Peter Taylor - Climate Change - Book Reviews

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Reviews of Peter Taylor’s “Shiva’s Rainbow” and “Chill”

 

by Alastair McIntosh

 

 

These 2 reviews were published to Amazon.co.uk, 30 Jan 2010 - click on Amazon's links below where they can also be responded to using "Comment". In the reviews I take robust issue with the credentials of Peter Taylor whose climate change contrarian book, "Chill", from time to time attains No. 1 ranking on Amazon.co.uk in the category of global warming.

 

Further to an invitation by the editor of ECOS: Journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationists (BANC), Peter Taylor and I have held a public debate on my criticism of his approach. This may be viewed and commented on here on the ECOS website. Our debate has been no-holds-barred but has managed to emerge amicably. In emails Peter has said, "I think our interchanges have been a very positive development and deserve wider publicity for BANC....  It speaks volumes for BANC that space has been allocated - I know of no other consistent debate on this important issue."

 

Also of possible interest to readers of this page is a review that I published on 14-VIII-10 of A.W. Montford's "The Hockey Stick Illusion" in The Scottish Review of Books - click here.

 

 

 

Shiva’s Rainbow

 


Peter Taylor is the author of "
Chill, A Reassessment of Global Warming Theory: Does Climate Change Mean the World is Cooling, and If So What Should We Do About It?", currently Amazon UK's no. 3 bestseller on climate change contrarianism. Much of what Taylor aspires towards for a better world in "Chill" - principles such as community and resilience - I strongly agree with, and he says it well. My problem in that book, as I have explored in my separate Amazon review of it, is with his trenchant bottom line that "Man-made global warming is exactly what it says on the label - a fabrication! It is an illusion borne of a particular way of looking at the world" (p. 360).

In this Taylor sets himself up as a David against the Goliaths of hard science. Fair enough, but who do we believe: Taylor, or the peer-reviewed consensus of bodies like the UN's IPCC, the Royal Society, and the UK Met Office? In such a situation I find myself asking not just what a writer claims to know about science, but: what is their approach, and what are their credentials for what they say?

Taylor has come to my notice because I've several times recently been asked an opinion on his views. He stands out from most other contrarians because he is a former Greenpeace advisor, claiming kudos for the high-level connections that this once gave him, and is counted as a "climate scientist" by the Daily Express as well as achieving wide coverage internationally, including with Al-Jazeera which has wide Middle-East coverage.

I therefore read Shiva's Rainbow - self-published through his own landscape consultancy firm - to seek some answers about Taylor's credentials. It is not good enough with climate science simply to say, "let the arguments speak for themselves." The arguments can only be understood fully when compiled by interdisciplinary panels of specialists - meteorologists, oceanographers, astronomers, paleogeologists, etc.. That is why climate change demands "consensus" science, and why individual takes that run contrary to these do not merit equal weight - though they might usefully challenge us all, and the panels, as to how we think.

"Shiva's Rainbow" turns out to be a riveting autobiography - a conspiratorial "Celestine Prophecy" sort of page-turner, thus my 4 star rating. It profiles his life through the lens of 1984 when he was scientific advisor to Greenpeace UK. Taylor tells how to get a place as an undergraduate at Oxford University Taylor, "I had lied my way into the system". His main interest in being there, perhaps not unreasonably at that age, "was women" (p. 6). He gets his first job with IBM thanks to "a little stretch" of his credentials in physics, earned as part of an environmental degree (p. 12). But more disturbing in terms of his relationship to truth is when he looks back on his Greenpeace time and confesses: "In truth, in the scientific realms in which I worked, and gained by now, some standing, I was an imposter... My scientific degrees were linguistic exercises in critical review. My performances on television, in public inquiries, on tribunals and commissions, those of an extremely well-briefed lawyer, the ultimate actor" (pp. 146-7).

Unbeknown to the Greenpeace board, Taylor and his two brothers augmented their activist research into toxic dumping by using informants who claimed to be adept at ... "astral surveillance". Information ostensibly procured from out-of-the-body experiences and channelling from Pan factored in to protest planning and supposed real-time remote observation of toxic dumping at sea. However, the only information that Taylor tells us was subsequently verified was the underwhelming disclosure that a lift at Big Ben had space on top where a protestor could sit to prevent police from using it to thwart a planned action.

