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A big chill for global warming

A techno-fix to quickly cool the planet needs research in light of new data that climate change is coming fast.

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Al Gore warned this week that climate change is "imminent," an "emergency," and could soon cause a planetary hothouse, or "carbon summer." The new evidence? Sea levels and carbon gases are rising faster than expected. And Arctic summer ice may melt within a generation.

With recent, more dire trends on global warming, can the world really afford to wait for the post-Kyoto UN negotiations, which are finishing up in Bali this week, to reduce greenhouse gases fast enough?

Not really, say many experts on climate and oceans. Not even the parallel track of adapting to the effects of global warming may be feasible in time. These scientists are now asking for government-backed research into emergency ways to cool the Earth quickly in case global temperatures reach a tipping point.

Up to now, this notion of reversing atmosphere warming with a speedy techno-fix has been discussed only on the margins of climate-change forums. The range of methods, such as forcing giant plankton blooms in oceans to suck up carbon dioxide or reflecting sunlight with sulfate crystals, are uncertain, risky, and to many, "acting like God." And the mere talk of using them might deflect the world's focus away from the long-term need to reduce effluents of coal and petroleum.

But with the pace of climate change faster than estimated just a couple years ago – and with the slow pace to curb emissions under the Kyoto treaty and its possible successor – the world needs to start research on hip-pocket ways to "geoengineer" the Earth in a pinch.

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