While driving along Hwy. 10 toward St. Cloud, I observed an eastbound train moving parallel to the highway. Every car was piled high with coal.

I felt a wrenching in my gut, realizing that all of this coal was destined to be converted to carbon dioxide and discharged to the atmosphere. I got to wondering just how much coal moves from the coal fields annually to feed the insatiable appetites of the nation's power plants.

A little research yielded the following information: A typical coal train is 120 cars in length. An average train car carries approximately 120 tons of coal. Our nation burns approximately 965 million tons of coal per year.

An average ton of coal, if completely combusted, produces approximately 2.86 tons of carbon dioxide. (It weighs more than the coal because the oxygen for combustion comes from the atmosphere.)

That amounts to approximately 2.76 billion tons of carbon dioxide discharged annually. That is, admittedly, a small number compared with the total weight of our atmosphere.

But can there be any doubt that the accumulation of this heat-trapping gas is causing a rise in the atmospheric temperature? And we must remember that every other nation burns fossil fuels to produce electrical power.

Of course, coal is not the only fossil fuel we use. Gasoline powers most of our cars. Methane and oil heat most of our homes.

If it isn't already too late, we must find ways to reduce or eliminate emissions from fossil fuels.