Disaster: Coal fires
Going since: 1962
Damage done: China's recent industrial growth depends heavily on coal -- the source of 70 percent of the country's energy -- a major reason why it recently became the world's largest carbon emitter. The country's mining sector is also extremely dangerous, killing as many as 13 miners every day. But nowhere is the danger of China's out-of-control coal addiction more evident than in the 62 raging underground coal fires that have burned in Inner Mongolia since the early 1960s.
Covering an area more than 3,000 miles long, China's northern coal fires are estimated to destroy as many as 20 million tons of coal per year, more than the entire annual production of Germany. According to some estimates, these fires could be the cause of up to 2 to 3 percent of the world's carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. A new initiative by the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region aims to put half the fires out by 2012.
Inner Mongolia's coal fires may be the most severe, but they are hardly unique. An underground fire in Centralia, Pa., begun the same year as many of China's, is also still burning.