ISBN 978 1 905570 19 5. Peter Taylor’s “Chill – A reassessment of global warming theory – Does climate change mean the world is cooling, and if so what should we do about it?” was published by Clairview Books in 2009. The publisher is based out of Forest Row in Sussex and have brought us all the works of Richard Heinberg and Gore Vidal. This should give us a bit of a clue that this is no ordinary Climate Change sceptic book. Indeed, far from it. If there is one book about the current state of Climate Change science that we recommend everyone reads it would probably be this one. We have reviewed other books here that have been sceptical about human-induced climate change. Those such as Lawrence Solomon’s “The Deniers” (Richard Vigilante Books 2008) and Patrick Michael’s “Meltdown” (Cato Institute 2004) have been well written and enjoyable. They have given us a side to the story that was useful even if didn’t change anything. Others, such as Ian Plimer’s “Heaven and Earth” (Quartet Books 2009) and Ian Wishart’s “Air Con” (Moon Publications 2009), were nothing but rants by representatives of the fossil fuel industry or those with crazy extreme right-wing conspiracy theories. “Chill” is certainly not the latter and probably has most in common with Solomon’s book.
Whereas fellow-environmentalist Lawrence Solomon started his work questioning the authenticity of human-induced climate change, because he believed it was being used as a vehicle to promote the Nuclear Industry, Peter Taylor started to question the findings of the IPCC because he was an insider. He became concerned that some bad science applied to bad politics and bad policy could lead to bad decisions that would effect communities, rural life and biodiversity. It sounds a little like he is worried that all those wind farms, wave machines and tidal barrages might effect a few bunny rabbits – but his concerns a far deeper. If he was only concerned about “biodiversity, rural life and communities” we could quickly dismiss him. We see no evidence that the work of the IPCC either threatens nature or people in any significant way or is being hijacked by any specific industry lobby group. If anything the agenda of the last 30 years has been dominated by the Fossil Fuel lobby. Hence we should be suspicious of anyone who maintains otherwise (Plimer, Wishart, et al). Taylor may be concerned about the destruction of habitat to support bio-fuel farming but his fears are no different from those of other environmentalists. It is just that other environmentalists don’t thus turn around and question the authenticity of the work of the IPCC – they just blame politicians and private corporations for distorting the message to their own advantage. In this Taylor approaches the problem with almost nothing to gain. He has no over-riding ideology and this is quite unusual. It makes him worth listening to. He could have just shut up and do the same as all the other environmentalists – follow the existing orthodoxy without question whilst tackling the politicians & corporations as a separate systemic problem. But he chose not to. He has decided to pull the mat out from under the entire circus. In this he has chosen curious bed-fellows. Much of his book reads like a better-written version of Plimer’s “Heaven and Earth” but the two authors are ideologically poles apart. The content of the book may not be novel but, because of who wrote it, this is game-changing. Taylor sometimes refers to the work of other climate change sceptics but then immediately lambastes them for their laissez faire politics. This isn’t some conspiracy for him. It’s just a mistake or, as he puts it, “a collusion of interests”. Taylor does not accept that doubts about the science lead us to conclude that we need do nothing. He believes the opposite.
Taylor is a genuine environmentalist who is experienced in helping Governments (including the UK, European Parliament and the UN) turn science into policy. His experiences have shown him two things; firstly the system of UN quangoes can lead to distortions of the science, and secondly; computer models are dressed up as science whereas they can be the creations of their makers and subject to human influence. Taylor has a scientific background (he is a genuine scientist) but his career has taken him into the Policy-making backrooms. He has worked in diverse fields from ‘alternative energy’ to the modelling of the effects of pesticide run-off. He has seen policy formulation from the inside. His stint at Greenpeace no doubt will earn him the reputation as an “environmentalist” – the type that no doubt Ian Plimer would therefore condemn as not being a ‘real’ scientist (maybe an “environmental romantic”). He stands for sustainable development and appropriate technology. Unlike other climate change sceptics Taylor is certainly NOT arguing for ‘business-as-usual’. In fact he strongly believes that we are all threatened by climate change but that it might not be all man-made or even going in the direction we think. We could be threatened by global cooling. If so then we have engineered our ecology and culture so as to be highly vulnerable to ANY changes in climate. If it is one thing we learnt from the lamentable work of Ian Plimer and it was that Global Cooling is far worse than Global Warming. Natural cycles are poorly understood and modelled. Natural swings in climate could drown out any human-warming signature. Our eye is simply on the wrong ball. It would be nice to be right for the right reasons rather than the wrong ones. We should decarbonise, depopulate and relocalise to toughen ourselves up for whatever nature can throw at us. We should be open minded to other possibilities and not reject scepticism for fear that it is motivated by money. In this case it certainly is not!
