Editor's Note: We are posting this feature from our September 2006 issue in light of the Obama administration's renewed focus on how to use the most abundant--and dirtiest--fossil fuel, coal, without overloading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.
More than most people realize, dealing with climate change means addressing the problems posed by emissions from coal-fired power plants. Unless humanity takes prompt action to strictly limit the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere when consuming coal to make electricity, we have little chance of gaining control over global warming.
Coal—the fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution—is a particularly worrisome source of energy, in part because burning it produces considerably more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity generated than burning either oil or natural gas does. In addition, coal is cheap and will remain abundant long after oil and natural gas have become very scarce. With ...