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Anthropogenic Climate Change: A Reason for Concern Since the 18th Century and Earlier

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During the last 20 years the concept of anthropogenic climate change has left academic circles and become a major public concern. Some people consider ‘global warming’ as the major environmental threat to the planet. Even though mostly considered a novel threat, a look into history tells us that claims of humans deliberately or unintentionally changing climate is a frequent phenomenon in Western culture. Climate change, due to natural and anthropogenic causes, has often been discussed since classical times. Environmental change including climate change was seen by some as a biblical mandate, to ‘complete the Creation’. In line with this view, the prospect of climate change was considered as a promising challenge in more modern times. Only since the middle of the 20th century, has anthropogenic climate change become a menacing prospect. The concept of anthropogenic climate change seems to be deeply embedded in popular thinking, at least in Europe, which resurfaces every now and then after scientific discoveries. Also, extreme weather phenomena have in the past often been explained by adverse human interference.

A list of claims of anthropogenic climate modifications is presented; the remarkable similarity of the anthropogenic climate change debate in the second half of the 19th century is compared to the present situation. Of course, the present threat seems much more real than any of the historical predecessors, which turned out to be overestimated.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: H. von Storch, Institute for Coastal Research, GKSS Research Center Germany, Germany 2: Am Seemooser Horn 20, Friedrichshafen, Germany

Publication date: 01 June 2006

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