Famed global warming denier and science-fiction author, Michael Crichton, has died in Los Angeles. He became famous as a pulse-pounding writer who helped create the techno-thriller genre with best-sellers (and hit movies) like Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain.
Then he used his fame in the most destructive way possible — to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific understanding of global warming, to urge people not to take action against the gravest preventable threat to the health and well-being of future generations.
In 2004, he published State of Fear, a deeply flawed novel that attacks climate science and climate scientists. Although a work of fiction, the book had a clear political agenda, as evidenced by Crichton’s December 7, 2004 press release:
STATE OF FEAR raises critical questions about the facts we believe in, without question, on the strength of esteemed experts and the media. Although the story is fiction, Michael Crichton writes from a firm foundation of actual research challenging common assumptions about global warming.
The mistake-riddled book (see below) contains a gratuitous Appendix titled “Why Politicized Science Is Dangerous,” where Crichton draws a direct and lengthy analogy between climate science and eugenics and Soviet biology under Lysenko, where all dissent to the party line was crushed and some Soviet geneticists were executed. With no evidence whatsoever, he claims, that in climate science, “open and frank discussion of the data, and of the issues, is being suppressed.”
Sadly, Crichton chose to use his fame to smear the work of countless scientists who are trying to predict and prevent the unintended consequences of humanity’s dangerous experiment with unrestricted emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
In a 2006 New Republic interview, he articulated the twin credos of global warming denial and delay:
“If you just look at the science, I, at least, am underwhelmed. This may or may not be a problem, but it is far from the most serious problem. If you want to do something, [limiting emissions] is not what to do. We don’t at this moment have good technology to do this, if, in fact, it’s necessary to do it.”
Such is the road to ruin. Those who advance such a view deserve the strongest of labels, the strongest of condemnation.
Crichton spoke frequently against climate scientists and climate action, including public debates and testimony at a Senate hearing chaired by James Inhofe (R-OK), where Crichton took the opportunity to once again accuse the entire scientific community of fudging the science of climate change.
Crichton even helped persuade President Bush that he was wise to do nothing to address global warming. In 2006, Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, wrote of Bush’s opposition to the Kyoto global warming treaty:
Though he didn’t say so publicly, Bush is a dissenter on the theory of global warming…. He avidly read Michael Crichton’s 2004 novel State of Fear, whose villain falsifies scientific studies to justify draconian steps to curb global warming. Crichton himself has studied the issue extensively and concluded that global warming is an unproven theory and that the threat is vastly overstated. Early in 2005, political adviser Karl Rove arranged for Crichton to meet with Bush at the White House. They talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement.
Such is Crichton’s legacy to future generations.
As a one-time M.I.T. techno-geek, I was once an enormous fan of Crichton’s work. But then he wrote “that rarest of books, an intellectually dishonest novel,” as I wrote in Technology Review three years ago.
Crichton made a fortune exploiting the public’s fears: Prey (fear of nanotechnology), Rising Sun (fear of Japanese technological supremacy), and Jurassic Park (fear of biotechnology). These books attack the hubris of those who use technology without wisdom. In Prey, he warns, “The total system we call the biosphere is so complicated that we cannot know in advance the consequences of anything that we do.”
Given the author’s past, one might have expected that a Crichton book on global warming would warn about the risk of catastrophic climate change — the unintended consequences of humanity’s reckless, irreversible experiment on the biosphere. But State of Fear took the reverse view. Crichton argued that the environmental and scientific communities have fabricated the threat. He wanted readers to fear those who argue that climate change is real, caused by human technologies, and dangerous.
Because the evidence for — and scientific understanding of — the human causes of climate change is now so overwhelming, Crichton could not make his case simply on the evidence. Instead, he had to distort the facts and accuse the scientific community of bad faith in order to make his case. And he did so, repeatedly.
Crichton portrayed environmentalists as uninformed, hypocritical, or simply evil. He created a scientist-hero, John Kenner, to save the day. (For added credibility, Kenner was an MIT professor — though he sounded more like Rush Limbaugh than any MIT faculty member I’ve met.) Speaking through Kenner, Crichton made a faulty case against the environmentalists. Kenner said, for instance, that a real NASA climatologist, James Hansen, has been discredited for overestimating the impact of global warming “by three hundred percent” during 1988 testimony in Congress. In fact, Hansen’s prediction was very close to accurate. The smear Crichton cited was created 10 years later, when global-warming skeptic Patrick Michaels misrepresented the testimony (see RealClimate’s “Hansen’s 1988 projections”).
Crichton also strained to discredit global-warming fears by presenting them as faddish. He had one environmentalist say (incorrectly), “in the 1970s, all the climate scientists believed an ice age was coming.” For a debunking of this classic denier myth, see “Another denier talking point — ‘global cooling’ — bites the dust.”
A full factual debunking of the book can be found on realclimate.org — “Michael Crichton’s State of Confusion II: Return of the Science” and “Michael Crichton’s State of Confusion.”
Crichton’s dissembling even leaked into the book’s bibliography, where Crichton mischaracterizes the landmark 2002 National Research Council report Abrupt Climate Change, claiming, “The text concludes that abrupt climate change might occur sometime in the future, triggered by mechanisms not yet understood.” That is simply not true. The report concludes plainly, “Abrupt climate changes were especially common when the climate system was being forced to change most rapidly. Thus, greenhouse warming … may increase the possibility of large, abrupt, and unwelcome regional or global climatic events” (emphasis added to both quotes).
Why would Crichton mischaracterize the report in his bibliography? Because one of his main goals in the book was to undermine the case that global warming causes abrupt climate change and extreme weather events. In his story, a mainstream environmental group plots to create extreme weather events that will cause the deaths of thousands of people timed to coincide with a conference on abrupt climate change in order to trick the public into accepting global warming as truth. In a bizarre coincidence, the book’s climax had the evil environmentalists carefully plan a seismic tsunami-just weeks before an actual tsunami devastated Southeast Asia.
But the truth is stronger than fiction. Seismic tsunamis are caused by earth tremors. They are not caused by global warming! Any climate scientist knows that. This was a stunning blunder by Crichton, utterly underming any claim that he understands climate science.
His PR firm issued a news release about his death:
“Through his books, Michael Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields, and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way we could all understand.”
Had Crichton never engaged in the global warming arena, had he never written State of Fear, his impressive body of work would probably have ensured a positive legacy for decades to come. But by becoming perhaps the most famous popular global warming denier and delayer in the world, he ensured that future generations — who will have to suffer the horrific consequences humanity’s denial and delay — will remember him primarily for his anti-scientific effort to accelerate humanity’s self-destruction.
- Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 2: Why deniers out-debate “smart talkers”
- Global Warming, Tsunamis, and Michael Crichton’s Big Blunder
- Blog of the Day: Crichton’s Fictions
- Franken Calls for Crichton-Climate Progress Debate. We Accept.