State Of Fear

With my laptop fan conked out (meaning no browsing on the weekend) I rushed to the library before it closed up on Friday night and picked up Michael Crichton’s State Of Fear. How pertinent that this book had been heavily criticized as a tirade againt global warming and Al Gore + IPCC won the Nobel Peace (!) Prize recently. Crichton took heavy beating in the reviews for this book. But, surprisingly by the time I finished this book I didn’t have the same feeling.

Like all of Crichton’s works here too there is some technology/science whose ill-effects form the basis of the story. In Jurassic Park it was genetics and here it is environmental science or more specifically global warming. The fictional story is about 2 groups: a hard-core environmental group called NERF (think Green Peace) and Kenner, a MIT professor who wants to debunk their nefarious plans. NERF is headed by Drake and will go to any lengths to grab media attention about global warming. To raise the profile of global warming NERF undertakes eco-terrorism, it plans to set off some global catastrophes right in time for a scheduled conference on climate change. Caught between Drake and Kenner is Peter Evans, who the author uses as an analogue of the general public. Evans joins Kenner and as they travel around the globe to foil Drake’s plan, Kenner explains to Evans in long conversations about how not everything about global warming is as simple as it sounds nor known or understood.

Looking at the book as just a thriller, it is not upto the usual Crichton mark. It has the taste of a Clive Cussler rather than Crichton. But, the main soul of the book is its tirade against global warming. The author is thorough here. Footnotes to journal papers, studies and articles are peppered throughout the pages wherever any of the main characters takes a side on global warming.

Some of the main arguments in the book are that:

* Global warming is being blown out of proportion by the nexus of politicians, lawyers and media. The bedsharing of politics and science should be extremely worrying for science.
* The high profile environmental agencies are today full of lawyers and are interested in nothing but raising money, sueing and grabbing media attention.
* Environment and climate researchers (and hence their work) are being forced to take sides. There is enormous pressure and money being forced on by the industry on one side and environmentalists on the other to bias their works.
* A lot more study into climate change and environment is needed. There are still no reliable methods of predicting global climate for even a decade let alone hundreds of years.
* Earth has always been changing. It has underwent several cycles of ice ages. The current climate changes look like part of the current ongoing cycle.
* Human CO2 contributions aren’t enough to cause the kind of catastrophic climate changes that global warming predicts. At least, not yet.
* There are several scientific theories which are being snubbed because they neither support nor oppose global warming (thus don’t look good on the mass media). For example, the urban heat island effect for temperature increases in cities.
* Most environmental solutions being proposed haven’t been subjected to a cost-to-benefit analysis. Not even if the cost is enviromental cost.
* Several environmental treaties are being signed where developing and under developed countries are being subjected to regulations that the developed countries themselves never followed or (in some cases) will not follow.

In a detailed epilogue, Crichton describes one other scientific phenomenon which every prominent person in the USA supported at one time — eugenics. (“Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind.” — Theodore Roosevelt.) During its heyday any scientist who doubted its scientific veracity was shut up. Instead of allowing science to study if eugenics worked at all, everyone jumped on the bandwagon since they saw a clean way here to eliminate the society’s inferiors. Under the name of eugenics, criminals and insane people were clinically killed. The Nazis just borrowed the idea and applied it on a larger scale with their gassing. Some time after this the WW2 happened, the Allies emerged as the good side and everyone who supported eugenics went mum. Crichton’s argument is that global warming today has become like that. There is too much noise, media, politics, bias, predictions and very less science.

I have to be honest here, I initially found the book highly revolting. But, as always it’s good to see all sides of an issue. The fiction is disappointing, but the book is a compelling read for the issue it discusses. No matter on what side of this issue you stand there are loads of interesting scientific trivia, claims and counter claims to learn from the book.

My excerpts from the book are here.

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