BOOK REVIEW by Richard Phethean of
CHILL A reassessment of global warming theory by Peter Taylor
If there is one book you should read in order to understand the climate change debate from the widest possible range of viewpoints, this is it. Peter Taylor appears to have incorporated every relevant study on climate, and in a masterly way takes us through the details and helps us to see the bigger picture offering sensible no-regrets policy suggestions, (which means that the strategies that we adopt today will not be the cause of later regrets.) Drawing on his vast experience in practical environmental work he suggests realistic policies for improving society’s resilience to future threats, environmental or otherwise.
Peter Taylor is a science analyst and policy advisor with over 30 years’ experience as a consultant to environmental NGOs, (particularly Greenpeace) government departments and agencies, intergovernmental bodies, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the UN. His range of expertise stretches from pollution and accident risk from nuclear operations, chemical pollution of the oceans and atmosphere, wildlife ecology and conservation, to renewable energy strategies and climate change. Unlike many modern environmentalists, he puts great emphasis on the wider aspects of human existence, such as community, empowerment, leisure, enjoyment of nature and spirituality. He is concerned about the increasing tendency to put environmental considerations above human aspects.
As we should all know by now, the majority of politicians, the media, every image-conscious corporation and the major environmental groups seem to be uniting in presenting an unequivocal message: climate change is real, the earth is getting warmer, mankind’s production of carbon dioxide is the cause and humanity must work flat out to mitigate the effects by setting targets to reduce carbon emissions, capture carbon from the atmosphere, control human activities through international laws, carbon taxes, carbon quotas, carbon trading and so on in order to prevent planetary catastrophe. Further, we are frequently being told that the science is settled and there is a consensus of the leading scientists on the matter.
Unfortunately there is one slight problem with this picture: it is not true! – There is no consensus of scientists, the climate is now cooling, most of the proposed measures will have precious little beneficial effect on climate and will, in fact most likely be detrimental to community, economy and even the very environment that we are hell-bent on saving. Peter Taylor proposes a plausible alternative theory and sets out sensible measures based on no-regrets policy changes and resilience in the face of the many and varied possible challenges we face - warming or cooling climate, as well as potential, and very likely, environmental, economic and sociological crises.
He shows us that the official global temperature measurements indicate that the earth has not warmed since 2000, is currently cooling, and looks set to continue cooling for the next couple of decades at least, with potentially far more serious consequences for human society than a warming scenario (failed crops for example). Further, many of the currently proposed policies will make things worse instead of better.
Peter Taylor is a remarkable man, and Chill is a remarkable and well-written book. At 400 pages, it is a book that will challenge your thinking abilities as you are led into the fine details of climate research and subsequently rewarded with far-reaching insights. Non-scientists may need to skip some of the long scientific sections, but try not to miss the paragraphs of wonderful insights in between. Chill is divided into two parts, the Science and the Politics, but it also substantially delves into the importance of human community, agriculture and spirituality. This second part is much more accessible to non-scientists.
With outstanding clarity of thought, the author leads us through the currently accepted science of the earth’s climate. He shows us that the natural forces affecting the climate are extremely complex and not at all fully researched or understood. Many of the leading scientists in the field have the humility to openly state that we simply do not know enough to make accurate predictions – there are just too many unknown variables – a volcano eruption for example can affect climate for several years, the sun’s rhythms are not perfectly understood (an obvious area for urgent research). On the other hand the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), which has the task of advising the world’s governments, consistently states that the science is settled and it is “very likely” that anthropogenic CO2 (man made carbon dioxide) has caused the observed increase in temperature and, unless checked, will cause catastrophic global warming. The IPCC ‘Summary for Policy Makers’ claim a consensus of scientists who all agree to this view. The truth is very different and many top scientists have quit the IPCC and many have strongly criticized the IPCC’s so-called consensus. Invariably, the ‘Summary for Policy Makers’ fails to do justice to the work of the scientists that contributed to the main body of the report; instead, the warming effect of carbon dioxide is promoted above all other factors.
