The Evaporation of Global Warming.

The Creator was recently reading Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. This was Crichton’s final book, since he recently died, and it is a most passionate work indeed, dealing with global warming. Crichton was a science fiction writer of a sort, and the work has an extensive bibliography and is chock-a-block with graphs and quotations from scientific papers.
But Crichton was a science fiction writer of a quite specific sort. One of his first novels dealt with people having computer chips implanted in their brains, along the lines believed by demented street people in New York. More recently, Crichton has pursued a gleeful faith in gee-whiz technology, combined with an awestruck admiration for the United States’ military and its power. Or, to be more succinct, he combines conspiracy theory with power-fetishism, in the good old fashioned Robert A Heinlein tradition.
This seems to be why State of Fear is a disturbing book in ways different from those that Crichton seemed to have intended. Crichton declares that there is no such thing as global warming; it is a myth, a concept falsely disseminated without any solid basis in reality. He demonstrates this through the voice of an American espionage agent closely linked to the military, who confronts a handsome, courageous environmentalist and his beautiful, courageous and athletic female associate (Crichton seems to be a sucker for muscular women) with the truth — that they have been working for all their lives on a falsehood. There is no such thing as global warming, and also environmentalism is calamitously wrong. It is impossible to save the environment, and anyway the environment is under no threat, and if it were, the best thing to do would be to hand it over to big business, which would manage it better than anybody else conceivable could.
This is an interesting thesis. The obvious question to ask would be why anyone should think that the environment is under threat if it isn’t, or why global warming should exist if it doesn’t. Crichton’s answer is that there is a vast conspiracy, which would certainly be required to accomplish the thesis — a conspiracy of the media and of affluent celebrities together with environmentalists who are enormously sponsored by mysterious financial elements and therefore need to sustain an environmental threat in order to keep the cash flowing. Of course the scientists are involved, and so are the liberal politicians. These people are all obsessed with anti-capitalist philosophy, and so they are hostile to business and therefore pretend that business endangers the environment when it does not. The myth of global warming is just the most extreme version of the environmentalist lie.
It is still not quite clear why, for instance, celebrities are so concerned to be anti-capitalist, or why scientists are so deeply concerned to falsify the facts when their grants will remain the same no matter what they discover. There are, after all, no huge corporations ploughing money into the notion that huge corporations ought to be abolished. Crichton vaguely suggests that part of the problem is the government, which keeps on setting up things like national parks that ought instead to be handed over to business’s sensible hands.
All this falls short of being sufficiently alarming, apparently, so in addition to all this, Crichton invents an “Environment Liberation Front” which is trying to destroy the world in order to save the environment. Among other things, it is trying to break up the Ross Ice Shelf using shaped charges (in the same way that the Larsen B ice shelf broke up a few years earlier), to provoke enormous floods by using wire-guided missiles and genetically engineered bacteria to control storms (in much the same way that Hurricane Mitch devastated Nicaragua a few years earlier) and to generate a tsunami in the Pacific by using acoustic “cavitators” and more shaped charges to engineer a massive undersea mudslide (in approximately the same way that an earthquake generated a tsunami in the Indian a few years earlier). Given that Crichton insists that neither the collapse of Larsen B nor the growing intensity of hurricanes and typhoons can have anything to do with global warming, he seems to be all but insisting that all major global environmental calamities are the fault of an evil conspiracy of environmentalists.
In the real world, humanity doesn’t have the capacity to do these things; the environment just isn’t that fragile. (Oddly, Crichton simultaneously claims that the environment is too tough to be influenced by gigantic issues like a massive increase in global carbon dioxide, and yet so fragile that a few bombs or missiles can destabilise it completely.) Crichton’s core message is thus extremely silly.
Of course, there is a degree of truth to it. There was room for debate around some of the scientific content of the anthropogenic global warming discussion, especially since scientists tend to rush into print to boost their careers. Granted, many of the opponents of anthropogenic global warming were funded by big business (some of them are in Crichton’s bibliography, although he does not admit this). However, the fact that one is funded by big business does not prove that one is wrong, it merely shows that one is biased. What is more, many of the supporters of anthropogenic global warming were scientifically illiterate and got their facts wrong. Of course, this says nothing about the facts themselves; virtually all of the opponents of anthropogenic global warming were also scientifically illiterate and got their facts wrong, and it seems clear that Crichton is one of these, despite his constant claim to possess scientific knowledge beyond the realms of the rest of us, for his careful cherry-picking of information is contradicted by vast amounts of other information which he does not share with his audience. The fact that most of the supporters of antiretrovirals were knowingly or unknowingly working for the companies making them, and were blissfully ignorant of the scientific meaning of the words they used in the propaganda they had written for them, does not mean that antiretrovirals don’t work.
