Timeline of the environmentalist movement

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This is a timeline of the environmentalist movement, focusing on its modern aspect after the industrial revolution. Previous environmental related events are recorded since ancient times.

Big picture

Year/period Key developments
19th century The environmentalist movement begins in Europe very early in the century, coming into existence through the Romantic movement.[1] The late 19th century would see the formation of the first wildlife conservation societies.[2]
1950s–1960s The environmental movement continues to grow with many influential books being published. Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, would become especially influential as it exposes the harmful effects of the pesticide DDT.[1]
1970s–1980s Very important period for the green movement with many groups, like Greenpeace, being founded. The first Earth Day and the United Nations first environmental conference also happen in the 70s.[1] By the 1980s, a growing awareness on global warming increases the prominence of the environmental movement.[1]
2000s–present The Great Recession provokes a weakening of the environmental movement’s strength to some degree.[1] However, climate change has become a top priority issue in international affairs.


Year/period Type of event Event Focused area Location
1662 Publication The conservation movement can be traced back to John Evelyn's work Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber, presented as a paper to the Royal Society. Published as a book two years later, it still remains one of the most influential texts on forestry.[3] Flora conservation United Kingdom
1842 Policy The Madras Board of Revenue starts local conservation efforts, headed by Alexander Gibson, a botanist who systematically adopts a forest conservation program based on scientific principles. This would be the first case of state management of forests in the world.[4] Flora conservation India
1854 Publication American philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau writes Walden, which explores living surrounded by nature. The book would come to inspire the environmentalist movement.[5] Wildlife conservation United States
1855 Program launch British rule introduces the first permanent and large-scale forest conservation program in the world in India. This model soon would spread to other colonies, as well the United States.[6] Flora conservation India
1860 Policy British India bans the use of shifting cultivation.[7] Land use India
1863 Policy The Britain's Alkali Acts are passed to regulate the deleterious air pollution (gaseous hydrochloric acid) given off by the Leblanc process, used to produce soda ash.[8] Air pollution United Kingdom
1865 Organization The British Commons Preservation Society is formed as a movement with the purpose of protecting rural preservation against the encroachments of industrialization.[9] Flora conservation, fauna conservation United Kingdom
1869 Policy The Sea Birds Preservation Act is passed by the British parliament. The passage is considered one of the first pieces of parliamentary legislation anywhere in the world to protect wildlife, and the first to offer birds protection on the United Kingdom.[10] Fauna conservation United Kingdom
1875 Policy The United Kingdom Public Health Act 1875 requires all furnaces and fireplaces to consume their own smoke.[11] Air pollution United Kingdom
1889 Organization The Plumage League (later the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) is founded.[12] Fauna conservation United Kingdom
1892 Organization Sierra Club is founded. It would become one of the first large-scale environmental preservation organizations in the world.[13] General environmental conservation United States (San Francisco)
1895 Publication Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius publishes paper On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground, the first scientific work concerning the influence of a rise in carbon dioxide on the atmospheric warming.[14] Air pollution Sweden (Stockholm)
1895 Organization The Wildlife Conservation Society is founded with "the clear mission to save wildlife and wild places across the globe."[15] United States (New York City)
1895 Organization Naturfreunde International (Friends of Nature) starts in Vienna as a movement with the purpose of making nature accessible to the wider community by providing appropriate recreational and travel facilities. Currently it has more than 500,000 members spread all over the world.[16] Nature, wildlife Austria (Vienna)
1898 Organization The Coal Smoke Abatement Society is founded by Sir William Blake Richmond. It is one of the oldest environmental NGOs.[17] Air pollution United Kingdom
1922 Organization The Izaak Walton League is founded as an environmental organization that promotes natural resource protection and outdoor recreation.[18] General environmental conservation United States (Chicago)
1933 Policy Nazi Germany adopts highly protective legislation on animal rights. This series of laws are considered to have given non–human animals more protection than any other country in the world. The nazi laws would ban all field sports that involve training and using animals to kill game and vermin, under the belief that putting an animal through unnecessary torture would injure the feelings of the German nation.[19] Fauna conservation, animal rights Germany
1935 Organization The Wilderness Society is founded as a non-profit land conservation organization, dedicated to protecting natural areas and federal public lands in the United States.[20] Land conservation United States
1936 Organization The United States National Wildlife Federation is founded the purpose of protecting wildlife and habitat and promoting conservationism.[21] Land conservation United States
1947 Organization Defenders of Wildlife is founded as a non-profit conservation organization with aims at protecting animals and plants native to North America in their natural communities.[22] Flora conservation, fauna conservation United States (Chicago)
1948 (October) Organization The International Union for Conservation of Nature is founded as an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.[23] Nature conservation, natural resources France (Fontainebleau)
