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Coal train derails in Maryland, killing two

A coal train operated by freight giant CSX derailed in Ellicott City, Md., this morning. From the Baltimore Sun:

Two people have died following the partial derailment of a CSX train carrying coal and traveling through Ellicott City around midnight Tuesday — the second partial derailment this month in Howard County on the railway's Old Main Line. ...

Emergency workers found that 21 cars of an 80-car train had derailed or overturned. According to the police, the train cars were carrying coal and contained no hazardous materials.

According to police and other county officials, rescue workers found two people dead in the wreckage at the scene, and some of the derailed train cars crushed vehicles parked nearby. ...

According to an Associated Press report, the people who were killed were on the tracks at the time of the accident and were not railroad employees.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Bill Koch is building a cool Wild West town and you can’t come

It'll probably look like this, but the donkeys will run on crude oil. (Photo by Caveman Chuck Coker.)

Bill Koch, of the let's-destroy-the-world-for-profit-and-whatthehell-let's-take-out-democracy-while-we're-at-it-lol Kochs, is building a town in Colorado.

It has about 50 buildings, including a saloon, a church, a jail, a firehouse, a livery and a train station. Soon, it will have a mansion on a hill so the town's founder can look down on his creation. ...

This town is billionaire Bill Koch's fascination with the Old West rendered in bricks and mortar. It sits on a 420-acre meadow on his Bear Ranch below the Raggeds Wilderness Area in Gunnison County. It's an unpopulated, faux Western town that might boggle the mind of anyone who ever had a playhouse.

Don't get too excited, loser! You're not invited.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Yet another ship makes it through the ice-light Northwest Passage

Congratulations to the icebreaker Snow Dragon (Xuelong), China's first vessel to traverse the Northwest Passage. (Please note: Snow Dragon is an awesome name.)

"This is the first Chinese ship to sail this route and of course it is important because it's a more than 40 percent shorter route to Europe," [Icelandic scientist Egill Thor Nielsson] said.

The Chinese are even more interested in this route after having found the passage relatively easy.

"It took almost ten days to sail from the East Siberian Sea and through the Barents Sea, and during that time there was real pack ice for only seven days," he said.

Climate change is opening the prospect of commercial shipping via the Northern Sea Route or the Northwest Passage north of Canada.

Ice breaking in front of the Xue Long. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

A route running across the north of Canada was long-sought by European explorers as a faster route to Asia. Unfortunately for people 500 years ago, their societies hadn't yet mastered the industrialization that would generate the carbon dioxide necessary to warm the atmosphere and rapidly melt the ice blocking their path. But they did eventually, making everyone very happy.

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2012 may not end up being the hottest year ever — just close

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its assessment of the state of the global climate. While July was the hottest month ever in the U.S., it was only the fourth-warmest July globally. Sen. James Inhofe is probably heading to the reflecting pool on the Mall for a little victory lap.

Climate change deniers should, however, be hesitant to celebrate. The most obvious reason is that "fourth-warmest" puts this July ahead of 128 other years since records started being kept in 1880. Additionally, the on-land temperature in North America was the hottest it has ever been (even while the United Kingdom saw its coolest July since 2000).

Click to embiggen.

The trend, year-over-year, is clear. Using data from NASA, we looked at "mean temperature anomalies" by year, since 1880. Mean temperature anomalies are a measure of the midpoint of the global temperature's deviation from a standard -- in this case, the temperature baseline set from 1901-2000. (Read more about this measurement.) Here's what each year's mean anomaly looks like, with an orange line depicting the trend.

Click to embiggen.
Read more: Uncategorized

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Miners bussed to Romney rally obviously hate Obama, Fox points out

Cranky ol' Robert Murray, head of Murray Energy and enthusiastic Obama basher ("Barack Obama and his Democrat followers are destroying entire segments of America"), had a party for Mitt Romney last week. At a rally in Beallsville, Ohio, the candidate appeared in front of a phalanx of coal miners.

The mine workers didn't show up entirely out of enthusiasm for Romney. WTRF explained some of the rally preparations, including this detail:

Murray will be bussing in employees and their families for the rally in support of Romney.

Here's how Fox Nation -- the unabashedly biased "community" arm of Fox News -- described the scene.

"Ohio Miners Turn on Obama." Fox Nation labels the post "inspiring."

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The Midwest gets some rain, as the Mississippi keeps emptying

At long last, a bit of good news about the drought: It rained.

National precipitation between Aug. 13 and 20. Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of Intellicast.)

Between 1.0 and 1.5 inches of rain fell across ... the upper Midwest [on Thursday], stretching from Iowa through Ohio. Cooler temperatures between 70- to 80-degrees Fahrenheit followed and are forecast to continue through the Labor Day weekend.

