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[greenyes] Global Warming - Other Views

December 10, 2004


A Chilling Tale
December 10, 2004; Page W1

We know that nature can kill. What most people don't know is that stupid
ideas about nature can kill, too.
In "State of Fear" (HarperCollins, 603 pages, $27.95), Michael Crichton
delivers a lightning-paced technopolitical thriller that turns on a
controversial notion: All that talk we've been hearing about global
warming -- you know, polar ice caps melting, weather systems sent into
calamitous confusion, beach weather lingering well into January -- might be
at best misguided, at worst dead wrong. Think "The Da Vinci Code" with real
facts, violent storms and a different kind of faith altogether.

The book opens with the murder of an American graduate student studying
ocean-wave dynamics. ("State of Fear" is the sort of thriller that makes
even nerd-occupations seem daring.) A boatyard owner renting deep-sea
submarines in Vancouver is also murdered, as is a man purchasing illicit
rocket guide wires in London.

We soon learn that such skulduggery is being coordinated, or so it seems, by
Nick Drake, a Ralph Nader clone -- intense, single-minded and (apologies to
Mr. Nader's many fans) unhinged. He is president of the National
Environmental Resource Fund (NERF), an organization founded by lawyers, not
scientists, and devoted to pushing a radical environmental agenda. The fund
is clearly modeled on the real-life Natural Resources Defense Council, whose
annual budget is about the same: $44 million.

Down a Cliff

To keep the donations rolling in, Drake is trying to induce a perpetual
state of fear in the public by marketing the hell out of predictions of
catastrophic global warming. Global warming -- as we are all too well aware
these days -- results from burning fossil fuels that load the atmosphere
with heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Drake's problem is that people just
aren't alarmed enough to send in those vital checks. But Drake has a plan;
he'll force nature to cooperate with him.
To get his plan rolling, Drake needs seed money, so he wheedles millionaire
playboy George Morton, heir to a forklift fortune, into donating $10 million
to NERF. But Morton has the audacity to withdraw his gift when a scientist
at MIT apparently sets him straight about the science behind Drake's claims.
Drake is livid. Shortly after Morton takes his money back, he crashes his
Ferrari through an oceanside guard rail and plunges down a cliff to his
presumed death. No body is found. Is this an accident or yet another murder?


And what about the trend in actual global average temperatures, a question
central to the debate in "State of Fear"? According to satellite data, since
1978 the planet has been warming up at a rate, per decade, of 0.08 degrees
Celsius. Simple arithmetic reveals that, if the rate continues, the planet
will warm by 0.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That compares
with an increase of 0.6 degrees Celsius during the 20th century. No
catastrophe there. Indeed, Mr. Crichton has one of his characters note the
costly uselessness of the supposedly heat-reducing Kyoto Protocols.

Including the Clam
Of course, that didn't happen. In 1994, the World Conservation Union found
known extinctions since 1600 to include only 258 animal species, 368 insect
species and 384 vascular plants. Since the establishment of an endangered
species list in the 1960s, only seven species have been declared extinct in
the U.S.: four freshwater fish, a freshwater clam and two small birds. We
mourn for them all, of course, including the clam, but we mourn all the more
for the people duped by appalling scare tactics like those of Mr. Myers. Mr.
Crichton gets the scare-mongers exactly right throughout "State of Fear."
Not that Mr. Crichton is 100% accurate. Kenner tells Morton's friend:
"Environmental groups in the U.S. generate half a billion dollars a year."
The actual amount for just the 12 largest environmental lobby groups in the
U.S. in 2003 was $1.95 billion. That buys a lot of influence in the
Washington. One way to mitigate its effect is to read "State of Fear" --
every bit as informative as it is entertaining. And it is very entertaining.

Mr. Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent and the author of the
forthcoming "Liberation Biology: The Moral and Scientific Defense of the
Biotech Revolution."

Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

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