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Jaeah Lee and James West's Posts

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Inside Yingli, the giant Chinese solar company sponsoring the World Cup

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Climate Desk

It takes about two hours by car from the Chinese capital Beijing to get to the smog-blanketed city of Baoding. I don't mean to be rude, but it's nothing much to speak of, typical of the Northeast's expanse of industrial wastelands, threaded together by super-highways.

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If you think climate politics in the U.S. are crazy, wait till you see what just happened in Australia

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Center for American Progress

Hold on to your hats! Australia's already-bizarre carbon price adventures veered into the utterly surreal overnight.

Picture this: An eccentric billionaire mining baron, most famous outside Australia for commissioning a replica of the Titanic, appearing alongside the world's most recognizable climate campaigner and former U.S. vice president, Al Gore, to announce Australia's relatively new carbon tax will be scrapped, and a new emissions trading scheme proposed, effectively screwing over the sitting conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, who is hell-bent on getting rid of carbon legislation altogether.

It's a big blow to a prime minister who said recently in Canada that he has "always been against" an emissions trading scheme, and believes fighting climate change will "clobber the economy."

For watchers of Aussie politics, it was a visual feast of weirdness. For U.S. readers, imagine -- I don't know -- industrialist Charles Koch jumping on stage with writer and activist Bill McKibben and you're getting close.

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Here’s what the battle over Iraqi oil means for America

A member from the oil police force stands guard at Zubair oilfield in Basra, southeast of Baghdad June 18, 2014.
Reuters/ Essam Al-Sudani
A member from the oil police force stands guard at Zubair oilfield in Basra, southeast of Baghdad June 18, 2014.

As deadly sectarian violence continues to sweep through Iraq, the country's oil industry is reeling from a brazen attack on one of its key domestic refineries. Here are five things you need to know about the role of oil in the current conflict, and what it means for the U.S. and the global economy.

1. Oil infrastructure is a major flashpoint in the Iraq crisis. After a week-long siege, Sunni extremists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, fought their way into Iraq's largest oil refinery in the northern city of Baiji on Tuesday and Wednesday. There are conflicting reports about how much of the facility was seized by the militants in the ensuing chaos, and whether Iraqi forces have in fact repelled the attack, as Iraqi military officials claim. Previously, repeated attacks shut down the major Turkey-bound Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline in the north.

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Obama takes his boldest step ever to fight climate change

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What these historical kings and marauders can teach our leaders about climate change

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There are no two ways about it: Humankind is, for the first time in our recorded history, living through a massive global climate shift of our own making. Science paints today's crisis as unprecedented in scope and consequence. But that doesn't mean there aren't historical cases of societies that have enjoyed the highs and endured the lows of natural climatic changes -- from civilization-busting droughts to empire-building stretches of gorgeous sunshine.

Whether they're commanding marauding armies or struggling with dramatic temperature shifts, today's leaders have a variety of historical role models they can learn from:

Should Gov. Jerry Brown -- confronted by California's 500-year drought -- be mindful of the policy mistakes made by the last Ming emperor?

Will President Obama learn lessons from Ponhea Yat, the last king of the sacred city of Angkor Wat, when planning how to safeguard America's critical infrastructure against extreme weather?

Will Vladimir Putin channel his inner Genghis Khan as Russia seeks new territories in the melting Arctic? (He's already got the horse-riding thing on lockdown.)

Here are four historical figures whose triumphs and defeats were related, at least in part, to major changes in their climates.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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When it trains, it pours: The 10 worst oil-by-rail spills of the decade

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Canadian Pacific

When the State Department issued its long-awaited environmental-impact statement on the Keystone XL project earlier this month, one of its key findings was that if the controversial pipeline weren't built, oil-laden rail cars would pick up the slack. "Rail will likely be able to accommodate new production if new pipelines are delayed or not constructed," it argued. As Mother Jones noted recently, that rail transit is already underway. ​According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), crude oil traveling by rail increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to an estimated 400,000 in 2013. Recently, an ExxonMobil official said the company had already begun to use trains to haul oil out of the Canadian tar sands, and the company plans to move up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day from a new terminal by 2015. In other words, tar sands will be developed one way or another, according to the State Department, with or without the $5.4 billion pipeline that would eventually link Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

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Check out this shocking map of California’s drought

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NASA GRACE Data Assimilation
Click to embiggen.