1949 Publication American environmentalist Aldo Leopold publishes A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There, a collection of essays advocating ideas such as responsible relationship between people and the land they inhabit. The book would be later considered a landmark in the American conservation movement.[24] United States
1951 Organization The Nature Conservancy is founded. A charitable environmental organization, its claimed mission is to "conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends."[25] United States
1961 (April) Organization The World Wildlife Foundation (now called World Wide Fund for Nature) is founded. It works in the field of the wilderness preservation, and the reduction of humanity's footprint on the environment.[26] Wildlife conservation Switzerland (Morges)
1962 (September) Publication American marine biologist Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring, calling attention to the threat of toxic chemicals to people and the environment. The book would prove to be a huge influence on environmental policies across the world, and Carson would be regarded as one of the greatest influences in the history of the environmental movement.[27] Land pollution Unites States
1967 Organization The Environmental Defense Fund is founded. It is a nonprofit environmental advocacy group it is implicated in global warming, ecosystem restoration, oceans and human health.[28] United States
1968 Publication Stanford University Professor Paul R. Ehrlich publishes The Population Bomb, which describes the ecological threats of a rapidly growing human population.[29] Overpopulation Unites States
1968 (15 September) Conference UNESCO organizes the first Biosphere Conference. Experts from around the world gather to discuss global environmental problems, including pollution, resource loss, and wetlands destruction.[30] General environmental issues France
1969 Organization Friends of the Earth is founded in San Francisco as an anti-nuclear group. Today it is an international network of environmental organizations with presence in 74 countries.[31][32] Environmentalism, Human rights United States
1970 (April 22) The first Earth Day is celebrated, today a worldwide event. In the United States, 20 million citizens would take to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment.[33] General environmental issues Worldwide
1970 (December 2) Organization The United States Environmental Protection Agency is formed, with the purpose of consolidating in one agency a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection in the United States.[34] General environmental issues United States
1971 Organization A group of 12 activists sets out on a fishing trawler from Vancouver, to protest the United States nuclear testing in Alaska. This date is considered the beginning of the international movement called Greenpeace.[35] General environmental issues Canada, United States (Alaska)
1971 Conference Menton Conference. 2,200 scientists, gathered and sign the “Menton Message” to the United Nations, stressing the need for collective international action in finding solutions to the "problems of pollution, hunger, overpopulation, and war."[36] General environmental issues France (Menton)
1972 Publication An association of scientists and political leaders known as the Club of Rome publishes The Limits to Growth, a book which predicts civilisation would probably collapse some time the twenieth century at current rates of population growth, resource depletion, and pollution generation.[37] Overpopulation, General environmental issues
1972 (June 5) Organization The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is established with aims at guiding and coordinating environmental activities within the United Nations (UN) system.[38] General environmental issues
1972 Publication British economist Barbara Ward and microbiologist Rene Dubos publish Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet, written for the forthcoming United Nations Stockholm conference on the Human Environment. The book warns that human actions are undermining the Earth's ability to support us.[39] General environmental issues
1972 Conference The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment is held. It would be the UN's first major conference on international environmental issues, marking a turning point in the development of international environmental politics.[40][41] General environmental issues Sweden (Stockholm)
1972 Publication Professor Christopher D. Stone, from the University of Southern California publishes article Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects addressing the question of whether natural objects themselves should have legal rights. In the essay, Stone suggests that his argument is valid because many current rightsholders (women, children) were once seen as objects.[42] Animal rights, nature rights United States
1972 Program launch United Nations System-wide Earthwatch is established by the United Nations as an initiative to monitor major global disturbance in the environment and to give early warning of problems requiring international action.[43] General environmental issues
1973 (April) Organization The Chipko movement launches as a forest conservation movement, with the purpose of protecting trees from commercial logging, which began to cause severe deforestation, soil erosion, and flooding in the region. This movement would become a rallying point for many future environmental movements all over the world.[44] Flora conservation India
1974 Publication Mexican chemist Mario Molina and American chemist Frank Sherwood Rowland publish the first warnings of damage to stratospheric ozone.[45] Air pollution
1979 Crisis The Three Mile Island accident occurs. In the aftermath, many mass anti-nuclear protests would take place, the largest one being in New York City in September 1979 and involving 200,000 people.[46] Nuclear energy United States
1979 Publication British scientist James Lovelock publishes Gaia: A new look at life on Earth, putting forth the Gaia hypothesis, which proposes that life on earth can be understood as a single organism. This hypothesis would become an important part of the Deep Green ideology.[47] United Kingdom
