Friday, January 28, 2005

Crichton's Right-Wing Screed "State of Fear" is Full of Hot Air


Like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Crichton is not an environmental scientist. However, he's read some books on the topic and he feels he knows enough to belittle the efforts of thousands of scientists worldwide who've been studying the problem of global warming for decades.

In his popular novel, State of Fear, right-wing author Crichton assures us that these scientists, along with the world's environmental groups, are misguided, hysterical alarmists.

It's interesting, though: those are the same accusations that conservatives hurled at the makers of the film, The China Syndrome, upon its 1979 release.

However, the conservatives suddenly fell silent when, a mere 13 days after the movie's release, the nation watched in horror as the Three Mile Island reactor experienced a partial core meltdown (which came close to rendering the state of Pennsylvania uninhabitable for 10,000 years).

State of Fear presents a scary scenario in which evil, extremist environmental groups conspire to advance their agenda by triggering man-made disasters like tsunamis, which they then intend to blame on global warming.

Crichton thinks the fears over global warming are baseless and he's concerned that we risk spending unnecessary money to prevent it, or by signing silly treaties like the Kyoto Protocol.

Now, as a taxpayer, I'm all for not spending money on unnecessary programs. For example, I question whether it was really necessary for the U.S. to spend trillions of dollars on nuclear arms during the Cold War. And I wonder if it's really wise for the Bush White House to be spending a quarter trillion dollars on a missile defense system that many top scientists say will never work.

But I really have to wonder if spending on anti-global warming efforts is "wasted" money, as Crichton asserts. After all, as Crichton himself admits, the science of global warming is far from certain. And personally, I think we owe it to our
children to err on the side of caution on this issue.

Having said that, I think it's odd that Crichton aims to debunk global warming in this book. I have to wonder what his agenda is. Is it, perhaps, an effort to discourage the U.S. public from supporting the Kyoto Protocol?

If that's the case, it's not the environmentalists, but Crichton himself, who is the paranoid alarmist.

The fact is, the U.S. long ago completely rejected Kyoto, a treaty that has been signed by 180 other nations. And given the fact that the Bush White House get its environmental policy from the same mega-corporations that cause our nation's
environmental woes, I don't think Crichton needs to lose any sleep over the U.S. signing Kyoto any time soon.

Like all Crichton thrillers, State of Fear features evil, menacing bad guys. I'm sure this posed a challenge for Crichton when he sat down to write the book. After all, it's hard to imagine how one could demonize America's environmental groups, which are comprised of millions of ordinary concerned citizens, volunteering their time and money.

In Crichton's hands, though, the nation's environmental groups turn into devious, sinister monsters, who don't hesitate to plot disasters to kill thousands of innocent people, simply to advance their agenda.

If Crichton really believe America's environmental groups would be willing to plot mass murder, then he's a sadly deluded and paranoid individual. Which is ironic, given that he spends the whole book accusing environmentalists of being deluded and paranoid.

Defenders of Crichton will point out that he must be correct, as he includes loads of references from scientific journals that seemingly support his ideas in State of Fear.

However, in assessing State of Fear, I think it's important to take a look at Crichton's past track record, which is frankly dismal.

For example, in 1992, Crichton released Rising Sun, a jingoistic book that predicted that the mighty Japanese economic juggernaut was on the verge of overwhelming the world and relegating America to the status of a backwater economic colony.

History hasn't been kind to Rising Sun. For the past 13 years, Japan has been mired in economic doldrums and a never-ending recession.

The fact is that, even if global warming is bunk, there are manyreasons why America needs to wean itself off of fossil fuels. After all, oil is a finite resource and the world's supplies are steadily dwindling. And given that America has to import vast quantities of oil from the unstable, dangerous Middle East is alone enough justification for our nation to be exploring ways to cut our oil consumption.

Outside of his loony right-wing fantasy of environmental groups plotting mass murder, Crichton doesn't really have much to say about the "harm" of spending money to address global warming (outside of claiming that it's money wasted). Which is ironic when you consider that the vast sums that we're spending in places like Iraq could go a long ways toward converting our nation over to solar and wind power. As it is, while the U.S. is spending $200 billion on the never-ending, bloody Iraqi quagmire, other nations like Germany and Japan have decisively taken the lead in solar and wind power and the technology gap is widening, year by year.