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William Brangham's Posts

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Paradise lost in Palau: Island nation fights back against climate change

A few of Palau's hundreds of tropical islands. (Photo by Nick Lucey.)

The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau is a paradise on Earth. This band of several hundred islands is home to some of the world’s most stunning marine life, and to the 20,000 people who live there.

But like many low-lying nations across the world, Palau is threatened by the effects of climate change and sea-level rise. Palau’s coasts are being eroded, its local farmlands tainted by seawater, and its valuable reefs threatened. Johnson Toribiong, president of Palau, calls the damage he’s witnessing “a slow-moving tsunami.”

But Palau isn’t resigning itself to a doomsday fate. Palau has crafted a novel legal strategy at the United Nations to try to hold the industrialized world accountable for the damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions, which most scientists say are driving climate change.

Could this David vs. Goliath strategy actually work? Need to Know went to Palau to investigate.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Rising tide: Norfolk, Va., struggles on the front lines of sea-level rise [VIDEO]

Norfolk, Va. (Photo by Sharon.)

When the presidential candidates talk about the long-term economic security of the U.S., they often talk about the national debt, the viability of Medicare and Social Security, and the rise of China.

But there’s another issue that could have major implications for the nation’s economy, and it’s barely mentioned at all: the soaring costs America might face in generations to come from climate change. More specifically, the very damaging and very costly effects of sea-level rise.

According to recent research put out by Climate Central, close to 4 million Americans now live in coastal communities that could see increased flooding caused by sea-level rise. The kind of flooding that was once considered extremely rare could happen more and more often, with devastating economic consequences.

The city of Norfolk, Va., is getting an early look at what sea-level rise means for a big coastal community. The city is experiencing sea-level rise earlier than most because not only are the seas around the city going up, but much of the land beneath Norfolk is going down. This one-two punch means the city is seeing today the kind of flooding that many cities could experience down the road if the scientific projections of sea-level rise play out.

We went to Norfolk recently and talked with Mayor Paul Fraim (D) about how he’s grappling with the flooding that’s occurring more and more often in his city. In what may be a first for an American mayor, Fraim tells Need to Know that if sea-level rise continues, some parts of his city may have to be abandoned to the rising tide. Here’s our report:

Read more: Climate Change