Forget about car emissions for a moment; coal fires, hundreds of which are raging out of control around the world, pump so much carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere that researchers at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science yesterday called them a “global catastrophe.” Coal fires burn both above and below ground, usually in abandoned mines or waste piles or in coal seams ignited by fires set to clear trees for farming. They are most severe in China, India, and Indonesia, but are also a problem in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere; some have been burning for more than two decades. Together, scientists estimate that coal fires could account for as much as 2 to 3 percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions.