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This article (published over 65 years ago) by UNESCO Courier writer Gerald Wendt, illuminates growing scientific and institutional awareness of, and concern about, global warming... Back in the early 1950s!

Records such as this are frequently blocked out from contemporary treatments or accounts of knowledge on human-induced climate change, which tend to depict this as a more recent “realisation.”

In this piece, Wendt explores the multiple possible causes for the increase of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere contributing to the warming of the earth’s atmosphere, concluding that through the burning of fossil fuels, “man himself may be responsible for the changing climate.” 

SIDE NOTE: You’ll see Wendt attributes the discovery that carbon dioxide contributed to the warming of the atmosphere to the 19th century British scientist, John Tyndall. However, more recent historical scholarship has corrected the record: the first scientist to publish this discovery was none other than Eunice Foote - a scientist and women’s rights advocate based in the USA. Foote published her findings in 1856, several years before Tyndall.  

Gerald Wendt, “It Was Colder When We Were Younger”, The UNESCO Courier, VII(2), 26-27, Available through the open access, UNESCO Digital Archive:

 artists involved with

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Representatives of Iran and the United States yesterday signed a proposed agreement for cooperation in research in the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

 From a press release issued by the United States Department of State and the United States Atomic Energy Commission, March 6 1957.

1957 Iran


While looking through hefty dossiers held by the National Archives of Australia, we found a fascinating joint press release issued by the US Department of State & the United States Atomic Energy Commission. This media release from 1957, provides a window into the Atoms for Peace campaign, waged in the early decades of the Cold War.

Over this time, and under this moniker, the USA invited select nation-states to share its knowledge, (and sometimes, its stocks of uranium), to explore possible pacific uses of  the “atom.”  Nuclear technology was successively framed as a clean energy panacea as well as a remedial tool to be harnessed in medicine, agriculture and industry. 

This campaign, also served to deflect attention away from the lethal use of nuclear technology in war – something that the USA was very keen to shake. After all, it was (and remains) the only nation to have deployed nuclear weapons against civilian populations in war. And while the US was busy reframing research into nuclear energy as "peaceful" in order to build a nuclear energy market domestically and internationally, alongside it was exponentially investing in nuclear weapons research...

Several multilateral Atoms for Peace collaborations were signed, including this one between Iran and the USA... ultimately establishing Iran’s nuclear research program.

The press statement attached here announces the USA’s intention to lease Iran up to 6kgs of U-235 uranium. Oh yeah, and it also expresses “hope and expectation" for future US-Iran nuclear collaboration...


Click, "read me" to take a look. It really is the stuff of other worlds.

Joint Press Release by the United States Department of State and the United States Atomic Energy Commission, “‘Atoms for Peace’ Agreement Signed by Iran and United States, March 6, 1957 in Department of External Affairs, A1838, Correspondence Files, 1914-1993; A1838, 851/18/15/1 PART 1, Atomic Energy-General, 1954-1956, Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia (Canberra).

1969 Nixon

Goodbye New York. Goodbye Washington, for that matter. We have no data on Seattle.

White House correspondence from 1969 between 2 of Nixon's Counsellors about the likely impact of global warming on US cities.


Take a look at this White House Memorandum from one Daniel Patrick Moynihan to a fellow called John Ehrlichman (both employed at the time as Counsellors to President Nixon), dated September 17, 1969.

It was released to the public nearly a decade ago but we’re sharing it again because it indicates that by this time (that is, before the 70s) knowledge of the greenhouse effect – its potential devastating consequences and the likely role of the fossil fuel industry in contributing to it – was circulating amongst the administrations of the international superpowers, in this case, the US.

Daniel P. Moynihan to John Ehrlichman, September 17, 1969, folder E [03/13/1969 - 11/12/1969]; Box 2; Correspondence; WHCF: SMOF in the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. Accessible at:

While Moynihan begins his brief to Ehrlichman by noting “we really don’t have very satisfactory measurements of the carbon dioxide problem,” he nonetheless asserts –without citation – “it is pretty clearly agreed that the Co2 content will rise by 25% by 2000.”