The rainfall meant a reduction of land scorched by drought -- 61.8 percent of the Midwest this week, down from 62.5 percent last week, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

If the drought continues to recede at that rate, the United States will be drought-free in only 88 weeks.

Even a massive, ongoing deluge couldn't save this year's crop yield. There's not enough time to replant corn and soybeans before autumn, so it's not expected that total output -- or futures prices -- will get much better.

Nor will this brief rain greatly help the parched Mississippi River. A number of vessels are working to keep the river's shallower sections passable.

Read more: Uncategorized

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Why are you running away, offshore drilling? All Obama wants is a hug

A model offshore rig. (Photo by eschipul.)

The best recent summary of the state of the oil and natural gas industry comes a few paragraphs into this Wall Street Journal article about Shell's halting, nearly inept attempts to drill in the Arctic before winter.

The project is just one of many multibillion-dollar efforts Shell has under way, so setbacks don't threaten its overall health. But the problems highlight how oil and gas fields are becoming more difficult to reach.

The Obama administration, the Journal suggests, wanted its approval of Shell's Arctic drilling permits to demonstrate the president's commitment to his "all of the above" approach to energy development. Despite oil production hitting a 14-year high during Obama's tenure, the president is still repeatedly attacked for insufficient commitment to oil exploration. Shell was meant to be a boutonniere the president could wear on the campaign trail to demonstrate his offshore bona fides. If the company fails to drill before the Arctic refreezes for the winter, it's safe to assume that Obama, not Shell, will bear the blame -- though he's not to blame for the company's many errors.

The Obama presidency is coinciding with an awkward time of transition for oil and gas (just as with coal). The oil industry is horribly (and appropriately) unpopular while, as the Journal notes, exploration is becoming more risky and difficult.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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An idea for something to do this weekend

Take a frickin' walk.

The percentage of people who report walking at least once for 10 minutes or more in the previous week rose from 56% (2005) to 62% (2010).

That's from the CDC. America! Seriously? Thirty-eight percent of us don't walk for 10 minutes or more in a given week? Are you serious? A 10-minute walk is like a trip around a regular-sized block. Hey, also? It's summer. Pretty decent walk-taking weather! Too hot in the afternoon? Take a walk in the morning! Too cold in the morning? Too rainy? Too tiring? I do not care. Take a walk.

Don't know what this symbol represents? This article is for you! (Photo by Marijus Auruskevicius / Shutterstock.)

Also: if you're sitting there right now, laughing at the schlubs who don't take walks: How many do you take, tough guy? One? Two? Take more. You should be walking right now, in fact. If you're not rocking one of these treadmill desks, you're being lazy.

Read more: Uncategorized

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The backwards, inside-out politics of Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and coal

This is the strongest statement either presidential candidate has made on coal.

"That plant kills people," Mitt Romney said in 2003, pointing at the Salem Harbor power plant. He was right -- one estimate suggests that 20 people die each year due to pollution from the plant, now managed by Dominion Energy. "They have thumbed their nose at the people of Massachusetts and Salem Harbor by not cleaning it up on time. So we’re saying, clean it up on time, do the job in the community, invest in cleaning technology."

Romney's language is far stronger than any President Obama has ever used on coal. In fact, the president's campaign is using that line to attack Romney in radio ads in coal-producing states.

How the hell did this happen? How is it that the Democratic presidential candidate is embracing the most noxious form of energy production in America, while his opponent is on record saying that it should be cleaned up?

In 2003, Romney was governor of Massachusetts, a state that demands moderation from its Republicans. It's a flashing glimpse of the Romney that could have been -- a rich moderate of the noblesse oblige tradition, fighting for those needing a defender within view of those most likely to cast votes. And then 2008 happened and 2012 happened and the Romney that presented himself to the GOP electorate morphed. During the heat of last fall's GOP primary, Romney changed his position on climate change. There is no way today's Romney would even consider making a speech similar to that exhortation of 2003.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Deadly Salmonella outbreak in Kentucky linked to cantaloupe

A specimen from the melon at issue. (Photo by Richard North.)

An outbreak of food poisoning across the state of Kentucky has been linked to cantaloupes from a farm in Indiana.

The salmonellosis outbreak, which has sickened at least 50 Kentuckians and been associated with two deaths, began in early July. Through an epidemiological investigation and confirmatory lab testing, Kentucky public health officials determined that cantaloupes, which evidence indicates were grown in southwestern Indiana but purchased in Kentucky, carried the same strain of Salmonella determined to be the cause of an ongoing outbreak of infection. Salmonellosis cases caused by the outbreak strain have also been reported in other states. In addition, investigation is also continuing into other clusters of salmonella cases in Kentucky, which may be linked to cantaloupe or watermelon consumption.

Kentucky saw 137 reports of Salmonella in July -- twice the norm for the state.

Read more: Food