But a more important degree of truth is one which Crichton lets out almost accidentally. He talks about the way in which governments use a culture of fear to control their populations. One of his characters, a nutty radical professor, points out that during the Cold War, there was a convenient enemy upon which a culture of fear could be based which justified repression and mobilised the public. (Eighty years earlier, H L Mencken had spoken of the “imaginary hobgoblins” which politicians used to terrorise the public into supporting them.) With the end of the Cold War, another basis for such a culture of fear would be needed.
Crichton’s military men lets the cat out of the bag, as military men do, by saying that of course after 9/11 there is a real enemy with a real basis for fear. Obviously, al-Qaeda is a far less robust basis for promoting fear than the Soviet Union was; if the Cold War was essentially a device for terrorizing the American public into submission to their rulers, surely the War On Terror is much more obviously such a device? It then seems obvious that if George W Bush simply wanted to terrorise the public, why should he have failed to deploy such a juicy source of fear as global warming? Surely there was a reason why he chose to minimise it? It would appear, however, that Crichton’s political standpoint prevents him from admitting this. (Likewise, when he talks about the way in which politicians and others fabricate issues to manipulate people, Crichton ignores the biggest such episode in his recent history, the “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” fabrication.)
But this raises an interesting possibility, one which Crichton cannot deal with because of his ideological bias. What if global warming were simultaneously real, and a source of conscious political manipulation? In other words, what if there were a real danger both from the thing itself and from the politicians making use of it for their own purposes? Of course the immediate problem might be politicians denying that the thing existed at all. However, if the issue were real, might environmentalism be something less than capable of dealing with it? Has environmentalism, after all, been conspicuously successful in dominating the political landscape, or has, rather, the alternative been the case?
A natural example of this was Al Gore. He campaigned for high political office on the basis of being an environmentalist and “author” of Earth in the Balance (of course, being a Tennessee tobacco farmer with strong connections with the oil lobby didn’t hurt). After he failed to win the 2000 Presidential election he reinvented himself as an environmental activist and eventual promoter of the movie An Inconvenient Truth, which Crichton obviously loathes. However, in between these little episodes he happened to be Vice-President of the United States, and an unusually powerful one given that he served under a competent and politically astute President. As Vice-President, he did approximately nothing for the environment. Does this suggest that some of Crichton’s points about the way in which politicians and some of their environmentalist allies manipulate the situation for their own benefit, might be true?
Well, take a look at the media today. A few years ago the issue was extraordinarily clear. There was a flood of books coming out, many of them written by people who were obviously serious, if laypeople, like Monbiot, Pearce, Leggett et al, telling us that we were doomed if we didn’t do something. But they were also telling us, en passant, that the central source of the problem was the United States Government (George W Bush, CEO and prop.) What has happened to all those books? Why haven’t they been reissued? Where are all the articles about global warming (now renamed “global climate change” as if by calling it “climate change” you can disregard the fact that the issue is warming)? Is everything all right now?
In the last decade, things have definitely grown worse. The Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets continue to shrink alarmingly, as do the glaciers. Sea level is not rising significantly, but then it wasn’t before. However, huge hurricanes and general bad weather continue to manifest themselves in the Caribbean and south China. Droughts are more extreme, rainfall patterns more exaggerated. Food production has become significantly less secure in many parts of the world. And, of course, the amount of carbon dioxide and methane dumped into the atmosphere is increasing at a growing rate, year by year. Monbiot, writing in 2005, wanted a two-thirds cut in carbon-equivalent emissions by 2030; twenty-five years. (He actually wanted much more, but he put this forward for debating purposes.) Four of those years have elapsed; under the Monbiot timetable we have twenty-one years in which to cut more carbon-equivalent emissions. That means that the cuts would have to be more savage, more damaging, than if we had not wasted those four years.
But where is Monbiot? Indeed, where is the issue? Buried, it would seem. There are no marches in the streets complaining about the weather. The whole global warming issue is on the back burner. What matters is the Global War on Terror, or on the Taliban, or on the Somali resistance or the mysterious absence of African enthusiasm for American military bases or the bizarre desire of the North Koreans to defend themselves. And, of course, the Global War on Middle Class People, also known as the credit crunch, that titanic act of daylight robbery of anyone who pays taxes in any affluent country in the world. Between these vitally important struggles against enemies who either don’t exist or were manufactured wholesale by the United States government and its friends, allies and collaborators, the struggle against the destruction of the environment is unimportant.
So, it seems that Crichton had a point. There are, indeed, cynical and manipulative people at work in the global warming debate. They made use of global warming when it suited them, and when the time has come to do something, they have always quietly turned out the lights and turned on the gas. If Crichton were right, of course, these people wouldn’t be a problem. Ironically, if there were no such thing as global warming or environmental dangers, as Crichton pretends, then all would be well in the world apart from the whimpering and wittering of the irrelevant and the dishonest.
But, unfortunately . . .


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