Book Review: The Age of Global Warming by Rupert Darwall


This is an excellent book of great scholarship, providing a non-technical and very readable history of the science-for public-consumption and politics of Global Warming to 2013, the date of publication. The viewpoint of the author is sceptical but fair.

The book describes the histories of the separate threads (science, politics, global governance and environmentalism) that came together in the late 20th century to create either unjustified hysteria or due-urgency, depending on your point of view.

Other Reviews of the book:


Chapter 1: The Idea – “Global warming’s entrance into politics can be dated with precision – 1988; the year of the Toronto conference on climate change, Margaret Thatcher’s address to the Royal Society, NASA scientist James Hansen’s appearance at a congressional committee and the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). By then, the world was ready

The early chapters of the book are about how the world became ready to embrace The Idea.

Chapter 2: Promethean Revolution – A review of the history of the scientific method, and of attempts to forecast the future environmental condition of the Earth and of its ability to sustain an ever growing human population, in particular the ideas of Thomas Malthus.

Chapter 3: Antecedents (1850-1900) – “By the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century, Malthus’s prediction – that it was impossible for any human society to escape subsistence without some form of population control – was no longer tenable. His theory had to be reformulated or discarded.” This chapter is a history of ideas about resource depletion, such as that of William Stanley Jevons about coal, and of the discovery by Herschel of infrared radiation, and speculations by Fourier, Tyndall and Arrhenius of the role played by infrared radiation in keeping the planet warm.

Chapter 4: First Stirrings (1900-1945) – “At the beginning of the twentieth century , the rudiments of a mechanism of man-made global warming had been documented. And as if to confirm it, temperatures rose through the first decades of the new century.” This chapter reviews temperature changes in Europe and USA in the first half of the 20th century, suggesting that events such as WW1, the Great Depression and WW2 prevented The Idea from becoming established in politics until later in the century.

A summary of early 20th century global warming science is given in the following Excerpts from chapter 9 of “Historical Perspectives on Climate Change” by Dr. James Fleming (1998)

After WW2 USA led the world in science, technology and … environmentalism.

Chapter 5: Turning Point (1945-64) – “After the Second World War, Callendar exchanged views with the younger generation of climate scientists such as Gilbert Plass and Charles Keeling. In 1956 Keeling obtained funding for an observatory at Mauna Loa in Hawaii to record atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide …” But, climate science was still a backwater, as The Idea had not yet become established.

This chapter deals mostly with the main concerns of the post-war US govt, which were the Cold War and possible resource depletion.

The chapter also covers the birth of modern environmentalism in the US, inspired by writers such as Rachel Carson, whose book “Silent Spring” was very influential.

Chapter 6: Spaceship Earth (1964-70) – “In 1966 (Barbara) Ward gave a lecture, Space Ship Earth, in which she argued that mankind’s survival depended on developing a government of the world.” Barbara Ward was a very influential economist and environmental activist, though much less well known to the public than Rachel Carson.

This was the time of the Apollo-8 astronauts, whose pictures of Earth had such a major effect on global environmentalism. This chapter is about various ideas of environmentalists, which always vary widely from the benign to the bonkers:

“Application of Schumacher’s ideas to the Third World would have been disastrous. It was Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution, not Schumacher’s intermediate technology or the Soil Association’s organic farming, which fed the Third World …”

Chapter 7: Limits to Growth (1970-72) – This chapter covers the Nixon era in the early 1970’s. Twenty million people took part in peaceful demonstrations in the USA on the first Earth Day, the outcome of growing environmental awareness and activism due to people such as Rachel Carson influencing the hippie movement; this forced the politicians to compete with each other on green virtue, the following article from the Smithsonian provides a balanced discussion of those times:

Chapter 8: Stockholm (1972) – “Swedish scientists were finding an increase in the acidity of rain falling across Scandinavia. The Swedish government raised their concern at the UN. In 1968 the General Assembly passed a resolution to convene the world’s first intergovernmental conference on the environment.” From that moment we were doomed/saved.

This chapter deals with the first global environmental conference, the key roles played by organisers Maurice Strong and Barbara Ward, and the fundamental contradiction at the heart of global environmentalism: economic development is supposed to be bad for the environment, but Third World countries will only go along with that notion in return for large amounts of aid, which will speed up their economic development.

“At that stage, global warming was not considered the main threat to mankind’s survival. What was?” The book mentions urban degradation, showing that global environmentalism was still a solution in search of a problem to justify its existence and raise its profile.

Chapter 9: Breaking Wave (1973-80) – The Yom Kippur war of 1973 brought an end to an era of prosperity, with oil prices rising drastically, causing inflation and recession.

“Environmentalism needs prosperity to survive. Poor economic performance during the second half of the 1970s … meant that the economy came first.”

The Cold War was still raging (the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979), and the world was cooling somewhat, and The Idea had to wait until the 1980s to become established.

Chapter 10: Pupation (1980-87) – “In the decade and a half after the Stockholm conference, environmentalism underwent a form of pupation. It lost some features and gained others. Over time, the crusade against economic growth was replaced by talk of sustainable development and green growth.”