The merely barmy elevates to the positively wacko when Taylor has a confrontation with his separated wife. In the centrepiece drama of the book, he tells us how a disincarnate guru sends him a vision that she and the children are in danger of being chopped to pieces in a Masonic conspiracy by a crazed Ninja warrior aimed at framing Taylor at the behest of the nuclear industry (p. 132).

One night, convinced that the attack is imminent, he he goes round to where she lives and wakes her up by throwing stones at the bedroom window. He presses himself upon the family, insisting that it is to provide protection. Alarmed, she calls the police. He lets them arrive, somehow thinking that their being made aware of his fears will be the perfect alibi against the impending frame-up. But instead, the police suggest that perhaps Taylor is using them as an alibi to distract from what he himself might be thinking of doing. Outraged by this suggestion and a remark that suggests that they know about his work, Taylor concludes that these could not have been ordinary constables: it's all further proof of the Masonic stitch-up (p. 166-70).

Taylor feels defeated. He goes to see his Greenpeace boss, Pete Wilkinson, and says he must resign his nuclear remit: "I did not have to go into details. He knew little of the psychic world. I told him that I had had threats to my family that I believed were real" (p. 171).

During this time Taylor claims to have been grossing in more than £30,000 per annum. He spends what he doesn't need on art and alternative therapies. He had also developed a taste for finely-cut suits, a Volvo, flying Club Class and attending a plethora of positive-thinking and wealth-inducing workshops.

Meanwhile, Taylor's ministrations to Greenpeace seem to have continued notwithstanding the Ninja Masonic scare, but to have became more and more strained. His colleagues were clearly embarrassed by his propensity to represent them at key international scientific and political meetings dressed, at the instigation of a discarnate guru called Babaji, variously shaven-headed and all-in-white, or wearing beads and all-in-black (p. 117). In Madrid, "a centre of ancient Masonic influence," he gets called "to test my manhood" in a street fight. This led to making a "bizarre entrance" at a meeting of scientists and diplomats the next day ... sporting an eye patch (p. 207) - the eccentricity of which he clearly relished and was not the least embarrassed by.

Eventually Alan Thornton, a new broom at Greenpeace, takes Taylor and his brothers aside and tells them he considers they've all been duped. He has reason to believe there was an MI5 plot to exploit their New Age gullibility and thereby discredit Greenpeace. However, to his credit, brother Ron did succeed in scaling Big Ben and famously draped it with the banner, "Time to Stop Nuclear Testing". As for proof that conspiracies really were in the air, the French secret service blew up the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour in 1985 and their spy chief and his political associates, Taylor assures us, were Masons of the highest order. So, now we know!

At the end of the day, however, there is hope for the healing of the world, or rather, its self-healing, and it lies in ... homeopathy. This, he tells us, is difficult to prove scientifically because the symptoms under treatment often get worse before they get better. But, he assures us, "such scientific trials as have been performed in recent years, and I have not had time to pursue my interest in reviewing them, have demonstrated homeopathy's success..." (p. 206).

One can only hope that he reviewed his Greenpeace science better than that. But the reason why homeopathy's the answer is the homeopathic properties of ... now this is going to be hard to swallow ... plutonium! How? Because plutonium is named after Pluto, which astrologically represents upheaval and transformation.

And so to Taylor's bottom line on his last page. Plutonium, he says, is now: "distributed in homeopathic doses by the bomb tests, such that not a bone on the planet is free of it! Poisonous as it may be in the doses around Windscale, as with all homeopathic poisons, may it not also possess healing powers, borne of Plutonic dimension, a preparation for rebirth, an awakener to higher consciousness?" (p. 232)

As for global warming, "We fight so strongly against the global emissions of carbon dioxide, yet the quietest of questions surfaces: is Gaia, after all, a sentient mother protecting us from the next cooling?" (p. 232).

