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Geo-Engineering and reliance on science

Sunshades in space, painting roads and rooftops white, sowing the sky with reflective particles, dumping iron in the ocean to spur the growth of carbon-gobbling plankton... some scientists are testing the limits of imagination in schemes to thwart climate change.

These projects are part of an emerging -- and furiously contested -- branch called geo-engineering.Envisioned on a massive scale, the futuristic schemes aim at cooling the planet or slowing its warming, buying enough time for humanity to wean itself off the dangerous fossil fuels that are damaging the climate system.

Just a few years ago, the geo-engineers were viewed scathingly or patronisingly by most climatologists -- rather as if they were over-excited teenagers who pleaded that they could save the world if only people would listen to them.

At best, geo-engineering was dismissed as ludicrous or sci-fi. At worst, it was scoffed as potentially catastrophic for the environment, likely to cause more problems than it resolved, and carrying an unknown but potentially astronomical cost.Now, though, geo-engineering thinking is gaining credibility as political efforts to resolve global warming are advancing slower than a sloth with narcolepsy.

As more and more gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) are spewing into the air, horribly worsening the problem, prompting mainstream science to look more closely at the geo-engineers' claims.Some big names have thrown their hats into the ring, calling for small-scale experiments to see whether some of these ideas are feasible, or even tossing in schemes of their own.A first big review by a scientific team was published last month. It found that geo-engineering could be "useful" but only in conjunction with cuts in carbon emissions.

The following day, a study published in the prestigious British science journal Nature said ocean fertilisation worked -- but far less effectively than many of its supporters claimed.Britain's Royal Society is due to issue an eagerly-awaited report in the spring.

Meanwhile, German and Indian scientists in the Southern Ocean have pressed ahead with a fertilisation experiment, unleashing a fierce political row at home.With the exception of Canada's ETC Group, which has launched a "Pie-in-the-Sky" protest campaign, green groups appear to have been asleep on this issue.

They hardly seem to be aware of how geo-engineering -- like carbon capture and sequestration -- has moved out of the wings and is now onstage, although still in a very minor and overlooked role.But unless greenhouse-gas emissions plunge as a result of the economic crisis, thus reducing global warming to a manageable scare, we are bound to hear a lot more about the geo-engineers as the juggernaut of climate change rolls on. 

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