State of Fear

Reviewed: December 9, 2009
By: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Avon Books
672 pages, $11.99

You can’t read the late Michael Crichton’s 2004 novel about an eco-terrorist con job without having your view of the environmental movement altered somewhat.

Just during the last two weeks the so-called “’Climategate” affair regarding the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia seemed to bolster the claims of climate change skeptics that any evidence that runs counter to the Gore thesis in “An Inconvenient Truth” is being suppressed.

On the other hand, climate change advocates have been quick to label this as a blip in the overall state of the science and also quick to point out that many of the professional skeptics are being funding by BIG OIL in the same way that the cigarette companies funded their own cancer specialists for many years.

In State of Fear Crichton gives us a world in which the environmental movement has been hijacked by lawyers, advertising agencies and fading television stars. This consortium is willing to do anything to sell their argument and keep the money rolling in. Anything includes setting off explosions to disrupt the Antarctic ice cap and artificially triggering a tsunami in order to coincide with a major climate change conference.

An industrialist named Morton, once a major supporter of the National Environmental Resource Fund, learns of corruption within the movement and stages his own faked death so that he can get to the bottom of their plans before they cause a world catastrophe.

Along the way people spend a lot of time debating the fine points of climate change with each other and our main viewpoint character, a lawyer named Evans, is slowly converted from being a true believer to being a skeptic.

This book was contentious when it first came out, not so much because of the story, which is standard thriller stuff, but because of the author’s message, appendices and annotated bibliography which take up the last 50 or so pages.

In this part of the book Crichton argues that, while there is no doubt that human activity is increasing the carbon dioxide levels in the air and having SOME influence on the planet’s climate, this is but a small part of a general climate shift which has been going on for over 150 years now.

Land use and a population density are, he contends, more important factors than anyone has given weight to. When we cannot predict the weather with any accuracy beyond a five day window, how much faith should we place in climate projections that claim to foresee decades ahead?

Crichton rails against what he calls the politicization of science, citing the well known case of eugenics, a science which promoted everything from the sterilization of the mentally challenged to the Nazi death camps, as an example of how science can be corrupted when it is harnessed to political outcomes.

Crichton has one of his spokes characters declare that the real issue behind all the crises that seem to beset us regularly is one of population control by the Powers that Be. We are being kept in a continual state of fear over one thing of another.

These are all interesting issues and one cannot dismiss them out of hand. Certainly when you look at the H1N1 crisis / vaccine crisis of the last few months through this lens it makes you think.