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“Changes in the earth’s atmosphere, the additional greenhouse effect and the resultant changes in the climate .  .  . represent a global danger for humanity and the entire biosphere of the earth. If no effective counteracting measures are taken, dramatic consequences are to be expected for all of the earth’s regions.”

This warning will undoubtedly seem familiar, perhaps even mind-numbingly so. But if the substance sounds like the same-old same-old, the date on which it was issued might seem surprising. It was not in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit or indeed anytime in the last decade. The above passage is nearly two decades old. It comes from a resolution adopted by the German Bundestag in September 1991.

The resolution in question summarizes and endorses the recommendations of a parliamentary commission of inquiry on “Taking Precautionary Action to Protect the Earth’s Atmosphere.” The commission had been set up in October 1987. Appearing before the Bundestag some seven months earlier, Chancellor Helmut Kohl had warned that the “greenhouse effect” threatened to bring about “a grave pattern of climate change” and had called for the burning of fossil fuels to be limited, not just in Germany but “worldwide.” 

The June 1987 motion to form the commission envisioned “greenhouse gas” emissions producing “a global warming of from three to seven degrees Celsius” and called for counteracting measures to be taken even in the absence of scientific corroboration of the supposed threat—since otherwise, the document concludes darkly, “in a few decades .  .  . it could be too late.”

The original impulse to take action had come from the German Physics Society, which in January 1986 published a “Warning of an Impending Climate Catastrophe.” Just over six months later, in August, the newsweekly Der Spiegel popularized the German physicists’ “warning” in a spectacular cover story headlined “The Climate Catastrophe.” The image on the cover of the magazine depicted Cologne’s historic cathedral surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean: a consequence of the melting of the polar ice caps, as was explained on the inside of the issue. Thus was the “global warming” scare born. In Germany, in 1986. 

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