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Explosion at a coal mine in China kills 19

An open-pit coal mine in heavily polluted Inner Mongolia. (Photo by Herry Lawford.)

An explosion of gas at a coal mine in Panzhihua, southwest China, has killed at least 19 miners and trapped 28 others. From the BBC:

The blast happened on Wednesday evening when about 150 miners were underground, city officials said.

By Thursday morning, more than 100 people had been rescued and taken to hospital, reports said.

Chinese state television said rescue teams had retrieved the bodies of 16 miners who died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Another three people died in hospital. ...

Accidents are frequent in China's mining industry, which is criticized for poor safety standards.

Official figures show that 1,973 people died in coal mining accidents in the country last year.

China has a coal problem. According to a report from May of this year, the country represents 48 percent of global coal consumption [PDF], with coal use growing rapidly.

Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of indexmundi.com.)
Read more: Climate & Energy

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Meet Heartland, a just-discovered virus that landed two men in the hospital

In 2009, two farmers from Missouri checked into local hospitals. Each had a fever, nausea, a headache. Their blood platelets dropped severely. Doctors eventually figured out that they had a new virus, now called the Heartland virus. Transmitted by ticks, it's only ever been seen in two people on Earth -- these farmers, two men who live 60 miles apart.

This is the flu virus, not Heartland. But it's not like you can eyeball the thing, like the tick is holding it in its hand, so this will have to do. (Photo by kat m research.)

Research on the new virus has just been published in The New England Journal of Medicine. NPR has the story:

[The Centers for Disease Control's William] Nicholson says the new virus is in the phlebovirus family, which contains more than 70 members. And here's another twist: Heartland virus appears to be a cousin of another new human virus called Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome virus, discovered last year in China. Another possible cousin may be Bhanja virus, a little-studied virus that has been found in some mammals, birds and reptiles in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Nicholson says the CDC ... is looking for other people with symptoms similar to the two Heartland victims to see if they're infected with the same virus. The researchers are also analyzing thousands of samples from Missouri ticks, other crawling insects and animals wild and domestic to see if any harbor Heartland virus.

No, this is not a script for the first five minutes of a horror movie. Unfortunately, it's real.

Read more: Living

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Surprise! The GOP’s climate position tracks closely with oil industry donations

The Washington Post created a graphic tracking how the Republican Party platform has changed on various issues over the years. The whole thing is worth a look -- but we found this subsection interesting (for obvious reasons).

Click to embiggen.

To break it out:

  • 1988: The GOP recognizes climate change.
  • 1992: The platform talks about funding to combat climate change.
  • 1996, 2000: The party moves backward, citing "uncertainty" on the role of humans.
  • 2004: The GOP commits to addressing climate. This is after Bush, up for reelection, kills involvement in the Kyoto Protocol.
  • 2008: With candidate McCain, the party accepts a human role.
  • 2012 (not on the graphic): The platform mentions climate only to mock Obama for considering it a security threat.

What has inspired this back-and-forth on their position? We have a theory.

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West Nile cases hit new record, 66 dead so far this year

The world's ugliest puppy.

Another week, another record. Last week, we noted that the U.S. hit its all-time high number of cases of West Nile to that point in the year. Since then, the number of cases his risen 40 percent -- and the number of deaths 61 percent.

From Reuters:

A total of 1,590 cases of West Nile virus, including 66 deaths, were reported through late August this year in the United States, the highest human toll reported by that point in the calendar since the mosquito-borne disease was first detected in the country in 1999, health officials said on Wednesday.

The toll is increasing quickly and "we think the numbers will continue to rise," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases.

Through last week, 1,118 cases and 41 deaths had been reported. The updated figures represent a 40 percent increase in the number of cases and a 61 percent spike in the number of deaths, but are short of the all-time record for a full year: 9,862 cases and 264 deaths in 2003.

See? Still something to shoot for this year!

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Methane trapped in Antarctic ice will be a great help to the horrible warming feedback loop

As Arctic permafrost thaws, methane is released. Last December, we got the bad news that the release could be 2.5 times more than originally estimated. The more methane released, the more the global-warming impact -- and the faster ice melts and ground thaws, and the more methane released.

Permafrost was primarily a concern in the Arctic, not the Antarctic. Today, bad news: The amount of methane released by a melting Antarctic may be equivalent.

The Antarctic peninsula, biding its time. (Photo by mark 217.)

The Antarctic Ice Sheet could be an overlooked but important source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, according to a report in the August 30 issue of Nature by an international team of scientists.

