Thursday, November 12, 2009

State of Fear

I finished reading Michael Crichton's book on global warming about a month ago.

Good stuff...entertaining to read and focused on the science and politics of global warming, effectively skewering the movement.

The plot centers on the use of environmental phenomenon-- extended to the point of actually trying to cause them-- for the environment, for the power, for the money, for the cause. The good guys try to foil the efforts and their sophisticated enemy uses high technology, rhetoric, emotional appeals, and so on.

As Crichton opens the book with a Mark Twain quote: "There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."

Crichton uses a lawsuit as his primary method of laying out the pros and mostly cons of global warming arguments. Along the way, he cites numerous academic papers from the scientific literature that counter the conventional wisdom about climate change. (I'll provide those in a subsequent posting.) And he uses a few Ayn-Rand-like dialogues dominated by a passionate expert who makes a logical and emotional presentation to persuade the character in the novel and us as well.

More directly, Crichton provides his assessment of "what we know" in the form of an "author's message" postlude (p. 625-630).

Some highlights from the postlude:
  • We know astonishingly little about every aspect of the environment, from its past history, to its present state, to how to conserve and protect it....
  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, and human activity is the probable cause.
  • We are also in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850, as we emerged from a four-hundred-year old cold spell known as the "Little Ice Age."
  • Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon.
  • Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made.
  • Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century....
  • Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of ten years. Twenty would be better.
  • I think for anyone to believe in impending resource scarcity, after two hundred years of such false alarms, is kind of weird. I don't know whether such a belief today is best ascribed to ignorance of history, sclerotic dogmatism, unhealthy love of Malthus, or simple pigheadedness...
  • There are many reasons to shift away from fossil fuels, and we will do so in the next century without legislation, financial incentives, carbon-conservation programs, or the interminable yammering of fearmongers. So far as I know, nobody had to ban horse transportation in the early twentieth century....
  • Everybody has an agenda. Except me.
I love the tongue-in-cheek, don't-take-me-too-seriously finale. One could hope to see more of that from Malthusians.

Of course, all of this has been criticized. And I wouldn't rely on a work of fiction to assess the global warming debate. But it's at least good fun-- for skeptics.


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