1980 (April) Organization Earth First! is founded as a radical environmental advocacy group.[48] General environmental issues United States
1982 Organization Nevada Desert Experience starts as an anti-nuclear movement, with the purpose of stopping modern weapons development, including the end of automated warfare and nuclear weaponeering in Southern Nevada.[49] Nuclear weapons United States
1982 Organization World Resources Institute is founded an independent, non-governmental global research organization with the purpose of developing sustainable natural resource management at a global scale.[50][51] United States
1985 (22 March) Organization The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer is signed as a Multilateral Environmental Agreement. Having entered into force in 1988, in terms of universality, the agreement would become one of the most successful treaties of all time, having been ratified by 197 states (all United Nations members as well as the Holy See, Niue and the Cook Islands) as well as the European Union.[52] Air pollution Austria (Vienna)
1985 Background British research team led by geophysicist Joe Farman reports that there is a hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctica.[29]
1985 Publication American environmentalist David Foreman publishes controversial book Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching, a collection of articles which provides with advice and sabotage techniques on monkeywrenching (nonviolent disobedience and sabotage carried out by environmental activists against those whom they perceive to be ecological exploiters[53]).[54] Ecology United States
1986 Organization Pro–Natura is founded as an environmental and poverty alleviation NGO. By 1992 it would become internationalized and headquartered in Paris.[55] General environmental issues Brazil
1986 Background Chernobyl disaster occurs. Massive demonstrations in a number of countries follow in the aftermath. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people march in Rome to protest against the Italian nuclear program.[56] Nuclear energy Ukraine, Europe, worldwide
1987 Award The Global 500 Roll of Honour is established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to recognize the environmental achievements of individuals and organizations around the world.[57] General environmental issues
1987 Publication The World Commission on Environment and Development publishes Our Common Future ( also known as Brundtland Report), within which the theme of Sustainable Development is established.[41]
1987 (September) Treaty The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is adopted to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion.[58] Air pollution Canada (Montreal)
1988 Background Scientists discover a second hole in the ozone layer, this time over the Arctic region.[29]
1988 Organization The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is formed as a scientific and intergovernmental body under the auspices of the United Nations at the request of member governments, it dedicates to the task of providing the world with an objective, scientific view of climate change and its political and economic impacts.[59] Climate change
1988 (August) Organization Earthlife Africa is founded as a volunteer driven environmental organization. Earthlife Africa would further work on campaigns and projects related to nuclear energy, climate change, waste management and animal protection.[60] nuclear energy, climate change, waste management, animal rights South Africa (Johannesburg)
1988 (December) Background Brazilian environmental leader Chico Mendes is murdered by cattle ranchers. Mendes' murder would make international headlines, leading to an outpouring of support for the environmental movements.[61] General environmental issues Brazil
1989 Organization GRID-Arendal, a center collaborating with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is established by the Norwegian Government as a non-profit foundation to support the United Nations in the field of environmental information management and assessment, capacity-building and communications and outreach.[62] General environmental issues Norway (Arendal)
1989 Publication American environmentalist Bill McKibben publishes The End of Nature. This would be called the first book on global warming written for a general audience.[63] Global warming United States
1991 Organization UNEP OzonAction is created as a branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Part of UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, UNEP OzonAction assists developing countries to achieve and sustain their compliance with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and make informed decisions on alternative technologies and ozone-friendly policies.[64][65] Air pollution France (Paris)
1991 Organization Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is founded as an environmental movement that seeks to call people to abstain from reproduction in oprder to cause the gradual voluntary extinction of humankind so as to prevent environmental degradation.[66] Overpopulation United States
1991 (October) Organization The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is founded. It unites 183 countries in partnership with international institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs). Today the GEF is the largest public funder of projects to improve the global environment. The GEF is the largest environmental multilateral fund in the world.[67][68] General environmental issues
1992 (June) Conference The Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit is held. 172 governments and, and 116 heads of state participate. An important achievement of the summit would be an agreement on the Climate Change Convention which in turn would lead to the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.[69][41][70] Climate change Brazil
1992 Organization Environmental Foundation for Africa is founded as a non-governmental organization with the purpose of protecting and restoring the environment in West Africa.[71] Sustainable development, wildlife conservation United Kingdom (headquartered in Sierra Leone