Building on the work of many climatologists, Taylor presents an alternative theory to explain the modest rise in temperature since the 1800’s and the likely future trends. In a nutshell, the sun is the main driver of earth’s climate (surprise, surprise). The crux of the matter is the various complex rhythms of the sun, from the sunspot cycle of 11 years to longer cycles of many thousands of years that variously influence cloud cover (via cosmic rays), ocean rhythms, electrical atmospheric effects, winds etc. Interestingly, the IPCC seem to avoid the concept of cycles, those rhythmic alternations of ups and downs – whereby we can be sure that whatever goes up must, sooner or later, come down again – and instead concentrates on ‘trends’, i.e. a tendency that presumably just goes on forever. Likewise, the IPCC ‘summary for policymakers’ consistently plays down the role of the sun and its rhythms, dismissing groundbreaking solar research as “controversial”, “disputed”, “unproven”, etc. As Taylor points out, this standpoint seriously weakens its credibility, because by dismissing plausible theories of how the earth’s temperature underwent cyclical changes in the past, it completely fails to explain the earth’s recent climate history and so weakens its authority in stating that the recent temperature changes are very likely due to CO2. I had the image of a pond that is constantly being bombarded with stones, each stone causing a wave. The apparent chaotic movement of the water is in fact the addition and subtraction of all these waves. If you do not understand the nature of each of the waves, how can one discern one small signal from the ‘noise’ of the many waves? (or hear a single voice whispering in a room full of people shouting?) In other words, without understanding the many forces working on the earth’s climate, how is it possible to state with any confidence that a particular ‘trend’ (warming) is caused by a certain phenomenon (carbon dioxide.)
By taking us through the known undisputed science, Taylor shows that the contribution of increasing carbon dioxide levels to the warming of the last century is comparatively small relative to the calculated warming effected by decreased cloud cover as a consequence of the increase in solar activity over the same period. In fact, solar effects modulated by cloud cover changes alone can account for all of the observed warming. Further, the science tells us that the potential warming effect of carbon dioxide decreases rapidly with further addition to the atmosphere.
The main elements of the alternative theory are as follows:
§ Variations in the sun’s output of visible light appear capable of producing significant trends as witnessed by the medieval warm period, from 800 to 1300, the little ice age from 1400 to 1700, the recent warming from the 1800’s and the leveling off and cooling from 2000. (Carbon dioxide levels by comparison fail to correlate with any temperature gradient except for the period from 1980 to 2000.)
§ Variations in the sun’s UV light output have recently been shown to vary significantly over the 11-year sunspot cycle and have implications for the polar vortex and the jet stream.
§ Variations of the electromagnetic part of the solar spectrum appear to have the capacity to affect cloud cover.
§ The pulsed nature of solar energy can be seen to affect ocean surface temperatures over the 11-year cycle, and possibly also over the longer cycles.
§ The oceans are subject to well-documented oscillations (currents), chief of which are the ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation), the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Arctic Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which seem to be timed by the solar cycles.
§ The greater part of the sun’s energy input (as visible light) is received and stored in the tropical oceans and then moved by the aforementioned currents and atmospheric processes to the poles which are areas of continual heat loss to space.
§ Warming on land is strongly related to the transfer of heat by wind and rainfall from the ocean.
§ Since 1950, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation phases coincided with the 1945 to 1978 global cooling and the 1978 to 2000 warming.
§ The Arctic rapid ice loss between 2000 and 2007 can be explained by the return of the Arctic oscillation peak warm phase and is comparable with the Arctic warming of 1940, as part of the 60 to 70 year cycle. (There is evidence that the Arctic ice has melted several times before.) This is also associated with increased Arctic cloud cover, which, at the poles acts as an insulator, further increasing ice melt. (Low-level cloud cover in the tropical and sub-tropical regions generally acts in the opposite manner, causing cooling.)