Moynihan proceeds to list a few “apocalyptic” climate change scenarios that were presumably being contemplated by some of his (unnamed) contemporaries... One projection, perhaps included to bring the impending climate crisis “home”, was that global warming would lead to a massive rise in sea levels, devastating major US cities: “Goodbye New York. Goodbye Washington, for that matter. We have no data on Seattle.”

Dear Bob, as you may know we have initiated, in cooperation with some of the world's leading scientists, an enquiry into the "outer limits" within which human activities may have to be constrained to assure our collective survival.


 From a confidential letter to Robert McNamara, President of the World Bank 17 May 1974


When you read through or listen to environmental histories, narrators will often bookend the 1980s as the decade which saw the beginning of international action against climate change.

The problem is that such histories occlude the successive calls that were made by individuals and collectives for multilateral, multi-institutional and multidisciplinary actions over the preceding decades.


Several of these silenced voices and ideas are nonetheless preserved in draft conventions, memorandums, letters, and  reports – most of which are now digitised and freely accessible across (albeit disparate) archives.

This document chronicles one in the form of a letter and draft proposal by Maurice F Strong, former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program addressed to President of the World Bank, Robert McNamara.

Writing in May 1974, Strong made the case for a “World Commission on Imperatives for International Co-Operation to Assure Human Survival”. According to Strong, the risks to "the collective survival of all have become so real and significant that they compel a fundamental change in the priorities of the world community.”

Confidential Letter and Attached Proposal re Project Survival from Maurice Strong to Robert McNamara, 17 May 1974 in Records of the President Robert S McNamara, General Correspondence, Chronological Files, Folder ID 177151, ISAD (G) Reference Code Reference Code: WB IBRD/IDA 03 EXC-10-4542S, World Bank Archives, Washington, DC, United States,



Did you know that in the 1970s Australia's CSIRO – in particular its Division of Mechanical Engineering – was recognised internationally as a world pioneer in the solar energy field? 


The CSIRO was on the forefront of advancing knowledge of (direct) solar applications for domestic, commercial and industrial heating, electric power generation and fuel production. It also housed the World Headquarters of the International Solar Energy Society within one of its facilities.


At the same time, Australia and much of the world were in the throes of an international energy (cum) economic crisis. This had been driven by price hikes and reductions in supply of oil in the international oil market – a market upon which Australia and so many other nation-states depended (and continue to depend) to fuel their energy needs.


This newspaper article documents calls made by Roger Morse, the then director of solar research at the CSIRO, for greater Australian government investment in solar energy technology as a forward thinking response to this crisis.


Morse argued that national investment in this cost effective, clean and renewable energy would secure the Australian economy, its grid and its population from global energy crises of the future. According to Morse and his colleagues, if the public investment had been made, Australia might have moved beyond its dependence on imported oil and fossil fuel use by the year 2000.

“Solar-Energy Talks: Call for Support Now” The Canberra Times, 12 November 1975, 8. Accessible through Trove: 

In the 1970s, Australia's CSIRO was a world pioneer in the solar energy field.


Our approach quite deliberately shuns customary procedures. We feel that only a very energetic and determined course of action can lead to solutions developing faster than problems and can entail remedies quicker than the dangers they mean to avert.


From a confidential letter by the Prime Ministers of France (Michel Rocard), Norway (Ruud Lubbers) and the Netherlands (Gro Harlem Brundtland) about establishing a new supranational authority called GLOBE to act against climate change. March, 1989


In January 1989 the Prime Ministers of France (Michel Rocard), Norway (Ruud Lubbers) and the Netherlands (Gro Harlem Brundtland) penned a letter to select international Heads of State from the Global North and South inviting them to a “secret” meeting in the Hague.


The convenors sought consensus on establishing a new supranational authority called GLOBE and a new international legal infrastructure.

It was hoped the proposed interventions would curtail long established principles of state sovereignty, so as to build momentum, augmented by legal force, for governments to act against climate change.


