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Philippines faces “nightmare” recovery in Haiyan’s wake

philippines-typhoon
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.

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China still leads the world in emissions, with no end in sight

Power plant stacks tower over a town in China's coal country.
James West/Climate Desk
Power plant stacks tower over a town in China's coal country.

People write about China's growth so much it's daunting to wring out something new. But -- wow -- when you see it for the first time in a few years, it still delivers one hell of a punch.

I lived in China for a year before the Beijing's 2008 Olympics (a kind of development event horizon in China’s history, towards which the whole country hurtled), and I've been back regularly enough to marvel at changes firsthand.

But I have never before been as dumbfounded as during a train ride this week from Beijing through a swathe of China’s northeast coal belt. My colleague Jaeah Lee and I were whisked away from the capital on rails that carry sleek new bullet trains (in just two years, China will have completed 11,200 miles of high-speed railway lines, leaving the U.S. limping). We zoom at 186 miles per hour through unabated upheaval.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Explained in 90 seconds: Your fridge is accelerating climate change — but it doesn’t have to

The outward statecraft of the recent G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, was dominated by disagreements over Syria. But behind the scenes, leaders were busy agreeing on something they rarely find common ground on: climate change. Thirty-five nations and the European Union decided to curb hydrofluorocarbons, a set of powerful heat-trapping gases used in refrigeration, air conditioning, heat pumps, and insulation. This follows a deal earlier this year between China and the United States, in which President Obama and President Xi agreed to limit these greenhouse gases.

​So, what are HFCs and why are they important to climate change?

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Video: Fly along with NASA’s cloud hunters

One of the biggest question marks hanging over climate studies right now is about the role of clouds and the aerosols, tiny airborne particles, that shape them. The problem is clouds move fast, making them hard to model, and depending on their concentration at different altitudes, clouds can cool or heat the planet. Scientists agree that before they can build the best models to predict climate change, they first have to understand clouds.

This summer, NASA has been working to crack this problem, at 30,000 feet, aboard a custom-equipped flying laboratory. Climate Desk was invited on board for an eight-hour mission to suck the secrets out of clouds.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Explained in 90 seconds: How climate change fuels wildfires

From the Rim fire currently engulfing California to the Black Forest fire that burned more than 500 homes in Colorado, wildfires are becoming more destructive. In this video, Matthew Hurteau -- assistant professor of forest resources at Penn State University -- explains how warming temperatures, prolonged drought, and a century's worth of fire suppression policy are "priming the system to make it more flammable."

After you watch the video, be sure to check out Climate Desk's detailed explainer on the link between climate change and destructive fires.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Meet the singing, anti-fracking nuns

Down the road from the Maker's Mark bourbon distillery in the central Kentucky town of Loretto, a feisty cadre of nuns has been tending crops and praying since the early 1800s. An order founded on social justice, the Sisters of Loretto are quickly becoming the face of a new grassroots campaign against what they see as a threat to holy land: the Bluegrass Pipeline. The 1,100-mile pipeline will carry natural gas liquids from the Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia fracking fields, and will pass through Kentucky -- eventually connecting with an existing pipeline that runs all the way to the Gulf Coast.

The pipeline is in its early stages of development, but the nuns have already refused to allow company representatives to survey their 800-acre campus, and they are taking their message to local community meetings … sometimes in the form of song.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Claws and effect: Climate change turns lobsters into cannibals

Noah Oppenheim's plan was simple: Rig a young lobster underneath a waterproof, infrared camera; drop the contraption overboard off the coast of Maine; and see who comes along for a bite to eat. The takers, he expected, would be fish: Cod, herring, and other "groundfish" found in these waters that are known to love a good lobster dinner. Similar experiments conducted in the 1990s showed that apart from being snatched up in one of the thousands of traps that sprinkle the sea floor here -- tools of this region's signature trade -- fish predation was the principle cause of lobster death. Instead, Oppenheim, a marine biology graduate student at the University of Maine, captured footage that looks like it comes straight from the reel of a 1950s B-grade horror movie: rampant lobster cannibalism.

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Tim McDonnell

Warming waters can cause lobsters to grow larger and produce more offspring, and the last decade has been the warmest on record in the Gulf of Maine. That, combined with overfishing of lobster predators and an excess of bait left in lobster traps (see info box below), has driven the Maine lobster harvest to thoroughly smash records that stretch back to 1880. One of the side effects of this boom, Oppenheim says, is cannibalism: There are countless lobsters down there with nothing much to eat them and not much for them to eat, besides each other.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Five gorgeous landmarks threatened by rising seas

Historic_Map11

So, you spent last weekend celebrating American independence with patriotic fervor and you’re now enthused about the preservation of American history and culture and all things awesome and bygone. Right?

Keep that historical buzz going for a moment to contemplate five sites the National Trust for Historic Preservation -- the country’s preservers-in-chief -- thinks are most vulnerable to flooding caused by sea-level rise.

Even though the Trust fields regular requests for planning assistance from coastal cities across country, the group says no comprehensive models yet exist to address sea-level rise and its threat to historic landmarks. That’s bad, says Anthony Veerkamp, a program director with the Trust, because without first taking stock of what we might lose, “inevitably there will be adaptation strategies that do lesser or greater harm to historic resources.”

Here are five sites the Trust is most worried about:

1. San Francisco’s Embarcadero

Historic_Embacadero11

California’s Bay Area can expect sea levels to rise by up to 55 inches by the end of the century, putting an estimated 270,000 people and $62 billion [PDF] worth of San Francisco urban bling at risk of increased flooding. That presents a major challenge to the three-mile stretch of San Francisco’s downtown Embarcadero district, which features more than 20 historic piers, a bulkhead wharf in 21 sections, a seawall built in the late 1800s, and the iconic Ferry Building, fully commissioned in 1903. California’s seasonal king tides already overflow San Francisco’s sea walls and occasionally spill into the Embaracadero, providing a preview for what might happen more regularly if sea levels continue to rise.

2. New York City’s Battery

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Live chat: Obama’s new climate plan

Climate Desk hosted a Google Hangout with Grist's own David Roberts and Kate Sheppard from Mother Jones to debrief Obama's climate speech. The chat has ended, but you can still watch it below:

Roberts also appeared on Seattle's NPR affiliate KUOW. Listen here.

Check out Climate Desk's live blogging of the day's events: