Michael Crichton, author of best-selling books and blockbuster movies such as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, has published a new best-selling book.
That much is hardly noteworthy, given his track record of literary success. What is noteworthy, even earth-shaking, is the book’s accurate and tenacious presentation of the science of global warming theory. Crichton has made the often-arcane debate over global warming entertaining and accessible to a huge segment of the American public.
The result could be a pivotal moment in the history of environmentalism. Already, Crichton is being compared to Rachel Carson and Upton Sinclair. Millions of people who believe whatever they hear or read from environmental advocacy groups are in the process of changing their minds.
The new book, State of Fear (Harper Collins, 2004, $27.95), is the story of a philanthropist, a scientist, a lawyer, and two remarkable women who discover a plot hatched by environmental extremists to trigger environmental catastrophes that they will blame on global warming.
With global warming finally tied to a series of real, undeniable, and cataclysmic catastrophes, the plotters believe, world leaders will finally see what sound science has so far failed to reveal: The need for a radical green agenda that cripples free-market forces and, not coincidentally, pours billions of dollars into the coffers of environmental advocacy groups.
Racing against time to foil the planned catastrophes, the protagonists face a series of breathtaking adventures that make the book impossible to put down. Along the way, characters present a devastating critique of global warming alarmism and “mainstream” environmentalism today. Crichton has his characters produce lists of references in scientific journals showing that Antarctica is cooling rather than warming, graphs showing cooling trends in many cities around the world, and a blizzard of facts and figures on everything from species extinction rates to the use of DDT. Crichton concludes his book with an eloquent call for a “new environmental movement” based on facts instead of fear.
More Silly than Scary?
Environmentalists who have used scare tactics and junk science in the past are understandably alarmed by the book. The Sierra Club calls it “a polemic–a screed even–dressed up as bad fiction.” The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which Crichton delightfully reinvents as NERF, the organizational base for his novel’s arch-villain, calls the book “more silly than scary” and accuses Crichton of building “a fantasy world where global warming is not a real threat, but global warming scientists are.”
(Actually, “global warming scientists” are the heros in State of Fear, while government bureaucrats and self-serving professional activists are the real threat. For example, Crichton refers to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “a huge group of bureaucrats, and scientists under the thumb of bureaucrats,” and reports, accurately, that its 1995 report was revised without their consent “after the scientists themselves had gone home” (p. 245-246).)
“State of Fear is a 600-page tirade about global warming,” complained Bryan Curtis in a December 8 article in the left-leaning Slate online magazine. “This isn’t to say that Crichton doesn’t believe his right-leaning, contrarian poses. It’s his belief in these poses that’s the problem.”
And the often-shrill New York Times called State of Fear “a shrill, preposterous right-wing answer to this year’s shrill, preposterous, but campily entertaining global warming disaster movie, ‘The Day After Tomorrow.'”
Informative as Well as Entertaining
But many reviewers like Crichton’s take on global warming and are taking him seriously. Ron Bailey, a science writer and author of several books on sound science, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says the book is “every bit as informative as it is entertaining.”
Alan Cheuse, writing for the Chicago Tribune, says the book’s extensive use of footnotes and bibliography “makes all the more convincing Crichton’s status as novelist muckracker, whose last several books, like those of Upton Sinclair nearly a century ago, alert readers to unctuous public practices of which they might otherwise be unaware.”
Carol Memmot writes in USA Today, “When Crichton allows Fear‘s do-gooders to catch their breath, they learn ‘the truth’ about scientific studies and how scientists and environmentalists with opposing agendas can interpret data to suit their needs.” Memmot then describes how one of the book’s main characters proves “the ‘common knowledge’ that Antarctica is melting is untrue, citing studies that indicate about 2% of the continent is warmer but the continent as a whole is getting colder.”
Jasper Gerard interviewed Crichton for the January 2, 2005 edition of the Sunday Times [London]. “If you doubt Crichton’s research,” Gerard writes, “he offers enough footnotes citing scientific journals to fill a hefty volume of their own. As a Harvard physician and at the age of 22 a visiting anthropology lecturer at Cambridge, he is in nobody’s intellectual slipstream.”
A Huge Audience
As of January 16, in just its fourth week since publication, State of Fear had climbed to #2 on the New York Times fiction bestseller list and was poised to end The Divinci Code‘s two-year reign atop the list. And like 12 of Crichton’s prior books, State of Fear is sure to be made into a Hollywood movie in the near future.
With a first edition print run of 1.7 million copies, State of Fear will reach more readers in a few months than all the nonfiction books ever written that have tried to set the record straight on global warming. It is difficult, therefore, to over-estimate the impact the book could have on the national and international debate over global warming.
If State of Fear continues to sell as other Crichton books have, its impact on the environmental debate and the movement itself will grow over time. Millions of its readers will have to decide whether to continue making contributions to environmental organizations they believe are manipulating media and withholding important data–lying, in other words–or choose different causes to support. Time will tell how many of those readers decide to stop giving, and the impact that will have on the environmental movement.
Joseph L. Bast ([email protected]) is president of The Heartland Institute, coauthor of Eco-Sanity: A Common-Sense Guide to Environmentalism, and publisher of Environment & Climate News.
For more information …
The Heartland Institute offers a feature on its Web site dedicated to following the debate over the science in State of Fear. It collects some of the many reviews, op-eds, and letters that the book has generated and also links to research on environmental issues and the environmental movement. Point your Web browser to http://www.heartland.org and click on the State of Fear graphic.