And that's it. If we want to know Taylor's scientific credentials, this is the context in which we might read Taylor's climate change contrarianism. I further note that "Chill" is published not by a scientifically reputable and relevant publisher but from a house that grew out of the Rudolph Steiner movement. That is not a criticism of Steiner, but it is to suggest that what his movement and way of thinking calls "science" exists in a different universe of discourse to what most physicists, chemists and biologists would call science.

In fairness to Taylor, however, it should be said that his work on nature conservation is well respected in the UK. It has been carried in journals like ECOS and Wild Land News, and he has a book published by the reputable scientific publisher Eathscan -
Beyond Conservation: A Wildland Strategy. But here Taylor operates within the bounds of his qualifications, and his publishers have peer-review capacity within the conservationist field.

What troubles me most about "Shiva's Rainbow" apart from the light it sheds on Taylor as a publically perceived "climate scientist" is its confusion between wacky occultism and spirituality. I consider that we who are social and environmental activists we need spirituality to deepen and ground what we're doing. But to avoid going down the cultic road (though I concede that some would say that all spirituality is of that ilk) it is imperative to distinguish the real thing from varying degrees of what might be considered narcissistic delusion. As Paul Heelas concludes in his landmark study,
The New Age Movement: Religion, Culture and Society in the Age of Postmodernity (Blackwell 1996), "there is much that is commendable" in this effort to throw off what had become moribund in mainstream religious life, but the shadow side is that it has been "only too easy for people to use the New Age, taking advantage of its provisions and its emphasis on freedom to satisfy their egos" (p. 221).

I recommend Shiva's Rainbow both as a page-turning read and for the study of cultic and conspiratorial thinking. I also recommend it to anybody who might be uncritical of Taylor's self-proclaimed credentials as a leading British climate change contrarian. I see that his website at Ethos-UK appears recently to have removed reference to the book. It should therefore be kept in mind that he may no longer hold the same views as he expressed six years ago. If so, the great thing about posting a review to Amazon, and the reason why I have chosen to do so in this case, is that it allows an author and his apologists full opportunity to respond using the "Comment" facility (at the bottom right of this review).

A final point is that "Shiva's Rainbow" leaves me with a rather alarming question about Greenpeace during the 1980s. Was Taylor really playing such an indispensible role in its scientific policy as he claims? If so, why did Greenpeace not monitor his style more carefully? 1984 was a heady time. It was the era of high Thatcherism and Cold War escalation. The prominent campaigner, later an MP, Des Wilson, wrote around then: "Community-based and `cause' pressure groups have become the real opposition to the government for many people for whom political parties have failed to deliver.... Pressure groups have, then, more than `a role to play' in our democratic process. They are essential to it."

Greenpeace was probably top of the international pressure group league at that time. Its brave campaigns made regular news headlines and were one of the few forces that gave hope in challenging the Reagan-Thatcher nexus. Could it be that determination to advance the cause led to the science being relegated to a background role? If so, we might view such instrumentalism as having been part of the environmental movement's learning curve, but not a place at which it could credibly have remained.

Similarly, the self-disclosure in "Shiva's Rainbow" might be viewed charitably as having been part of Taylor's learning curve. But for me it scarcely lends confidence in Taylor as a "climate scientist" whose guidance I would trust in taking on the peer-reviewed international scientific consensus.
 

 

Chill

 

This book is well written, it raises important questions about climate science, and I very much agree with most of the author's conclusions about the need to focus primarily on building human resilience to face the future. As such it would be churlish, just because I am going to question his standpoint, not to give it 4 stars. Let me also say that I do have a lot of respect for this writer's writing on wild land and wildlife - for example, his book Beyond Conservation: A Wildland Strategy.

My problem is with how Taylor arrives at his thesis. It is the same problem that I have with climate change contrarians in general - the question of epistemology - namely, what we think it is that we know, and how we think we know it. Much of what Taylor says in this book is an attack on mainstream scientific epistemology. But what of his epistemology?

Taylor's bottom line is that "Man-made global warming is exactly what it says on the label - a fabrication! It is an illusion borne of a particular way of looking at the world" (p. 360). His Amazon product description surmises that "investigations indicate that the current threat facing humanity is a period of cooling, as the cycle turns, comparable in severity to the Little Ice Age of 1400-1700 AD." On this basis, confusing weather with climate, he told the Daily Express (6 Jan 2010), to which he is a "climate scientist" or "analyst", that the current hard winter in the UK is a harbinger of things to come.