The book has its low points that somewhat distract from a well-thought-through study. Chapter 14 “Urgency and Error” descends into farce with Taylor coming out with such rhetoric as “the low-carbon economy is a myth”. Some of the statements made in this chapter simply do not square with what he says in most of the rest of the book. You might think he had Plimer do a guest-spot. Taylor does not hide his disdain for the very environmental groups he used to work with and for. He accuses them of all becoming global corporations and losing touch with communities and grass-roots involvement. Hence they are pushing a corporate-style agenda without thought to what humanity needs nor any regard for what the science says. He particularly picks on onshore wind turbines and biofuel plantations again and again to justify this. Sadly this suggest that the author should simply get out more. There is nothing here you cannot read on regular occasions in the public domain in such magazines as The Ecologist or New Internationalist. Environmental groups are well aware of the limits to growth and the corruption of the development model. For a man who once worked closely with Tim Jackson, on the development of the precautionary principle, Taylor seems to have spent the last ten years loose in a sea of cynicism. We suggest he spends less time reading New Scientist (which he quotes at length) and a bit more time studying the actual campaigns of Environmental Groups. He may also care to write a few words about the Transition Town movement that he appears to have never heard of. It seems the world has moved on since the mid-1990’s and Taylor remains ill-informed. Although he often refers to Peak Oil he also appears to know little of the urgency in which fossil fuel depletion needs mitigation. It only lags behind Climate Change scenarios by a few years. We may choose to slow down the pace at which we reduce our carbon footprints but the case for securing our energy security has never been more urgent.
The very final Chapter 16 “Reflections from Anthropology” adds nothing to this book and should have been ditched. In fact the further Taylor gets from the basic science the further he wanders off into his own fanciful universe. This is a shame because there remains a fundamental “rightness” to his work. However it is so deeply flawed in many of the details that most readers will be infuriated. This book, with a bit of editing, could easily be one of the most important books on climate change and local resilience you could ever read. It just falls short. The big problems are in the second half of the book when Taylor tackles “The Politics”. Even then the first half on “The Science” is very hard to read and you need a PhD to understand any of it. All that most people will learn is that climate is complicated! The science is rapidly evolving and several strands are evolving away from the predominant orthodoxy about human CO2 and temperature rise. Our contribution may be smaller than we first thought and we may be riding a set of natural cycles that could give us a bumpy ride. The IPCC largely disregard this new evidence as it doesn’t fit with their previous Policy Statements. Once they made a commitment to one over-riding theory it has been difficult for new knowledge to get a look-in. This is the danger of politics meeting science. Politics wants certainty. Science can only deliver probability. As Taylor says “Once a science is ‘settled’ it is liable to stagnate”. At times Taylor compares the “war on Climate Change” to the “war on terror” or the equally ill-fated “war on drugs”. Ouch.
Taylor writes (page 11) “Past cycles of cooling have brought severe famine at times when the global population was very much smaller and less vulnerable to climate fluctuations. Sixty-seven countries are now dependent upon external food aid… coming from surpluses in the northern grain belt… the world population is set to double… at the same time as oil production, upon which agricultural surpluses depend, begins to decline.” Here-in lies an important point. It matters not whether you believe in the dogma of human-induced global warming. That is semantics in comparison to the challenge we face in our oil-addicted culture. If anything changes, for whatever reason, then we are not resilient to these changes any more. We are at risk. When we are at risk we need to know what is going on and how to prepare for it. Hence IF the consensus on the human causes of climate change is wrong, OR if we have got warming confused with natural cooling, then we are planning to offset the WRONG disaster with the wrong tools. Transition Towns might want to be careful about the claimed causes of Climate Change for fear of being seen to cry wolf once too often. We have to pitch the right message. Taylor’s reassessment suggests that we cause only 20% of climate change. He goes on to suggest that, realistically, an 80% cut in CO2 emissions will only reduce the driving force by 9%. We hope he is right. Recommended.