China watcher James West writes for The Atlantic on his latest train trip through China, and has a short accompanying video (above):

I have never before been as dumbfounded as during a train ride this week from Beijing through a swathe of China’s northeast coal belt...

...The scene could be a panel from a graphic novel. For hours, not a single bird stirred around the hundreds of empty skyscrapers that hang lifeless over farms; they will house the newly urbanized from China's rural areas. Every bit of the shadowy landscape in China's northeast has been pressed into the service of an all-pervasive industry: power generation. China continues to be the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the World Resources Institute. It's clear to me how: where one coal power plant stops, another begins. A thick brown air blows and for a moment the trees look like nature's very own protestors, shaking their fists at the sky (the human variety are strictly banned—though public outrage finally forced the government to publish air quality data in 2012).