While the country's appetite for extreme weather news was filled (to the brim) this week by the polar vortex, spare a thought for sunny California, where exceptionally dry weather is provoking fears of a long, tough summer ahead.

The state is facing what could be its worst drought in four decades. The chart above, released by the National Drought Mitigation Center on Monday, shows just how dry the soil is compared to the historical average: the lighter the color, the more "normal" the current wetness of the soil; the darker the color, the rarer. You can see large swathes of California are bone dry.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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How Beyoncé is saving the planet with her new album

Beyonce 2009 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

Last Friday, in an act of screw-you-I'm-Beyoncé badassness, the singer and Columbia Records dropped her entire self-titled fifth album exclusively for digital download on iTunes. Of course, it's not the first digital launch, but it's one of the most successful: So far, "Beyoncé" has smashed records, moving more than 800,000 electronic copies in just three days to become the U.S. iTunes Store's fastest selling album ever; it is currently No. 1 on iTunes in 104 countries, and it's only a matter of time before it takes pole position on the Billboard 200. As Beyoncé raps on the track "Flawless": Bow down bitches.

While the world collectively freaks out over the singer's scarily impeccable secrecy (a leaky NSA could learn a few tricks), let's take a moment to enjoy what Beyoncé's digital-first release means for the planet. Given its size, and recent industry trends, this may well be one of the most climate-friendly major studio releases yet.

Beyoncé has promised physical CDs (remember those?), saying they'll hit shelves in time for stocking-stuffing. And while we don't know yet how many of them she plans to issue, there's reason to believe that digital downloads are beginning to erode the need for a massive physical rollout: Target, estimated to be the nation's fourth biggest music retailer, has already decided not to sell the CD version because of low sales projections.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Philippines faces “nightmare” recovery in Haiyan’s wake

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U.S. Marine Corps / Lance Cpl. Caleb Hoover

A difficult recovery effort, hampered by security threats, bottlenecks, and an almost complete lack of communications, is still in its infancy in the Philippines four days after a powerful typhoon plowed through the country.

Super Typhoon Haiyan -- also known locally as Yolanda -- made landfall several times on Friday, leaving in its wake up to 10,000 casualties (a figure that comes from local officials on the island of Leyte and reported by the Associated Press; the official Philippine government count is much lower). The Joint Typhoon Warning Center data reported sustained winds approached 195 miles per hour three hours before landfall, with gusts of up to 235 miles per hour. Stunningly scary footage captured by a CCTV/Weather Channel team during Haiyan's height shows damaging storm surges ripping buildings apart, "like a tsunami." The storm made landfall again in Vietnam on Monday morning local time.

The Philippines, a group of more than 7,100 islands, is no a stranger to tropical cyclones (this is the 24th just this year). And just as more than 9.5 million people who were in the storm's path survey the damage and locate loved ones, the country is facing another tropical depression, Zoraida​.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Carbon-sucking golf balls and other crazy climate patents

Forget YouTube as your go-to 3:00 p.m. internet distraction. For me, it's the U.S. patent office website. There is some seriously wild stuff being invented by your fellow citizens, not least in the area of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Here are a few of my favorite climate-related patents issued recently by the office (I've added a little color to the design sketches):

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Golf courses are hardly known for being paragons of environmentally friendly land use. They use a massive amount of water and have been found to be net carbon emitters [PDF], mainly due to land-clearing. But -- phew! -- there could soon be a way to shuck that green guilt and keep on swinging.