A good ending to a sloppy book

I just finished with Michael Crichton’s 2004 State of Fear. It’s a page-turner, of course, but sloppy, in my opinion. It is a bit like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, bad fiction used to espouse a point of view. His characters are paper-thin, one used to exaggerate climate change fanatics, and who is eaten by cannibals towards the end. No kidding. He has two women who are, almost as if required in our era, exceptionally strong, beautiful and intelligent, acting like men in combat and performing amazing feats of physical prowess. His major antagonist, a man named Drake, commits (using pawns) ghastly crimes, but is never apprehended, that whole matter left unresolved. Another major character, Morton, fakes his death early on, and this is painfully obvious throughout the book.

I was surprised to be done on page 715, as the book is 800 pages. Crichton added a section called “Author’s message” along with an two appendixes and a long bibliography. This makes the book a nice resource, even if dated. It is the Author’s message that I thought to be the best-written part of the book, and I am going to quote some passages, impressive in their clarity.

  • We know astonishingly little about every aspect of the environment, from its past history, to its present state, to how to conserve and protect it. In every debate, all sides overstate the extent of existing knowledge and its degree of certainty.
  • We are in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850, as we emerged from a 400 year cold spell known as the Little Ice Age.
  • Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon. Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made.
  • Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century. The computer models vary by 400%, de facto proof that nobody knows. But if I had to guess – the only thing anyone is doing, really – I would guess the increase will be 0.812436°C. There is no evidence that my guess about the state of the world 100 years from now is any better or worse than anyone else’s. (We can’t “assess” the future, nor can we “predict” it. These are euphemisms. We can only guess. An informed guess it’s just a guess.)
  • Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of 10 years. 20 would be better.
  • I think for anyone to believe in impending resource scarcity, after 200 years of such false alarms, is kind of weird. I don’t know whether such a belief today is best ascribed to ignorance of history, sclerotic dogmatism, unhealthy love of Malthus, or simple pigheadedness, but it is evidently a hardy perennial in human calculation.
  • There are many reasons to shift away from fossil fuels, and we will do so in the next century without legislation, financial incentives, carbon conservation programs, or the interminable yammering of fear mongers. So far as I know, nobody had to ban horse transport in the early 20th century.
  • I suspect the people of 2100 will be much richer than we are, consume more energy, have a smaller global population, and enjoying more wilderness than we have today. I don’t think we have to worry about them.
  • The current near hysterical preoccupation with safety is at best a waste of resources and a crimp on the human spirit, and worse an invitation to totalitarianism. Public education is desperately needed.
  • I conclude that most environmental “principles” (such as sustainable development or the precautionary principle) have the effect of preserving the economic advantages of the West and thus constitute modern imperialism toward the developing world. It is a nice way of saying, “We got ours and we don’t want you to get yours, because you’ll cause too much pollution.”
  • The “precautionary principle,” properly applied, forbids the precautionary principle. It is self-contradictory. The precautionary principle therefore cannot be spoken of in terms that are too harsh*.
  • I have more respect for people who change their views after acquiring new information than those who cling to views they held 30 years ago. The world changes. Ideologues and zealots don’t.
  •  We haven’t the foggiest notion how to preserve what we term “wilderness,” and we had better study in the field and learn how to do so. I see no evidence that we are conducting such research in a humble, rational,, and systematic way. I therefore hold little hope for wilderness management in the 21st century. I blame environmental organizations every bit as much as developers and strip miners. There is no difference in outcomes between greed and incompetence.
  • We need a new environmental movement, with new goals and new organizations. We need more people working in the field, in the actual environment, and fewer people behind computer screens. We need more scientists and many fewer lawyers.
  • We desperately need a nonpartisan, blinded funding mechanism to conduct research to determine appropriate policy. Scientists are only too aware whom they are working for.… Research funding is almost never open-ended or open-minded. Scientists know that continued funding depends on delivering the results the funders desire.
  • I am certain there is too much certainty in the world.
  • I personally experience a profound pleasure being in nature. My happiest days each year are those I spent in wilderness. I wish natural environments to be preserved for future generations. I am not satisfied they will be preserved in sufficient quantities, or with sufficient skill.
  • Everybody has an agenda. Except me.

*(This is MT, not MC): The section on the precautionary principle, often invoked by fearmongers, is food for thought. I have thought about it now, and still need to think about that more, unless some wise commenter ‘splains it to me. I do not see in it an oxymoron.

5 thoughts on “A good ending to a sloppy book

  1. “Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of 10 years. 20 would be better.”

    Wow! That is a great point, succinctly stated. Would be useful to toss into any discussions to hopefully give true believers at least an iota of pause.

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  2. I don’t even know if that is enough, as models might accurately predict 20 years out but what is to say they would then accurately predict the next 100 years?

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  3. Love the quotes you pulled. Very good stuff. My main gripe with the whole phenomenon is the sheer lack of humility against geologic time. 10,000 years, on a geological scale, is a blink of an eye. We have no idea whether the higher CO2 or temperatures would be a net positive or negative. I’m willing to concede we’re raising the CO2 in the atmosphere, but not to levels the Earth hasn’t seen before. What I enjoy most about these quotes is decrying the excess certainty we see today. Anyone who acts like they know the right course of action is lying to you.

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  4. It is very interesting how the antagonist is named Drake, with drake being a traditional anglicisation of draco, the latin for dragon. My understanding is the dragon iconography and symbolism that adorned heraldry, mystery traditions amd myth is a representation of the vanquished forces of the earth or nature. Morton of course would be from mort, or death. This isn’t terribly important, though it appears to be part of his archetypal structure in some way. I have never read MC but it is worth note I guess that he is using the same name archetypal related techniques that Joyce, Pynchon, Wilson and others have used.

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  5. I glanced through this book at the library yesterday. Looks like it has a great bibliography if one wanted to dig deep into this suspicious field. But I’m just a dabbler too, especially when it comes to physics, climate science, etc.

    I noticed he said all the major journals have taken an editorial position of “belief” in man-made global warming (or just cc now perhaps?) Signaling to working scientists that doubt will be ostracized. He notes that the main critics are retired or otherwise free of financial pressure to conform. He also draws a parallel to previous cases where a paradigm was dogmatically enforced leading to catastrophe, such as eugenics.

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