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Victory for Obama Brings Opportunity and Challenges

Climate
Victory for Obama Brings Opportunity and Challenges

Michael Brune

Did you find it hard to sleep the night before election day? Me too. However, it wasn't pre-election jitters that kept me and my wife awake, but our little newborn baby, Genevieve.

As I got out of bed a little before dawn on election day to take my shift, I thought about the polls opening on the East Coast and wondered whether the day would end in celebration, disappointment or indecision. Rocking sweet Genevieve back to sleep in the darkness of our bedroom, I also thought about what the country might be like when our little girl is able to vote. Will voters still have to wait in line for hours? Will ads from wealthy donors still dominate the airwaves? Will we finally have modernized voter registration?

Now we know that President Obama will get another four years in office. In re-electing the president, voters have handed him both an opportunity and a challenge. During his first term, Barack Obama was the first American president to clearly articulate a vision of America leading the world toward a clean-energy future that can meet the challenge of a changing climate. Now, he has four more years to deliver on that promise.

The past week has underscored the urgency of this challenge. As families in the Northeast try to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, and as all of us gird ourselves for more consequences of climate disruption, the American people deserve and demand strong leadership on this issue.

Here's how President Obama can start delivering that leadership right now:

• First, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must finish the job it has begun of cleaning up dirty power plants. Working with the U.S. EPA to finalize carbon pollution standards for new power plants and to begin emphasizing efficiency and clean energy over currently operating plants will continue to be a high priority for the Sierra Club and our partners in the environmental community.

•  The president should take a hard look at what burning toxic tar-sands oil would mean for our climate future—and reject Canada's plan to pump dirty tar sands through our farmlands and water sources.

• Make conservation and public recreation the top priority for our public lands and use the Antiquities Act to establish national monuments that will protect entire landscapes for this and future generations to enjoy.

• Last, but not least, President Obama must boldly elevate the issue of climate disruption and climate solutions. The American people understand and accept that the climate crisis is upon us. They also know that—with Iowa and South Dakota generating more than 20 percent of their power from wind and with solar-industry jobs growing at more than 10 percent annually—a clean-energy future is already here. We need strong leadership and action to address our climate challenge directly and to build on this clean-energy growth.

By the time my daughter is eligible to vote, we'll need to have done a lot more than modernize voting and clean up our elections, though both are vital to a strong democracy. By 18 years from now, we should be well on our way to a clean-energy turnaround. The urgency of fighting climate change should be undebatable, and dirty fuels should be viewed as anachronisms from a distant era.

Congratulations Mr. President. It's been a long, hard fight to reach this day. Now, let's move forward on the challenges—and the opportunities—that this election has made possible.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

 

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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