Novel on global warming gets some scientists burned up
Michael Crichton's latest work challenges contentions that greenhouse gases are raising temperatures — or even that temperatures are rising worldwide.
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON — A provocative new novel that says fears of global warming are unjustified and stoked by an environmentalist-media conspiracy is taking Washington by storm.
"State of Fear," a novel by Michael Crichton, the best-selling author of "Jurassic Park," and the creator of the TV show "ER," compares scientists who warn of global warming to advocates of eugenics who said that the mixing of races would ruin the world's genetic stock.
In an appendix explaining his position, Crichton writes: "Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon. Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made. Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century."
Sixteen of 18 top U.S. climate scientists interviewed by Knight Ridder, however, said the Harvard-trained author is bending scientific data and distorting research.
"Wrong, wrong, wrong," said Martin Hoffert, a professor of physics at New York University. "The best face I can put on this is that he doesn't know what he's doing. The worst is that he's intentionally deceiving people as he accuses environmentalists (of doing) in 'State of Fear.' "
The majority of climate scientists say the world is warming, mainly because of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The biggest increase in those gases comes from the burning of fossil fuels. U.S. and foreign authorities predict a 5-degree Fahrenheit increase in the world's average temperature by the end of the century. Ice sheets are melting, and species of birds and animals have moved to new areas because of warming.
Jerry Mahlman, a senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., attributes Washington's embrace of Crichton to fear: "The fundamental reality of the elementary physics of global warming is spooking the heck out of people, and they're looking for ways to get out of it."
Crichton's supporters credit his research skill, writing ability and celebrity. Crichton's book is "influential for the simple reason that he did it," said Frank Maisano, an energy lobbyist.
Two climate scientists said they loved Crichton's book.
"It was a fun read and the science was handled intelligently and responsibly," said one, MIT meteorology professor Richard Lindzen. "Crichton has studied the science for the last three years and comes to the issue with intelligence as well as a professional scientific background."
For his part, Crichton writes, "Everybody has an agenda. Except me."
"State of Fear" follows a mainstream environmental group's foray into terrorism. The environmentalists try to trigger a tsunami, flash floods and calving icebergs to convince the world of the dangers of climate change and raise more money.
Amid that plot, Crichton drops in graphs and footnotes to buttress his contention that global warming isn't a real problem.
Three scientists — Hoffert, physicist Ben Santer of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California, and NASA's James Hansen — told Knight Ridder that Crichton distorted their research in the novel.
Crichton declined to be interviewed or to answer 10 questions that were e-mailed to him through his publicist.
Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, takes issue with Crichton's contention that Hansen's 1988 prediction for warming was off by 300 percent. Hansen said his paper presented three predictions of future warming and said the middle case was the most likely. Crichton took the highest prediction and ignored the middle-case scenario, which was off by 20 percent, according to Hansen.
To challenge the warming predictions, Crichton also cites dropping temperatures in places such as Punta Arenas, Chile; Greenville, S.C.; Truman, Mo.; and Ann Arbor, Mich.
While some places have cooled, responded Henry Pollack, a professor of geophysics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, far more places have gotten hotter. That's especially true, he added, for the 79 percent of the world that's covered by oceans.
The world's overall temperature is rising, according to the federal government's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Last year was the fourth-hottest ever recorded. The five hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998. The 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1990. The last month to record below-average temperature was July 1985.