1992 (May) Treaty United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is adopted as an international environmental treaty. Having entered into force on 21 March 1994, after a sufficient number of countries ratify, The UNFCCC objective is to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".[72] Climate change United States (New York City)
1992 Organization The Sahara and Sahel Observatory (French: Observatoire du Sahara et du Sahel, OSS) is established as an African intergovernmental organization, with the purpose of protecting the environment in Sahara and Sahel.[73] Land conservation France (Paris)
1992 (June) Publication American politician Al Gore publishes Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. The book proposes a "Global Marshall Plan" to address current ecological issues.[74] Ecology United States
1993 Organization The European Forest Institute (EFI) is founded as an NGO, with the purpose of offering forest research contacts and collaboration at the European level. By 2005 it would become an international organization.[75] Flora conservation Finland (Joensuu)
1993 (October) Organization European Environment Agency is formed. Is the agency of the European Union (EU) that provides independent information on the environment.[76] General environmental issues Denmark (Copenhagen)
1994 Organization Commission for Environmental Cooperation is established by Canada, Mexico, and the United States to implement the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), the environmental side accord to the North American Free Trade Agreement. The CEC supports cooperation among the NAFTA partners to address environmental issues of continental concern, including the environmental challenges and opportunities presented by continent-wide free trade.[77][78] General environmental issues North America
1995 Program launch The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) project is launched by the United Nations Environment Programme inorder assess environmental issues and to have them published, in response to the environmental reporting requirements which requested the production of a new comprehensive global state of the environment report.[79] General environmental issues
1995 Organization The Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) is established by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as an independent advisory body. STAP comprises seven expert advisers supported by the Secretariat, which are together responsible for connecting the GEF to the most up to date, authoritative and globally representative science.[80] General environmental issues
1995 Organization Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta is founded as a council of Senior Aboriginal women from Coober Pedy, South Australia. They fundamentally oppose nuclear waste dump which they see as the imposition of poison ground onto their traditional lands.[81] Nuclear waste Australia
1997 Treaty The Kyoto Protocol is adopted as an international treaty, with aims at setting specific targets and deadlines to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Under Kyoto, industrialized nations would pledge to cut their yearly emissions of carbon, as measured in six greenhouse gases, by varying amounts. Nearly all nations would further ratify the treaty, with the notable exception of the United States.[82] Air pollution Japan (Kyoto)
1999 Program launch The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) is launched as a program of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity. The GSPC seeks to halt the continuing loss of plant diversity, and also to contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable development.[83] Flora conservation
2001 Organization The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) is established as a United Nations initiative, with aims at conserving the non-human great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans) and their habitats.[84] Fauna conservation
2002 The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is first published by Yale University as a method of quantifying and numerically marking the environmental performance of a state's policies. EPI is designed to supplement the environmental targets set forth in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.[85] General environmental issues
2002 (August) Conference The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), also known as Earth Summit 2002 is held, with the purpose of discussing sustainable development by the United Nations. Negotiators would agree to restore the world's depleted fisheries by 2015.[41][86] Sustainable development South Africa (Johannesburg)
2004 (November) The Kyoto Protocol comes into force, following ratification by Russia.[87] Air pollution
2005 Program launch Champions of the Earth is launched by the United Nations Environment Programme, as an annual awards program to recognize outstanding environmental leaders. Six awards would be given out each year to a Laureate representing different geographical regions with one additional special prize.[88] General environmental issues
2005 Publication American ecologist Jared Diamond publishes Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. The book explores how climate change, human overpopulation and political conflicts create the conditions for the collapse of civilization.[89] United States
2005 Organization Green Actors of West Africa is created as a network of environmental organizations from West Africa, with the goal of developing ways of enhancing cooperation and coordination between and among the various donors and environmental (nature conservation) actors in the region.[90] Nature conservation Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Togo
2005 (September) Organization Stop Climate Chaos is formed as a climate change coalition of primarily environmental and international development NGOs.[91] Climate change United Kingdom
2005 (September) Organization Plane Stupid launches as a group of environmental protesters which focuses upon the aviation industry as a prime contributor to climate change.[92] Climate change United Kingdom
