Tuesday, 11 March 2008

State Of Fear

The book is terrible, the characters are just not believable and its full of contradictory lectures about the environment that stop the action. The irony though is Crichton talks about people exaggerating problems and the 'state of fear' when his career has included many books and films like the Andromeda Strain, Twister, Westworld and Jurassic Park, which talk up similar disasters. His environmentalists are unlike any that I've met or heard of, they drive fast cars, live in huge houses, fly everywhere and know nothing about science. They are comically stupid, and portray actors as the most stupid, shame he didn't feature novelists. Some people are killed by a tiny octopus wielded by an exotic lady, an unusual death by paralysis that doesn't add much to the story.

Dr Kenner the skeptical scientist hero seems to know little about science, we are told there is no evidence that sea level is rising then later that is has been rising for centuries. He is quite ridiculous as a character, he appears to know by everyone in developing countries, or is known by them, yet the eco crowd haven't heard of him. He is meant to be an expert in law, the military and surveillance, as well as climate science. He is in a secret FBI like organization that gives him wide powers, yet he seems to need to borrow a private plane to get around and uses a small group of amateurs to try and stop terrorism. He tells us that the world is indeed warming, but not as predicted, inconveniently this would also indicate sea level rise. How funny that some people are getting their skepticism about the environment from this book, when the book is such a mess. His argument that climate predictions should be as accurate as a flight plan, when the science involved is new and complex, the world has never seen CO2 levels like this and levels change with development so how would it be easy to predict?

In a debate about whether the U.S. should sign the Kyoto Protocol to combat Global Warming, Dr. Kenner asks why we should sign a treaty that "won't, in effect, do anything at all?", stating: "The effect of Kyoto would be to reduce warming by .04 degrees Celsius in the year 2100". This assertion has serious problems, The Kyoto Protocol calls for the industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 5.2% below 1990 emission levels for the period 2005 - 2012. Developing countries do not have to cut emissions. Since the Kyoto treaty expires in 2012, it is absurd to talk about the worth of the Kyoto Protocol by extending it to 2100, assuming no emission control demands will be put on developing countries at some point in the future.

They discuss a lawsuit for an island called 'Vanutu' in danger of flooding from sea level rise, and spend a lot of time on whether sea levels are indeed rising. This is presumably based on Vanuatu, which is indeed in danger of flooding as the sea level rises.

Its more annoying that environmentalists are represented as wanting to repress developing countries. The reverse is true, with vested interests wanting to exploit developing countries. Its laughable that he would use a tsunami to characterize global warming, they result from earthquakes, like volcanoes, have nothing to do with the weather.

Its annoying that the focus of this is only on carbon emissions, as there are other related problems. Reducing emissions means being more efficient with fuel and reducing air pollution, which will cost less money, reduce imports etc. Also our planets resources are limited, were using future generations share leaving them with no oil or plastic. So insulated houses and smaller cars are good for lots of reasons.

See his side of it at www.michaelcrichton.net/books-stateoffear.html

I also meant to mention a couple of themes in the book.
1. Lawyers are taking over. Well perhaps in the states they certainly seem to be growing in importance, this seems not to be instantly spreading as so much culture does however.
2. Conspiracy theories, they can be scary or laughable. In this book its that global warming is a conspiracy launched by climate scientists to get work. Scientists are paid so little this seems laughable. Much of the book is dedicated to quashing the far more likely scenario that corporate interests from the oil and car industries are funding the skepticism. It is in their interest after all to keep business as usual. However not every skeptic is paid by the industry, when Crighton wants to make his characters look foolish his does make them suggest this to every unlikely character.
3. They develop a device that causes lightning strikes, the hero flees his car to escape them. Most cars are metal cages, so would be the safest place to be in the event of lightning. Also its portrayed as endless, but normally storms only produce a small amount of lightning. This is such a ridiculous way of killing somone, in the tradition of the lazer cutter or exotic fish in bond movies. Austen Powers spoofed them so well, its hard to take that seriously now.

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