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State Of Fear
By Michael Crichton
HarperCollins Publishers
HC, 603 pages, $27.95
ISBN: 0-0662-1413-0

Changing the climate

By Steven Martinovich
web posted January 3, 2005

State Of FearMichael Crichton has built a very successful career writing popular fiction that challenges the reader to question their assumptions about the world. Although some critics unfairly denigrate his novels as doctrinaire and shallow, Crichton occupies an important niche, namely as a writer of accessible novels about important issues. Although we focus on the dinosaurs, plane crashes, conspiracies and deaths in his novels, Crichton has used his work to argue and explore issues like genetics, nanotechnology and business ethics. In his latest novel, State of Fear, Crichton takes direct aim at one of the most dominant issues of our time: global warming.

The central character of State of Fear is Peter Evans, a young lawyer and committed environmentalist who represents millionaire activist George Morton. Morton has donated millions to finance an environmentalist lawsuit against the United States government but has lately become suspicious about the National Environmental Resource Fund's real agenda. The lawsuit, which charges that sea levels are rising because of global warming and threatening the existence of a small South Pacific island nation, doesn't seem to be based on any supportable science. Before Evans knows it, he's thrust into an international plot that sees him tangle with extremist environmentalists who will stop at nothing to get their message out.

Evans learns from a mysterious MIT scientist who leads the fight against the extremists that while global warming is a real phenomenon, its primary cause isn't human activity and its connection to climate change has not been proven.

Throughout the novel John Kenner explains to Evans that the environmentalist movement, politicians and the media have created a "state of fear" for their own purposes. The global warming industry -- and given the funding it generates it's a fair description -- is perpetuated to control humanity politically and economically.

"Western nations are fabulously safe. Yet people do not feel they are, because of the [politico-legal-media complex]. And the PLM is powerful and stable, precisely because it unites so many institutions of society. Politicians need fears to control the population. Lawyers need dangers to litigate, and make money. The media needs scare stories to capture an audience. Together, these three estates are so compelling that they can go about their business even if the scare is totally groundless. If it has no basis in fact at all," one maverick professor tells Evans outside of a global warming conference.

To build his case Crichton marshals an impressive amount of evidence complete with footnotes, an extensive bibliography, appendixes and an author's note. It is, in fact, more sourced than many serious books which argue the orthodox line on global warming. The data that Crichton's characters source are straight from the same government and non-government organizations that supporters of global warming use to build their case, except that Crichton quite persuasively argues why his interpretations are correct.

State of Fear, however, is not a treatise on junk science and global warming; it is a novel and must be judged on that basis. Unfortunately the novel's story and characters only seem to exist to allow Crichton to have his say on the issues. Crichton doesn't make his villains remotely sympathetic -- though considering their intentions that might not be a bad thing -- and nor does he explore why they decided on their extreme course of action. In fact, they are largely faceless entities. With State of Fear Crichton has essentially squeezed in the plot of a thriller in between frequent speeches lambasting the environmentalist movement and their use of junk science.

And yet the novel works, quite possibly because of the audacity of a popular novelist taking on a movement that is viewed largely uncritically by the public and media and has assumed the aura of a religion. A movement whose agenda calls for an incredibly radical change in the way we live. Though many may find the events in State of Fear to be implausible, Crichton's many devastating salvos against the environmentalist movement are harder to brush off. State of Fearisn't the perfect thriller novel but it is an outstanding marriage of entertainment and education.

If it performs any public service, hopefully it will teach its readers not to believe that simply because a group's agenda is ostensibly in the public interest that it doesn't have to meet the same standards of proof. Thanks to the public reach that Crichton has, there may be darker days ahead for those promoting the traditional line on global warming. This time they can't blame it on increasing cloud cover due to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- only on a more skeptical public.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

Buy State of Fear at Amazon.com for only $16.77 (40% off)

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