The global governance and environmentalism people continued their work, but were still in need of a major problem to solve. “The previous year, the governing council of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) had selected three topics of concern – hazardous waste, acid rain and the possible adverse environmental impact of large-scale renewable energy farms. The chairmanship was offered to the leader of the Norwegian Labour party and former prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. Like its forebears the Brundtland Commissions’s report, Our Common Future, was predicated on impending doom.”

“One nation stood above all the rest: seemingly every organ of the Canadian government, its provinces and territories and a multitude of societies, students and individuals, 274 in all – were mobilized and made it their business to be involved. Maurice Strong was a commissioner and fellow Canadian Jim MacNeill, a 1971 Founex participant, was in charge of drafting its report.”

But, there was still nothing to get major attention. “What transformed the impact of the Brundtland Commission was a joint conference of UNEP, the World Meteorological Organisation and the International Council of Scientific Unions in the Austrian town of Villach in Austria in 1985.” There are different opinions about the importance of this conference, but the consensus seems to be that it was a key event, with concern about global warming getting included in the Brundtland Report via the meteorologist Bert Bolin.

“Without global warming, sustainable development would not have shifted the world’s political axis. With global warming, environmentalism had found its killer app. In turn, global warming became embedded in a pre-existing ideology, built on the belief of imminent planetary catastrophe – which many scientists subscribed to – with a UN infrastructure to support it and a cadre of influential political personages to propagate it.”

Chapter 11: Annus Mirabilis (1988), James Hansen and Margaret Thatcher: NASA had to find something else to do after the Apollo programme, and climate science was one area that it moved into, especially the area related to infrared radiation and gases, which is central to planetary observation. Thus it was that James Hansen of NASA addressed the Senate on June 23rd, a very hot day, and declared that “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now”. Hansen claimed 99% certainty, with a typical high degree of precision in the certainty figure, but considerable vagueness about exactly what he was so certain of.

Later in 1988 Margaret Thatcher gave a similar message in a lecture to the Royal Society, giving The Idea the backing of a political big-hitter. The book goes into detail about who advised her.

“Revelle and Suess’s characterization of mankind carrying out a large-scale geophysical experiment, further illustrates global warming’s weakness as a scientific statement and its strength as a political idea. While prejudging the results of a experiment constitutes bad science, the proposition simultaneously generates powerful calls to halt the experiment before it is concluded. Yet questioning the science would inevitably be seen as weakening the political will to act. It created a symbiotic dependence between science and politics that marks 1988 as a turning point in the history of science and the start of a new chapter in the affairs of mankind”.

Chapter 12: Two Scientists – This chapter is an interlude, dealing with the philosophy and methods of science via a discussion of two scientists, Percy Bridgman on the philosophy of science (in particular the need for independent verification) and climatologist Hubert Lamb on scepticism.

Chapter 13: Green Warrior (1988-90) – This chapter deals with how politicians reacted in Europe and USA, in particular Al Gore, Margaret Thatcher and the EU in favour of “action”, versus George H Bush putting American economic interests first.

Chapter 14: Rush To Judgment (IPCC First Assessment Report, World Climate Conference, 1990) – This chapter deals with the emergence of the IPCC as the pre-eminent UN body, sidelining WMO and UNEP, with its contradictory structure clearly designed with a pre-ordained conclusion. WG1 deals with the science, and at least allows for some uncertainty and a conclusion that The Idea is not really a problem, but WG2 (impacts) and WG3 (policies) only make sense with a pre-ordained conclusion.

Chapter 15: A House Divided – (George H Bush). This chapter deals with the attitude of the US President George H Bush and his administration, leading up to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Chapter 16: Bush Goes To Rio – This chapter deals with the Rio Earth Summit, which ended with a climate change convention without legally binding commitments, suiting President Bush, but not his political rivals in the USA.

Chapter 17: Two Protocols – This chapter is an interlude, comparing the ease of agreeing the Montreal CFC convention with the difficulty in agreeing climate conventions, in particular the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, coming into force in 2005.

Chapter 18: China Syndrome (1992) – This chapter deals with the Clinton-Gore administration (especially the latter), and its handling of negotiations leading up to the Kyoto Protocol.

Chapter 19: The Morning After (1992-2002) – This chapter deals with the non-ratification of Kyoto by the US Congress, and the Kyoto-related activities of other countries.

Chapter 20: Turning Up The Heat¬† – This chapter deals with temperature changes in the second half of the 20th century, and IPCC explanations for them and for their significance, culminating in the “Hockey Stick” of Michael Mann et al.

Chapter 21: Quis Custodiet (2001-05) – This chapter deals with challenges to the “Hockey Stick” by a handful of from-scratch amateurs, and the response to those challenges from the massed ranks of climate scientists, the IPCC and the learned societies such as the Royal Society. The “Scientific Consensus” prevailed (according to the referees) against those trying to point out its shaky foundations, but was forced to base itself more on modelling and the instrumental record of temperatures.

The author provides an apt quotation from a book by philosopher Roger Scruton:

“The purpose of theology has been to generate experts about a topic on which there are no experts, namely God. Built into every version of theology are foregone conclusions of a faith: conclusions that are not to be questioned but only surrounded with fictitious scholarship and secured against disproof.”

More to follow later, covering chapters on Climategate through to Copenhagen and its aftermath.

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