2006 Program launch The Billion Tree Campaign by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as a response to the challenges of global warming, as well as challenges of water supply in face of biodiversity loss. With an initial target of planting one billion trees by 2007, after this achievement, the next target would be set at seven billion trees by 2009. As of 2016, over 14.2 billion trees have been planted.[93] Flora conservation
2006 (March) Program launch Green.TV is launched in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme, as a multi-channel video publishing network for clean tech, conservation and sustainability.[94] General environmental issues
2007 Organization The International Carbon Action Partnership is launched as an international forum, with aims at providing the opportunity for member jurisdictions to share best practices and discuss emissions trading systems (ETS) design elements with a view to creating a well-functioning global carbon market through linking ETS.[95] Air pollution Portugal (Lisbon)
2008 (September) Program launch The United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD program) is launched as a collaborative program of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), under the plan "to reduce forest emissions and enhance carbon stocks in forests while contributing to national sustainable development".[96] Flora conservation Switzerland (Geneva
2008 Publication British politician Nigel Lawson publishes An Appeal to Reason in which Lawson argues that global warming is happening, but the knowledge about it is far from complete.[97] Global warming
2008 (September) Publication American journalist Thomas Friedman publishes Hot, Flat, and Crowded which proposes an ambitious national strategy (“Geo-Greenism”) in which clean energy and green technology industries would make the United States regain its political stature in the world.[98] Global warming, clean energy United States
2008 (October) Organization Climate Rush is founded as a women–led organization with the purpose of urging the government to take strong action on climate change.[99] Climate change United Kingdom
2010 (November) Conference 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference is held. The meeting would produce the basis for the most comprehensive and far-reaching international response to climate change seen to date in order to reduce carbon emissions.[100] Climate change Mexico (Cancún)
2011 Organization Deep Green Resistance is founded as an environmental organization. The goal of DGR is "to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet."[101] General environmental conservation
2011 (March) Crisis Large anti–nuclear demonstrations are ignited by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The accident would give cause to the largest anti–nuclear demonstration in the history of Germany, with over 200,000 demonstrators.[102] Nuclear energy Japan
2011 (November) Conference 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference is held. The outcomes include a decision by Parties to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, and no later than 2015.[103] climate change South Africa (Durban)
2012 (February) The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) is launched by the United Nations Environment Programme and six countries:Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States. The CCAC aims to catalyze rapid reductions in short-lived climate pollutants to protect human health, agriculture and the environment.[104] Air pollution
2012 (April) Organization The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is established as an independent intergovernmental body, with aims at strengthening the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services.[105] biodiversity, ecosystem Panama (Panama City)
2012 (June) Database launch The UNEP Environmental Data Explorer is launched. It is the authoritative source for data sets used by the UNEP and its partners in the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) report and other integrated environment assessments.[106] General environmental issues
2012 (November) Conference The 2012 United Nations Climate Change Conference is held. The conference reaches an agreement to extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol, which would due to expire at the end of 2012, until 2020.[107] Climate change Qatar (Doha)
2013 (May) Manifestation March Against Monsanto takes place by protesters in 436 cities across 52 countries, with the purpose of calling attention to the dangers posed by genetically modified food and the corporations that produce it.[108] genetically modified food
2014 (March) Report The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a report predicting dire environmental and economic consequences for the entire world if the leading economies do not start to reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.[29] Climate change
2014 (1 May) Organization The World Nature Organization is established as an intergovernmental organization with aims at “promoting sustainable development, information and knowledge transfer among states, organizations and the economic sector, as regards preserving the natural environment, environmentally-friendly technologies, green economies, renewable energies, protection of resources, protection of water, forest, air, oceans and climate.[109] Sustainable development
2015 (November) Treaty The historic Paris climate agreement is held within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 195 United Nations members sign the historic agreement with the ultimate goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.[41] Global warming France (Paris)
2016 (April) Organization The Paris Agreement becomes effective. In it, each country would determine, plan and regularly report its own contribution it should make in order to mitigate global warming.[110][111] Global warming France (Paris)
2016 (October) Treaty The 197 Parties to the Montreal Protocol adopt the Kigali Amendment in order to phase down production and consumption of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) worldwide.[58] Air pollution
2017 (June) Treaty withdrawal President Donald J. Trump announces United States withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, denouncing it as a violation of United States sovereignty.[112] Global warming

See also


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