Rupert Darwall’s history of the idea of global warming shows how the belief in an impending man-made apocalypse emanated from the top of wealthy Western societies.
Long before there was climate change, there was environmentalism. As Rupert Darwall explains in his new book, The Age of Global Warming: A History, environmentalism had for decades proposed that humans were a blight on the planet. ‘During the course of the twentieth century’, he writes, ‘mankind’s relationship with nature underwent a revolution. At the beginning of the last century, human intervention was regarded as beneficient and a sign of the progress of civilisation. By century’s end, such interventions were presumed harmful unless it could be demonstrated they were not.’…
While environmentalism is certainly an obsession of many rich people, and a natural fit for many conservatives, one of the major factors that Darwall cites in the rise of environmentalism is the collapse of the left. But interestingly, this is not the usual argument about disillusioned ex-Communists turning from red to green, although such people have indeed often been the brains behind the development of these ideas. Rather, it was the collapse of a left-wing opposition to eco-notions about lowering growth that was crucial. Darwall notes the strong tradition on the left, from Marx onwards, in support of the need to increase the material wealth of society….
The elitist idea of environmentalism could only become dominant because of the exit of working-class politics from the Western political stage and the shrivelling of the political voice of the mass of Western populations. The failure of socialist and social-democratic parties meant there were no longer critics of environmentalism from the left. The declining membership of all political parties deprived the bulk of the population of an important means to hold politicians to account. To criticise the science and politics of global warming now meant you were a lackey of big business or some kind of ‘flat Earther’ who denied the importance of science. What remains is weariness of the modern world among those – from the middle classes upwards, and most particularly among the elites – who can afford such self-indulgence….
Reining in development in the name of the planet was always a rich man’s fancy. The Age of Global Warming should certainly become a touchstone for anyone interested in examining this issue seriously.