Rupert Darwall: The Age of Global Warming

If you haven’t read Rupert Darwall’s book “The Age of Global Warming: A History” please do so. There’s an excellent summary in a speech given by Darwall at the GWPF book launch on 27th March 2013 at
http://www.thegwpf.org/rupert-darwall-age-global-warming/
There are also good reviews at
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/non_fictionreviews/10748667/The-game-is-up-for-climate-change-believers.html
in the Spectator
http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/8883981/the-greatest-scare-story/
and at BishopHill
http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/8/5/book-review-the-age-of-global-warming.html
while there are interesting comments by Richard Drake and others at
http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/3/6/costs-exceed-benefits.html
The Telegraph review attracted over nine thousand comments, few, alas from people who had read the book, or even intended to. Christopher Booker in the Spectator points out that it’s only the second book to have tackled the subject of global warming as political history, the first being his own “The Real Global Warming Disaster”, which ended before the 2009 Copenhagen débacle.
The originality of the book lies in the fact that it is a book of political history, though it gives an adequate account of the science, and of the pseudo-science which informed the politics of environmentalism in books like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth”. The politics, with its huge, changing cast of characters and endless, bafflingly titled conferences and policy papers, is treated chronologically, enabling those of us who weren’t around in the seventies and eighties, or (in my case) who weren’t paying attention, to begin to make sense of the evolution of this monstrous affair.
The input of particularly active behind-the-scenes operators like Maurice Strong and Barbara Ward is highlighted, and there are scores of fascinating character studies to lighten what is inevitably a sometimes tedious account of COP meetings in one darned exotic location after another. The effect is sometimes like reading a pile of holiday brochures on tropical paradise locations which contain nothing but the small print warnings about risks and the non-applicability of insurance in case of non-compliance.
Most people reading this article will probably learn little new about the science from Darwall’s book. He deals adequately with the Hockeystick affair and Climategate, though unfortunately out of chronological order (inevitably, since Climategate had its effect in 2009 on the Copenhagen conference, but concerned events surrounding the IPCC and the Hockeystick affair much earlier). He gives credit to McIntyre and McKitrick for their work on rebutting the worst excesses of climate pseudo-science, but hardly mentions the role of sceptics or sceptic blogs in general. The long discussion of the Hockeystick and the Caspar and Amann paper surely merits a footnote citing Montford’s “Hockeystick Illusion” and “Caspar and the Jesus Paper”, and it seems churlish not to mention the role of the likes of Anthony Watts, Jo Nova, and Donna Laframboise in revealing the weaknesses of the science and the machinations of the bureaucrats.
What I gained most from the book is a historical perspective of events which no-one can have except those inside the circle of activists and bureaucrats who were carrying the process along. Even the politicians who made the headline decisions were only sporadically involved, and their short attention spans and periods in power make them secondary characters most of the time.
One of the most important points in the book involves the smashing of the myth of American climate policy seesawing between the views of Big Oil Bush and the saintly Gore. Darwall demonstrates convincingly that American policy consistently aimed to protect American interests (who’d have thought it?) while staying broadly in line with the environmental objectives of the rest of the world. The tensions in the American camp were between different arms of government, but Republican-appointed negotiators consulted their Democrat predecessors and vice versa. European climate policy, on the other hand, involved consultations between 27 different Ministers of the Environment, each one of them representing the tiny Green lobby in their respective electorates. No wonder European climate policy has been a monument of collective insanity.
The main thrust of Darwall’s argument is that there was never the slightest chance of the developing world signing up to emissions reductions that would limit their economic growth, and this is as true now as it was in 1972. And yet the official French government webpage devoted to the Paris 2015 COP21 meeting announces that they are expected to do just that. Never was Einstein’s definition of madness more apposite. And it applies to the governments of the entire developed world.
The book is not perfect. David Rose, in a review in the Mail on Sunday quoted on the back page (which I couldn’t find on-line) calls it beautifully written. Darwall certainly has an excellent stock of ironic one-liners, but the proof reading is sloppy, and an awful lot of grammatical mistakes have slipped through. On the very first page is a quote from Popper (one of many) that seems to have been cut short, forcing the careful reader to stop and read it three times in puzzlement. This happens on page after page, and though it doesn’t affect the force of the argument, it spoiled the pleasure for this reader.

Though Darwall gives as thorough an account of the evolution of the global warming story as it’s possible to do in a single book, he doesn’t really provide a satisfactory causal explanation. This is no criticism of his work, since it will probably take a generation of social scientists and historians to do such a thing. The story starts, chronologically, with a couple of marginal scientists, continues via weird far right pre-war environmentalist groups, to pop science authors like Carson and Ehrlich who inspired a generation of green activist scientists and bureaucrats, who got the ears of the politicians. But How? And why now and here? And what happens next? There are still many unanswered questions, and Darwall’s book is a great point to start from for anyone interested in seeking answers.
` ` `
I found the Darwall book in Waterstone’s, a place I detest, but my visits to England are brief and I didn’t have the choice. I was searching the non-fiction floor looking for the sections entitled “Environment” or “Ecology”, and found only “Popular Science”, arranged bizarrely alphabetically by author (Dawkins, Gribbin, Singh…). Then, sandwiched between pop science and astronomy was a tiny section called “Weather” with books about clouds and stuff, and three oddities: Darwall, Emmott and Lynas.
Could this be a sign of the times? Is Environmentalism over? Are Waterstone’s marketing men the canaries in the coal mine who’ve discovered something the politicians and journalists haven’t yet twigged?

This entry was posted in Lives of the Climate Bloggers, Sociology of Climate Change, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Rupert Darwall: The Age of Global Warming

  1. alexjc38 says:

    I know you’re not on Twitter, Geoff, so just thought you’d like to see this:
    20140812_TWITTER

  2. Thanks Alex
    There’s a lot more I could say about the book, and maybe I will.
    One of my major discoveries from Darwall’s book I mentioned in a comment on your blog at
    http://alexjc38.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/mary-quite-contrary/
    I come back again and again to the fact that what we know depends on journalists, and when all journalists are saying the same thing, we effectively know nothing.

  3. alexjc38 says:

    Just completed a transcript of an interview held last September with Rupert Darwall, about his book:
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20130923_rd

  4. Dodgy Geezer says:

    …Darwall demonstrates convincingly that American policy consistently aimed to protect American interests (who’d have thought it?) ..

    The great oddity to me is why UK foreign (and home!) policy from around 1950 onwards seems to have been peculiarly bad at protecting UK interests. French, German, Russian policies have all been clearly aimed at protecting and enhancing their respective positions, as citizens of their countries might hope. It is what they pay their taxes for. Quite what we get for paying ours…..!?!

  5. Pingback: The other side of Global Warming | Earthpages.org

  6. Graham White says:

    The link to Rupert Darwall’s essay at the GWPF does not work and if you search GWPF for Darwall nothing comes up. Google however, did manage to retrieve the essay at this link: http://www.thegwpf.com/rupert-darwall-age-global-warming/

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