Earth's magnetic field could have on the weather. Scientists contacted by National Journal said they weren't aware of a "Stockman Effect" related to geophysics or climate change."

"But scientists say that the long-term changes in the magnetic field make it unlikely that it's causing the rapid warming," wrote Plautz. "Bob McPherron, a professor of space physics at the University of California Los Angeles, said the possible link was 'very tenuous' and that most of the science behind it is not well understood. A 2011 NASA publication noted that polarity reversals are 'the rule, not the exception' and said that fossils from the last reversal 780,000 years ago showed no change to plant or animal life or glacial activity."

Former South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis, who served in the House with Graham in the late ’90s and early ’00s and later founded the Energy and Enterprise Initiative to take on the daunting task of convincing conservatives to act on climate change, told Roll Call he agrees with Graham.

"If conservatives plan on winning the White House back, we’ve got to have something on the menu that addresses this felt need for action on climate,” he said.

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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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