My question is, "Who is Peter Taylor to tell us such things?" Climate science is of a complexity that demands an interdisciplinary team approach of experts who have proven themselves through rigorous peer review. Peer review means that your stuff can stand up to scrutiny with the best corresponding minds around. That is what good science does and what science culminates in the consensus of expert panels such as those behind reports of the IPCC, the Royal Society, the Hadley Centre and the UK Met Office.

I have noticed with all climate change contrarians that their arguments seem superficially persuasive ... but usually only until matched to the other side of the story. For example, Taylor's view on the role that he thinks is played by solar cycles is ostensibly persuasive. But enquire what the UK Met Office thinks of this theory, and its web site last year dismissed it as "Myth No. 1". So, if we are non-climate-change scientists, to whom do we listen? To such likes as Taylor, or to experts with an acclaimed and current credibly published track record in the field?

It would be different if Taylor was drawing most of his material from panels that represent scientific consensus. But most climate change contrarians are not so doing. There are, of course, some contrarian panels, but so far not with anything like the same credibility as mainstream scientific institutions.

Taylor reveals where he is coming from in his approach to science in an autobiographical self-published book, Shiva's Rainbow (2006). Much of it concerns his belief that he could augment his campaigning work by occult means. He concludes that plutonium might change the world positively because of the homeopathic effects of its astrological properties. I have also reviewed it on this site giving chapter and verse. A key passage is where he says of his time with Greenpeace:

"In truth, in the scientific realms in which I worked, and gained by now, some standing, I was an imposter. I am not a scientist. Apart from my brief survey of tree-hole communities when I successfully correlated insect larvae diversity with circumference and aspect of the hole to the sun, which, in any case, had been done many times before, I have never `done' science. In my work I have relied certainly upon an understanding of scientific theory and a memory for facts and relationships, and upon an instinct for the hidden and not yet known, but fundamentally I have been a linguist and an actor. My scientific degrees were linguistic exercises in critical review. My performances on television, in public inquiries, on tribunals and commissions, those of an extremely well-briefed lawyer, the ultimate actor. Which is not to say there is no dedication to truth" (pp. 146-7).

One example from Chill that shows how easy it can be to fall into pseudoscience is his approach to what he sees as global cooling. There is nothing surprising in the theory that the Earth is slowly heading towards another "little ice age". What is surprising is that Taylor advances his version of the thesis without making reference to the peer-reviewed work by William F. Ruddiman, for example, in his book, Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate (Princeton University Press, 2005, and I see he has another one out this month).

Ruddiman is a distinguished palaeoclimatologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. He writes: "As I see it, nature would have cooled the Earth's climate, but our ancestors kept it warm by discovering agriculture..." This is because agriculture, and now industrialization, raise the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. He goes on to say that some people might see this as grounds for complacency about present-day climate change, but "others might counter that if so few humans with relatively primitive technologies were able to alter the course of climate so significantly, then we have reason to be concerned about the current rise of greenhouse gases to unparalleled concentrations at unprecedented rates ("How did Humans first alter Global Climate", Scientific American, 292:3, March 2005, 46-53).

Taylor published "Chill" not from a publishing house with a relevant scientific reputation but from, Clairview. This grew out of the Rudolph Steiner movement and its backlist includes books cognate with Taylor's concern with such notions as "psychic espionage". A recent article, presenting the appearance of being a scientific paper, was published by him in the New Age journal, Caduceus, alongside material on 2012 Hopi prophesies. Is that a problem? Not if there's also the peer-reviewed publishing to back it up, but where is it in Taylor's case in the highly scientific field of climate change?

Post Copenhagen a lot of people have decided to cancel climate change. It is an inconvenient truth, better relegated to the dustbin of untruths. Taylor cut his teeth on toxic dumping issues. "Chill", read in the context of "Shiva's Rainbow", arguably serves to keep open the dumpsite of denial.

 

 

5 February 2010

www.AlastairMcIntosh.com

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