Joseph Bast is president of the Heartland Institute. This article is republished with permission of the Heartland Institute. The online original article, posted at http://www.heartland.org/, is much longer and includes many links to reviews, articles, and research on environmental issues that do not appear here.
Michael Crichton's book, State of Fear (Harper Collins, 2004, $27.95), is a surprising book. Tucked inside a lively and entertaining tale of a philanthropist, a scientist, a lawyer, and two remarkable women who travel around the world trying to foil the plots of evil-doers is a detailed expose of the flawed science and exaggerations at the base of the global warming scare. It is also a devastating critique of mainstream environmentalism today and an eloquent call for change.
Like Crichton's previous block-busters, The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, this book blends science and fiction in ways that teach as well as entertain readers. Crichton, who earned an M.D. from Harvard University and has written several nonfiction books, backs up his claims with footnotes, an appendix, and an annotated bibliography. Clearly he wants the science in his book to be taken seriously.
Which raises the question: How much of the science in State of Fear is accurate, and how much is fiction?
The answer: Michael Crichton is right! His synthesis of the science on climate change is extremely accurate and the experts he cites are real. The Heartland Institute has been participating in the debate over climate change for more than a decade, and we have worked with many of the experts listed in the book's bibliography.
This feature on The Heartland Institute's web site is dedicated to following the debate over the science in State of Fear. It collects some of the many reviews, op-eds, and letters the book has generated, and also links to research on environmental issues and the environmental movement.
What Crichton Says about Global Warming
Early in the book, Crichton has one of his characters define global warming as "the heating up of the earth from burning fossil fuels." (p. 80) Not so, says another character, who defines global warming as follows:
. . . global warming is the theory that increased levels of carbon dioxide and certain other gases are causing an increase in the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere because of the so-called "greenhouse effect." (p. 81).
The second definition is correct. "Global warming" really is only a theory, not a fact. Over the course of the book, other characters document the following flaws in the theory of global warming:
* Most of the warming in the past century occurred before 1940, before CO2 emissions could have been a major factor (p. 84).
* Temperatures fell between 1940 and 1970 even as CO2 levels increased (p. 86).
* Temperature readings from reporting stations outside the U.S. are poorly maintained and staffed and probably inaccurate; those in the U.S., which are probably more accurate, show little or no warming trend (pp. 88-89).
* "Full professors from MIT, Harvard, Columbia, Duke, Virginia, Colorado, UC Berkeley, and other prestigious schools . . . the former president of the National Academy of Sciences . . . will argue that global warming is at best unproven, and at worst pure fantasy" (p. 90).
* Temperature sensors on satellites report much less warming in the upper atmosphere (which the theory of global warming predicts should warm first) than is reported by temperature sensors on the ground (p. 99).
* Data from weather balloons agree with the satellites (p. 100).
* "No one can say for sure if global warming will result in more clouds, or fewer clouds," yet cloud cover plays a major role in global temperatures (p. 187).
* Antarctica "as a whole is getting colder, and the ice is getting thicker" (p. 193, sources listed on p. 194).
* The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica has been melting for the past 6,000 years (p. 195, pp. 200-201); "Greenland might lose its ice pack in the next thousand years" (p. 363).
* The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is "a huge group of bureaucrats and scientists under the thumb of bureaucrats," and its 1995 report was revised "after the scientists themselves had gone home" (pp. 245-246).
* James Hansen's predictions of global warming during a Congressional committee hearing in 1988, which launched the global warming scare, were wrong by 200 percent (.35 degrees Celsius over the next 10 years versus the actual increase of .11 degrees); in 1998, Hansen said long-term predictions of climate are impossible (pp. 246-247).
* There has been no increase in extreme weather events (e.g., floods, tornadoes, drought) over the past century or in the past 15 years; computer models used to forecast climate change do not predict more extreme weather (pp. 362, 425-426).
* Temperature readings taken by terrestrial reporting stations are rising because they are increasingly surrounded by roads and buildings which hold heat, the "urban heat island" effect (pp. 368-369); methods used to control for this effect fail to reduce temperatures enough to offset it (pp. 369-376).
* Changes in land use and urbanization may contribute more to changes in the average ground temperature than "global warming" caused by human emissions (pp. 383, 388).
* Temperature data are suspect because they have been adjusted and manipulated by scientists who expect to find a warming trend (pp. 385-386);
* Carbon dioxide has increased a mere 60 parts per million since 1957, a tiny change in the composition of the atmosphere (p. 387).
* Increased levels of CO2 act a fertilizer, promoting plant growth and contributing to the shrinking of the Sahara desert (p. 421).
* The spread of malaria is unaffected by global warming (pp. 421-422, footnotes on p. 422).
* Sufficient data exist to measure changes in mass for only 79 of the 160,000 glaciers in the world (p. 423).
