Coal: The View from 2,000 Feet

James Fallows flies his plane over the mines of West Virginia and discusses the future of energy.

Also see:

Dirty Coal, Clean Future by James Fallows

The Atlantic, December 2010

When I have traveled at low altitude in small airplanes above America's active coal-mining regions--West Virginia and Kentucky in the East, Wyoming and its neighbors in the Great Basin region of the West--I've seen the huge scars left by "mountain-top removal" and open-pit mining for coal, which are usually invisible from the road and harder to identify from six miles up in an airliner. Compared with most other fossil-fuel sources of energy, coal is inherently worse from a carbon-footprint perspective, since its hydrogen atoms come bound with more carbon atoms, meaning that coal starts with a higher carbon-to-hydrogen ratio than oil, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons.

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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