Keywords: Climate change, global warming, science, science policy

Title: About Face!

Author: Arthur Middleton Hughes, Madhav Khandekar , Cliff Ollier

Publisher: Two Harbors Press

ISBN: 978-1626529892


The basic premise of this book is that on a number of key issues society is heading in the wrong direction. Not just moving slightly off course, but heading in the diametrically opposite direction to the course of travel we need to be if we are to solve some fundamental development problems in the world. Which problems? Lack of economic development and the continued existence of poverty in large parts of the developing world; a refusal to adopt the measures necessary to fight the scourge of malaria; and the continued and sustained attempt to de-industrialise the successful economies of the West. And what links these disparate themes, according to the authors, is a set of policies driven by the anti-scientific dogmas of environmentalism, particularly with regards to climate change and the war on carbon dioxide (CO2).

How did things get to this state? The opening chapter asks that question and suggests, like Christopher Booker's and Richard North's 'Scared To Death', that there is a familiar pattern at work. First there is the creation of a scare story - a dooms-day scenario of imminent disaster - and then there is a clamour for politicians to 'do something' and then the policies are put into place to avert the threatened disaster. Examples cited in the text include Paul Ehrlich's predictions of mass starvation and ecological Armageddon due to over-population; Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' and the rush to ban DDT, a safe and effective chemical to control malaria; and of course the biggest and most successful scare story ever, the threat of catastrophic man-made global warming, which remains the dominant and defining feature of much of our public policy in the West.

While global warming and the war on CO2 is the main theme of this book, it's the Rachel Carson story that the authors also address in some detail. They authors describe the origins of the scare about DDT, particularly with Carson's monumentally popular 'Silent Spring'. Not only did this kick start the nascent 'green movement', it also created a blue-print that has been successfully copied again and again. Without 'Silent Spring' would there have been 'An Inconvenient Truth'? Carson's scare-mongering ultimately led to the banning of DDT, a move not based on scientific evidence but motivated by the need to 'do something' to respond to the doomsday scenario she had crafted in her book. The ban stopped dead in its track the progress that was being made in the fight against malaria, a fight that would most likely have been won by now, but which is still being fought at the cost of many millions of lives. She is, as the authors make clear, the mother of millions of deaths and morally responsible for the continued suffering of millions.

While the DDT story is instructive in that it shows us how politicians responded to pressure from environmentalist scare-mongering, it is the theme of global warming and CO2 that is the real core of this book. Here the authors take the approach of looking at the different facets of the story - the underlying science of the greenhouse effect and the different sources of warming, the role of climate models, whether warming is bad per se, sea level rise, ice caps melting and the rest of the familiar scares that derive from the global warming scare.

For those already familiar with the topic there is much that they will recognise as this is fairly well-trodden ground. However, for those who have never really looked at the subject this is bound to be something of an eye-opener. The authors do a good job, largely, of dismantling some of the familiar scares that the mainstream media likes to scare us with - the threat of our coastal cities under water, of the ice caps disappearing, the idea that the weather is being 'weird' and that we are threatened by more extreme events. Each of these topics is assessed and the evidence for them is found wanting - and the authors make sure to include references so the interested reader can follow up the detail.

One of the key features of the book is that it does more than point out the errors and the distortion of alarmist climate scientists, it also makes the very strong argument that there is an alternative. Like many in the climate sceptic side of the argument the authors accept that there is some warming caused by CO2 emissions, but that the scale of this warming is relatively minor and nothing that we should be concerned about, nor is there anything that we can do to change it. But more than that, the authors are positive about the effects of CO2 in the atmosphere. The effects of CO2 are positive - both in terms of the increase in food yields from crops grown in elevated CO2 and also that the effects of increased warmth are generally good too. Rather than cut down on CO2 emissions, the authors propose that we should increase them. And in doing so we can reap the benefits of cheaper fuel, cheaper food and increased economic development across the globe. What this calls for, then, is an about face in current policies. And that, unfortunately, is going to take some doing.

Contents © London Book Review 2014. Published 16 October 2014