That's according to the University of California at Santa Cruz, which released the findings earlier today. In the Arctic, the gas is in the soil. In the Antarctic, it's also in the ice itself.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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A natural-gas pipeline grows in Brooklyn

This is a tricky one for environmentalists and urban advocates: Should New York City build a new gas pipeline?

The proposed location of the pipeline.

A proposal recently approved by the city would run a 30-inch pipeline along Flatbush Avenue in the southeastern part of Brooklyn -- an almost completely uninhabited part of the borough near Floyd Bennett Field, the first municipal airport in New York. Built by the Williams Companies, it would connect to an existing offshore pipeline -- meaning digging up the floor of the ocean for installation.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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GOP convention, day one: A platform built on oil, an argument based on inaccuracy

The Republican convention is underway. We've got robust coverage of their focus on climate change, but thought we'd look at what they're saying about energy as well. After all, who knows? Maybe Republicans are newly committed to building sustainable energy systems and Mitt Romney is just out of sync.

Photo by James Currie.

El oh el.

The current Administration has used taxpayer dollars to pick winners and losers in the energy sector while publicly threatening to bankrupt anyone who builds a new coal-fired plant and has stopped the Keystone XL Pipeline. The current President has done nothing to disavow the scare campaign against hydraulic fracturing. Furthermore, he has wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars by subsidizing favored companies like Solyndra, which generated bankruptcies rather than kilowatts.

To kick things off yesterday, the party released its platform [PDF], from which that nugget above is extracted. It's from a lengthy section on energy containing nothing new, nothing based on existing science or assessments of energy realities -- and of course no mention of climate change. (The platform does, however, include the party's opposition to abortion for any reason, sharia law, and flag-burning.)

The New York Times compared this year's Republican platform to 1980's, finding that the party had moved forcefully to the right -- and not only on energy. There is also a lot of misinformation, any number of inaccuracies, and healthy doses of spin in the platform, as the party struggles to make the case for policies that are well past their prime. Fittingly, there was plenty of the same at the podium last night.

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Frackers’ faulty concrete leads to methane in Pennsylvania wells

The famous (almost obligatory) still from the film Gasland.

Mike Leighton watched as his well overflowed, filled with methane. His neighbors, the Franklins, watched their well go dry, then turn black. Both families live in Leroy Township, Penn. -- over the Marcellus Shale, near where energy companies are fracking for natural gas. NPR has the story.

Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection blames a nearby hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operation. It says methane gas has leaked out of the well, which is operated by Chesapeake Energy, and into the Leightons' and Franklins' water supplies.

The danger goes beyond contaminated water. In a letter to both families detailing test results and preliminary findings, state regulators wrote that "there is a physical danger of fire or explosion due to the migration of natural gas water wells." Chesapeake has installed ventilation systems at the two water wells, but the letter warns, "it is not possible to completely eliminate the hazards of having natural gas in your water supply by simply venting your well."

NPR suggests that part of the problem is the concrete surrounding the pipe that extracts the natural gas.

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Hurricane Isaac makes landfall on the Gulf Coast


Isaac from the ISS.

Hurricane Isaac has made landfall in southern Louisiana, seven years to the day from the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Click to embiggen.

Technically, Isaac arrived last night, prompting Ann Romney to open her Republican convention speech by saying that attendees should "hope and pray that all remain safe and no life is lost and no property is lost." But the real impact will be felt today, as the storm moves slowly in from the Gulf over New Orleans and surrounding parishes.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Mice are killing people in California, scaring away subway riders in Britain

Deer mice will also steal your chocolate. (Photo by C G-K.)

Yosemite National Park is warning recent visitors about an outbreak of hantavirus that has already killed two people.

Federal epidemiologists learned over the weekend of the fatality. That case and another brings to four the number of people who have contracted Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, which can be carried by dust particles that come into contact with the urine, saliva or feces of an infected deer mouse. …

In each of the four cases, visitors stayed in the Curry Village "Signature Tent Cabins," canvas-sided lodging insulated against the elements. The four people known so far to have contracted the illness stayed around the same time in June.

Yosemite officials are warning those who stayed in the village's tent cabins from mid-June through the end of August to beware of any symptoms of hantavirus, which can include fever, aches, dizziness and chills. Park officials warn anyone with these flu-like symptoms to seek medical help immediately. There is no specific treatment for the respiratory illness.

A study released in 2011 suggested that a die-off of aspens in the Western U.S. following the 2002 drought was linked to hanta-carrying deer mice.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living