Michael Crichton, of Jurassic Park and "ER" fame, recently released his latest novel, "State of Fear." Already controversial, and unread personally, the book makes the statement that the issue of global warming is significantly overblown. His point, as reviewers eloquently note, is that the idea of global warming is more, "faith over fact," "more political than scientific, " and even a "quasi-manipulation of our society."
Crichton has often molded his stories around science, most notably Jurassic Park, as his background is both in anthropology and medicine. I thoroughly enjoyed the last book of his that I read, "The Lost Word," although I still have not forgiven Steven Spielberg for completely destroying the screenplay. Crichton's argument in "State of Fear" is an interesting one, even if I disagree. And, statistically, based on his premise, I can only assume he is a Republican and that perhaps he even owns a logging company (want some wood?).
Fear has always been a powerful motivating factor and, as we recently witnessed, the fear of terrorism was a major factor in the presidential election. As Georgetown law professor Richard J. Lazarus notes in his new book, "The Making of Environmental Law," it was the environmental scares of the 1970s that prompted even Richard Nixon to begin passing environmental laws that lead to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act. The question is then, how real are those fears today?
The recent election was hardly influenced by environmental factors, as George W. Bush will be remembered as one of the least environmentally and scientifically informed presidents in history- the signing of the February 2004 petition condemning the White House for "deliberately and systematically distorting scientific fact," by scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, more than exemplifies this statement. Further to this, Lazarus notes, "the GOP has become experts in managing the spin, repacking environmentally damaging laws under titles like "Clean Skies" or "Healthy Forests" (I might add the "Patriot Act" and "Operation Iraqi Freedom to that clever, though unrelated, list). From this, despite Crichton's claim, fear has clearly not influenced recent political thought.
Crichton's book has fallen victim to poor timing as the World Meteorological Organization just released its report for 2004, noting it as the fourth warmest year on record (since 1990 the ten warmest years have been recorded). In addition, the carbon dioxide on the side of Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano has registered a carbon dioxide increase of two parts per million now for two consecutive years. The increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may raise global temperatures. Increasing temperatures may, in turn, melt ice caps, setting in motion climatic and environmental changes. Models differ in the projection of possible consequences, but we recently witnessed nature's power in the tsunamis that hit Asia following an oceanic earthquake.
The issue or concern, depending how one views the situation, is a global one. And more than an economical issue, it is a cultural and moral issue. Our "fast-paced" culture has little understanding of the gradual nature of environmental decay, notes Lazarus. Furthermore, our industrial, scientific and technological advancements have created a culture that, "ever more disconnects us from the real world." Meaning, of course, that we have become separated from the physical world that challenged our ancestors. Bill McKibben in "Legal Affairs" magazine, best summarizes the cultural and moral dilemma encompassing the globe, "...real progress on global warming demands figuring out ways to let poor nations use more energy for necessities while we use less for luxuries."
Granted, on a planet that is measured in billions of years, a ten-year trend towards global warming does not prove that it exists. But it does not take much to understand that fossil fuels, and our other natural resources, will not last forever. It would be easy to list the atrocities placed on this planet in just a couple of generations- from the depletion of natural resources to the alarming rate of extinction. Human beings, especially in first world countries, continue to tear through this planet like an Enron shredding party. At some point, we need to slow down and recognize the moral obligation to future generations (and other species). And perhaps consider their, impending, "State of Fear."