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Warren's Blue New Deal Aims to Protect and Restore Oceans

Politics
Warren's Blue New Deal Aims to Protect and Restore Oceans
Elizabeth Warren's Blue New Deal aims to expand offshore renewable energy projects, like the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island. Luke H. Gordon / Flickr

By Julia Conley

Sen. Elizabeth Warren expanded her vision for combating the climate crisis on Tuesday with the release of her Blue New Deal — a new component of the Green New Deal focusing on protecting and restoring the world's oceans after decades of pollution and industry-caused warming.


The plan includes proposals for an array of ocean-related issues — including fossil fuel emissions, ocean acidification, overfishing and the destruction of coastal communities. The Massachusetts Democrat and 2020 primary contender wrote in a Medium post that "a Blue New Deal must be an essential part of any Green New Deal."

"As we pursue climate justice, we must not lose sight of the 71% of our planet covered by the ocean," Warren wrote. "While the ocean is severely threatened, it can also be a major part of the climate solution — from providing new sources of clean energy to supporting a new future of ocean farming."

In keeping with the Green New Deal's focus on a "just transition" for fossil fuel sector workers, the plan aims to expand offshore renewable energy exploration as Warren follows through with an earlier promise to impose a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling.

Along with reversing President Donald Trump's inaction on offshore renewables, Warren wrote that she will "work to streamline and fast-track permitting for offshore renewable energy, including making sure projects are sited with care based on environmental impact assessments."

Coastal communities hosting the projects will be consulted regarding transparency, environmental and labor standards, and community agreements will ensure that those living in these areas see a share of the benefits. With Warren's planned investment in the industry, she wrote, the U.S. could come closer to filling 36,000 well-paying offshore renewable energy jobs.

The progressive think tank Data for Progress praised the senator for giving consideration to an "essential" component of combating the climate emergency.

"Tackling climate change must include a comprehensive plan to address the emergency gripping our oceans, where the harms of warming are becoming alarmingly apparent to researchers, fishermen, and communities alike," wrote Johnny Bowman, Julian Brave NoiseCat and Sean McElwee. "This is an essential (and admittedly less sexy) part of the agenda for equitable decarbonization. Senator Warren has distinguished herself by studying the details."

Other areas in which Warren plans to introduce measures to boost the U.S. economy while protecting the environment include fishing and ocean farming.

Whereas one-in-four fish eaten in the U.S. are now shipped to Asia for processing before being re-imported into American markets, Warren would invest $5 billion over ten years to expand the USDA's Local Agriculture Market Program. The investment would help employ people at U.S.-based food hubs and distribution centers while reducing the massive carbon footprint caused by the current system.

The Blue New Deal was released as University of Delaware researchers published a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that the climate crisis has led to a 16% decline in jobs in New England's fishing industry, stemming from variations in water temperatures.

The senator would also direct the USDA to research and develop policies for ocean-based farming, paying farmers for their contributions to the climate change fight and including the industry in disaster assistance programs.

"Land-based farmers have long been supported by the USDA, but in a world of rising seas, increasing ocean temperatures, and ocean acidification, we must expand that support to include ocean farming as well," Warren wrote. "Algae and seaweed are the trees of our oceans, absorbing carbon and helping to reduce ocean acidification and pollution locally, and are valuable sources of nutrition ... These resources even have the potential to become a key ingredient in renewable fuels."

Warren added that under her administration, agribusiness companies would be held accountable for the water pollution they've caused for decades. Loopholes they've used to get away with exacerbating toxic algal blooms, harming marine life and contaminating drinking water would be closed, and enforcement of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts would be strengthened.

In addition to investing in coastal communities through offshore renewable energy projects, Warren promised to quintuple investment in FEMA's pre-disaster mitigation grant program, which Trump has proposed slashing.

"As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and I want to ensure we protect the 40% of Americans who live in coastal counties," Warren wrote.

"Studies have shown that every dollar invested in disaster mitigation saves $6 overall."

The League of Conservation Voters and Fridays for Future organizer Alexandria Villaseñor were among those who praised the senator on social media.

Greenpeace climate campaigner Jack Shapiro said it is "vital that our next president realize we're already in hot water" and recognize that "the climate crisis is an oceans crisis."

"Instead of opening virtually all U.S. waters to dangerous oil and gas drilling — as Trump has so far unsuccessfully tried to do — we should be shifting investment to clean, community-powered renewable energy and giving our oceans a chance to recover from decades of industrial exploitation," said Shapiro. "We're glad to see Senator Warren putting ocean protection on the national stage with this plan."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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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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