Most of us pay some attention to the weather forecast. If it says it will rain in your area tomorrow, it probably will. But if it says the same for a month, let alone a year, later, it is much less likely to be right. There are too many imponderables.
The theory of global warming is a gigantic weather forecast for a century or more. However interesting the scientific inquiries involved, therefore, it can have almost no value as a prediction. Yet it is as a prediction that global warming (or, as we are now ordered to call it in the face of a stubbornly parky 21st century, "global weirding") has captured the political and bureaucratic elites.
All the action plans, taxes, green levies, protocols and carbon-emitting flights to massive summit meetings, after all, are not because of what its supporters call "The Science". Proper science studies what is - which is, in principle, knowable - and is consequently very cautious about the future - which isn't. No, they are the result of a belief that something big and bad is going to hit us one of these days.
Some of the utterances of the warmists are preposterously specific. In March 2009, the Prince of Wales declared that the world had "only 100 months to avert irretrievable climate and ecosystem collapse". How could he possibly calculate such a thing?
Similarly, in his 2006 report on the economic consequences of climate change, Sir Nicholas Stern wrote that, "If we don't act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least five per cent of global GDP each year, now and forever." To the extent that this sentence means anything, it is clearly wrong (how are we losing five per cent GDP "now", before most of the bad things have happened? How can he put a percentage on "forever"?). It is charlatanry.
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Like most of those on both sides of the debate, Rupert Darwall is not a scientist. He is a wonderfully lucid historian of intellectual and political movements, which is just the job to explain what has been inflicted on us over the past 30 years or so in the name of saving the planet.
The origins of warmism lie in a cocktail of ideas which includes anti-industrial nature worship, post-colonial guilt, a post-Enlightenment belief in scientists as a new priesthood of the truth, a hatred of population growth, a revulsion against the widespread increase in wealth and a belief in world government. It involves a fondness for predicting that energy supplies won't last much longer (as early as 1909, the US National Conservation Commission reported to Congress that America's natural gas would be gone in 25 years and its oil by the middle of the century), protest movements which involve dressing up and disappearing into woods (the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, the Mosleyite Blackshirts who believed in reafforestation) and a dislike of the human race (The Club of Rome's work Mankind at the Turning-Point said: "The world has cancer and the cancer is man.").
These beliefs began to take organised, international, political form in the 1970s. One of the greatest problems, however, was that the ecologists' attacks on economic growth were unwelcome to the nations they most idolised - the poor ones. The eternal Green paradox is that the concept of the simple, natural life appeals only to countries with tons of money. By a brilliant stroke, the founding fathers developed the concept of ``sustainable development''. This meant that poor countries would not have to restrain their own growth, but could force restraint upon the rich ones. This formula was propagated at the first global environmental conference in Stockholm in 1972.
The G7 Summit in Toronto in 1988 endorsed the theory of global warming. In the same year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up. The capture of the world's elites was under way. Its high point was the Kyoto Summit in 1998, which enabled the entire world to yell at the United States for not signing up, while also exempting developing nations, such as China and India, from its rigours.
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The final push, brilliantly described here by Darwall, was the Copenhagen Summit of 2009. Before it, a desperate Gordon Brown warned of "50 days to avoid catastrophe", but the "catastrophe" came all the same. The warmists' idea was that the global fight against carbon emissions would work only if the whole world signed up to it. Despite being ordered to by President Obama, who had just collected his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, the developing countries refused. The Left-wing dream that what used to be called the Third World would finally be emancipated from Western power had come true. The developing countries were perfectly happy for the West to have "the green crap", but not to have it themselves. The Western goody-goodies were hoist by their own petard.
Since then, the international war against carbon totters on, because Western governments see their green policies, like zombie banks, as too big to fail. The EU continues to inflict expensive pain upon itself. Last week, the latest IPCC report made the usual warnings about climate change, but behind its rhetoric was a huge concession. The answer to the problems of climate change lay in adaptation, not in mitigation, it admitted. So the game is up.
Scientists, Rupert Darwall complains, have been too ready to embrace the "subjectivity" of the future, and too often have a "cultural aversion to learning from the past". If they read this tremendous book they will see those lessons set out with painful clarity.