His history of the global variety is largely a debunking, and much of his thesis boils down to the suggestion that, since scientists in the past have frequently believed things that have turned out not to be true – unremarkably, he cites phlogiston as an example – we should always seek to question the current paradigm.
For his own interrogation of global warming’s hold on the scientific establishment, he relies on Karl Popper’s dictum that ‘only a theory which asserts … that certain conceivable events will not, in fact, happen, is testable’; therein, he asserts, lies ‘global warming’s weakness as a scientific statement and its strength as a political idea’.
His overview includes interesting thumbnail biographies of important figures such as Barbara Ward and a detailed summary of the oil crisis of the 1970s. There are some peculiar asides: he notes that Rachel Carson ‘was accused by some of her critics of being unmarried, which was true but irrelevant – although not everyone thought so’, apparently trying to transform an irrelevance into evidence of something or other; and an early, unsubstantiated reference to the ‘burgeoning number of polar bears’ occurs in a sentence so odd that it left me unsure whether the author knows what ‘burgeoning’ means.
Nevertheless, if you want an overview of the climate-change sceptics’ argument, this is as good a place to start as any.
THE AGE OF GLOBAL WARMING: A History by Rupert Darwall, Quartet Books, £25