* The icecap on Kilimanjaro has been melting since the 1800s, long before human emissions could have influenced the global climate, and satellites do not detect a warming trend in the region (p. 423); deforestation at the foot of the mountain is the likely explanation for the melting trend (p. 424).
* Sea levels have been rising at the rate of 10 to 20 centimeters (four to eight inches) per hundred years for the past 6,000 years (p. 424).
* El Ninos are global weather patterns unrelated to global warming and on balance tend to be beneficial by extending growing seasons and reducing the use of heating fuels (p. 426).
* The Kyoto Protocol would reduce temperatures by only 0.04 degrees Celsius in the year 2100 (p. 478).
* A report by scientists published in Science concludes "there is no known technology capable of reducing [global] carbon emissions . . . totally new and undiscovered technology is required" (p. 479).
* Change, not stability, is the defining characteristic of the global climate, with naturally occurring events (e.g., volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis) much more likely to affect climate than anything humans do (p. 563).
* Computer simulations are not real-world data and cannot be relied on to produce reliable forecasts (p. 566).
One character in State of Fear concludes:
The threat of global warming is essentially nonexistent. Even if it were a real phenomenon, it would probably result in a net benefit to most of the world (p. 407).
What Crichton Says on Other Environmental Topics
The characters in State of Fear also debate deforestation, endangered species, sustainable development, DDT, and many other hot environmental topics. Here are some highlights from those discussions:
* California's forests have continuously changed their composition: "each thousand-year period was different from the one before it"; Native Americans actively managed the changes with fire and agriculture (pp. 404-406).
* Nobody knows how many species there are in the world, and estimates of extinction rates are simply expressions of opinion and not science (p. 422).
* Silicon breast implants did not cause disease and power lines do not cause cancer (p. 456).
* Mankind does not know how to manage ecosystems, as is demonstrated by the gross mismanagement of Yellowstone National Park (pp. 484-486).
* Banning DDT was "arguably the greatest tragedy of the 20th century" since DDT was a proven lifesaver that posed no threat to human health (pp. 487-488).
* The biggest cause of environmental destruction is poverty, not prosperity (p. 564).
What Crichton Says on the Environmental Movement
Michael Crichton is also very critical of the environmental movement. In the fiction part of the book he has characters say the following:
* PETA, the animal rights group, funds ELF, an eco-terrorist group, and mainstream environmental groups may be funding them as well. "Frankly, it's a disgrace" (p. 182).
* Environmentalists have used "media manipulation" and scare tactics as part of a "global warming sales campaign" to raise money and acquire political influence (p. 245).
* Environmentalists refuse to take into account the possible harms caused by the policies they recommend, with the result that they advocate spending billions of dollars to save a single hypothetical life (pp. 488-489).
* Environmentalism organizations today "have big buildings, big obligations, big staffs. They may trade on their youthful dreams, but the truth is, they're now part of the establishment. And the establishment works to preserve the status quo" (p. 565).
Crichton is careful not to accuse all environmentalists of being insincere. Only the leaders of environmental organizations, who should know better, are portrayed as deliberately misleading the media and general public in order to advance their careers. As for the rest of us, one character says: "Caring is irrelevant. Desire to do good is irrelevant. All that counts is knowledge and results" (p. 483).
Toward a New Environmental Movement
In his "Author's Message" at the end of State of Fear, Crichton summarizes some of his own views on the issues his characters address earlier in the book. He also says:
We need a new environmental movement, with new goals and new organizations. We need more people working in the field, in the actual environment, and fewer people behind computer screens. We need more scientists and many fewer lawyers.
This is right on! Did you know the Sierra Club spends only about 7 percent of its budget on "outdoor activities"? (It said so right on the back of the reply form that accompanied its direct mail letters.) Is it right to call such an organization an "environmental" group when it is actually a direct-mail house connected to a Washington D.C. lobbying shop?
Beyond this, the message of State of Fear has serious public policy consequences:
* Most of the environment and health protection regulations in the U.S. ought to be reformed so they address real rather than imaginary risks, and concentrate on what works instead of the liberal orthodoxy of big government solutions to every problem.
* The U.S. is quite right to stay out of the Kyoto Protocol -- the global warming treaty -- and ought to be doing more to persuade other countries of the world that the protocol is unnecessary, premature, and unworkable.
* Government should stop funding radical environmental groups -- indeed, all environmental groups for that matter -- and should investigate the ties between eco-terrorist organizations, supposedly mainstream environmental advocacy groups, and the foundations that fund them. When homes and businesses are torched by environmental extremists, law enforcement authorities should determine whether tax-exempt foundations helped buy the gasoline and matches those outlaws used to commit their crimes. *
"I'd go out with women my age, but there are no women my age." --George Burns