§ There is strong evidence that the major part of the 1980 to 2000 warming was caused by cloud thinning and increased visible light to the ocean and land surface. The cloud patterns show evidence of phase changes associated with ocean oscillations as well as peaks and troughs of the solar cycle (probably mediated by cosmic rays which act as seeding for cloud formation.)
It should be noted that the IPCC’s certainty that CO2 is the main driver of global temperatures is evidenced mainly by complex mathematical computer simulations. The above-mentioned solar, cloud and ocean variables cannot be built into these computer simulations, therefore they are simply ignored. So far, billions of dollars have been (uselessly) poured into these computer models, and thus global policy is being dictated by the IPCC on the outcome of this virtual world. The great thing about playing with computers is that you can get them to produce any outcome you want, just by twiddling the inputs. Chill keeps its focus on real world empirical science.
It is well known that reduction in sunspot numbers and longer, slower sunspot cycle lengths are associated with cooler conditions. The last time sunspots disappeared for many years was during the Maunder minimum of 1645 to 1715 (so called after Edward Maunder, an astronomer who studied the low sun spot activity during this period) during which global temperatures cooled to the lowest level for 10,000 years. During the subsequent increased sun activity of the 20th century, the earth recovered from this prolonged cold period, but we are currently in a period of very low numbers of sunspots and witnessing an unusually slow start to the current sunspot cycle (called cycle 24). At the time of writing, June 2009, a year and a half after the start of the current cycle, the sun is still showing a profound absence of sunspots. If this trend continues, it seems likely that there could be a repetition of the little ice age associated with the Maunder minimum. Is this a prophecy? No! Do I welcome such a scenario? Certainly not! It is June here in Scotland and I have just come back from a short walk, wearing three jumpers and a coat, and I was cold. A bit of warming would be just lovely right now.
Whatever the perceived threats to mankind and nature, it is clear that many are feeling the urgency for a real change of direction. Taylor’s insights help us to see that what is now needed is much greater resilience to whatever may come. His ‘no-regrets’ policies include the decentralisation of power, economy, energy production, technology and agriculture. He argues that local organic food production is highly desirable for a number of reasons. It is quite clear that governments, corporations and financial establishments will not lead the way to a decentralised community-based society, and it is therefore up to us to create the future we desire.
However, he does show that not all of the proposed moves towards a low carbon economy are bad, but reliance on fossil fuels cannot be changed overnight without substantially harming society and the economy. The changeover has to be gradual, and not a knee jerk reaction based on scary movies, or in order to meet unrealistic government targets of CO2 reduction. Rethinking the structure of society and tackling the demand side (e.g. house insulation) rather than the supply side of energy will reap big reductions in pollution and CO2 emissions. He argues that small-scale solutions such as local CHP systems (combined heat and power: a highly efficient system which involves the use of otherwise wasted heat from electrical power generation for domestic heating.) will give significant reductions in energy use compared to large power stations, whereas large-scale onshore wind farms often have major disadvantages.
Peter Taylor’s book exudes hope – for every problem he sees a solution based on his innovative thinking borne of years of engaging with governments and environmental groups on the relationship between societies and environmental problems.
We certainly live in interesting times; in fact I believe it is crucial how we, as individuals, respond appropriately to the current mighty challenges we face. Knowing the truth about such global issues as climate change is a vital and important challenge. In response to what I believe to be a global deception, we have witnessed in the last decade a major scientific effort in the realm of climate science, and important new discoveries have been made. Read the daily papers and you get one view of the story; read Peter Taylor’s Chill and you get a totally different view of these discoveries. Knowing the truth enables us to act accordingly – the more people understand what is going on, the better chance we have to create for the planet and ourselves a future that is worth living.
My advice? Get rid of the IPCC and its computer-based scenarios and put Peter Taylor as advisor on global environmental policy. Use all copies of Al Gore’s factually inaccurate Hollywood fantasy An Inconvenient Truth as an alternative fuel source and give everyone a copy of Chill.
Oh, and while you’re at it, give everyone a plot of land and a book on practical organic agriculture. A jumper might be useful too.