The triplet canvassed endowing the International Court of Justice with jurisdiction to impose economic sanctions on States that continued to produce and/or trade in “goods” that contributed to the greenhouse effect. They also mooted an international scheme, based on the principle of fair compensation, in which the wealthier and greatest fossil fuel emitting nations (largely colonial powers of the Global North) would financially support “developing” nations in the South as the world transitioned towards a sustainable future.  

This largely forgotten proposal - hatched within months of, and despite, the inauguration of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - championed a fundamentally different approach to the norms of climate change governance and international law (then and today).


It reveals an early call to action, which attempted to account for the intersections between economic and climate security, colonialism (old and new), trade, inequitable international governance structures, sovereignty, and human rights.


So what happened? Well, a meeting in the Hague did take place in March 1989, and a call to action was indeed issued (what is now known as the Hague Declaration on the Environment, 11 March 1989). However, by this point many of the core ideas scaffolded in the original proposal were redacted. GLOBE and its associated, “revolutionary” reforms were effectively vetoed by the international status quo, particularly the US and UK who furiously lobbied against them behind the scenes...


You can read an English translation of the text of the original invitation and proposal here. This particular document was sent to Margaret Thatcher herself. You'll see that she has rigorously highlighted and annotated the proposal with a yellow marker and her trade mark blue pen...providing some insight into the degree of animosity and disdain she in particular had for the initiative.

Annotated letter and draft declaration [english translations] by Michel Rocard, Ruud Lubbers and Gro Harlem Brundtland on the GLOBE initiative, sent from Rocard to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office via the UK ambassador in Paris, Ewan Fergusson. Located in the Prime Ministerial Private Office Files: Environmental Affairs ((Environmental policy: environmental pollution: climate change; London Conference on Saving the Ozone Layer, March 1989) (Part 6), PREM 19/2652. Originally Sourced from the National Archives (UK), republished and accessible on the Margaret Thatcher Foundation Large Scale Document Archive, here: 

...the place is the United Nations and we don’t need an opportunistic body. We are doing things now. They aren’t - the declaration is pathetic!”

Leaves 3

 -Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to her senior advisor, Charles Powell about the proposal to establish the supranational authority - GLOBE. 26 January, 1989

We also encourage you to read this confidential memo between then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and one of her senior advisors, Charles Powell. In her customary thick blue scrawl, Thatcher describes the proposal as "Pathetic. If you don’t know what to do - make a Declaration!”

Annotated Memorandum “French Prime Minister’s Call for an Environmental Conference from Charles Powell to Margaret Thatcher, 26 January 1989. Located in the Prime Ministerial Private Office Files: Environmental Affairs ((Environmental policy: environmental pollution: climate change; London Conference on Saving the Ozone Layer, March 1989) (Part 6), PREM 19/2652. Originally Sourced from the National Archives (UK), republished and accessible on the Margaret Thatcher Foundation Large Scale Document Archive, here:


what I found striking…is that the President could easily have given this speech & taken credit for an aggressive posture, with very little change in current policy required

-Robert Grady (Associate Director, of the US State Natural Resources, Energy and Science Portfolio) chronicling the Bush Administration's response to Margaret Thatcher's speech to the United Nations General Assembly, November 1989.


Margaret Thatcher’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on November 8, 1989 is sometimes remembered as a watershed moment in international climate change politics and action.


Indeed responding to news of Thatcher’s passing in 2013, then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon singled out Thatcher’s speech as one of the first times a world leader had issued a call for action against climate change within the UN General Assembly.


While much could be said of Ban’s blush of historical revisionism, we instead invite you to read this handwritten memo by Robert Grady (then Associate Director, of the US State Natural Resources, Energy and Science Portfolio) which chronicles the Bush Administration’s response to Thatcher’s speech at the time.

White House comment on MT's UN speech, November 19, 1989. Originally Sourced from the Presidential Library of George Bush Senior. Republished by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation Large Scale Document Archive. Accessible at:


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