Andrew Stuttaford write Our Climate Change Cathedral in the National Review.


Inevitably, Darwall is unable to resist mentioning earlier doomsayers that have got it spectacularly wrong. These include old Thomas Malthus, the Nixon era’s Club of Rome, and William Stanley Jevons (1835–82), a genuinely brilliant English economist whose best-selling The Coal Question (1865) warned that Britain was going to run out of the coal on which its economy depended. He predicted that by 1961 it would need to produce a colossal 2.2 billion metric tons a year. By the time that 1961 actually showed up, Britain’s annual coal consumption was running at less than 10 percent of that figure: Somehow the country continued to function.  To be sure, the failure of these particular forecasts does not prove that all predictions are nonsense, but they are a vivid demonstration of the need for intellectual humility and, more specifically, of the perils of extrapolation. We cannot know how human ingenuity, chance, or simply the passage of time will change what once seemed so certain. We can, of course, do our best to anticipate what is to come, but in the end, it is only a guess.

That the evolving environmental narrative fit in so well with currents found running through many spiritual traditions — an aspect of this saga on which Darwall could have focused more attention — also did not hurt. A tale of flawed, fallen, wasteful humanity needing to be led by an enlightened elite (step forward, Al Gore!) back to the austere path of righteousness, wisdom, sacrifice, and restraint has a clear religious resonance, as does the often apocalyptic language of environmentalist discourse and the furious reaction of some of the faithful to any dissent or, to use a more appropriate word, heresy.  

And then, of course, there is Charles Mackay’s inconvenient truth: The end of the world has long been good box office.


This debate has long sounded more religious in its tone than scientific.  It has also become a convenient tool for political ideologues.  They want you to follow the money but to ignore the path that leads through Washington DC bestowing money, grants, guaranteed loans and subsidies on political contributors, lobbyists, and the true believers.

What is the right temperature?  Would we be better off with climates 2 degrees cooler or 2 degrees hotter? There are warnings about warmer temperatures: are there benefits as well?  Thew whole debate suggests more questions than answers.