Editor’s note: Steincamp
is an environmental lawyer and licensed geologist with Depew Gillen
Rathbun and McInteer L.C. in Wichita, Kan. and serves as vice president
of AAPG's Division of Environmental Geosciences (DEG).
Fear begins in typical thriller fashion, with the murder of an unsuspecting
physics student in Paris and the acquisition of a seemingly eclectic
collection of high-tech equipment by shadowy figures.
quickly moves to a young lawyer working on environmental causes
for a Los Angeles law firm. Peter Evans quickly becomes the main
protagonist of the story; he enters the story as a junior associate
assigned to George Morton, the heir of an industrial fortune. Evan’s
job is to facilitate Morton’s support of environmental causes and
another of the firm’s clients, the National Environmental Resource
onset, Evans is so naive and guileless as to be an embarrassment
to the practice of environmental law. He briefly recognizes and
dismisses the conflict of interest that develops as Morton becomes
disenchanted with the methods and goals of NERF. Nick Drake, a former
trial lawyer, now head of NERF, sensing his relationship with one
of his major supporters slipping away, starts carefully manipulating
Evans to make sure the money keeps coming.
point John Kenner, a mysterious and omni-competent MIT scientist
and lawyer, enters the story. Kenner quickly demonstrates that many
of the “truths” Evans “knows” are supported by few facts. Amazingly,
even when Kenner’s sources turn out to be actual scientific reports,
Evans resists re-examining his opinions until after he is nearly
murdered by an environmental zealot in Antarctica.
story unfolds, NERF, in an attempt to keep the funds flowing, decides
that if the earth won’t oblige with suitable environmental catastrophes
as a result of the depredations of man, then the earth must be given
some assistance. NERF has set out on a course to foster public fear
for the state of the environment by the creation of ostensibly natural
calamities. They include the creation of a huge iceberg blasted
off the Antarctic ice shelf, a flash flood in the American Southwest
that would drown hundreds of school children and their parents,
and, most chillingly in light of current events, the creation of
a huge tsunami in the South Pacific aimed at California.
these disasters is foiled by Kenner with the help of Evans and several
beautiful women. It is never explained why Kenner, who purports
to be working for the U.S. government, chooses only the help of
a cast of amateurs who remain unconvinced of the “truth,” even as
they race around the planet to disrupt NERF’s nefarious schemes.
has an agenda. Except me.”
Michael Crichton’s latest science-based thriller, State of Fear
(HarperCollins, 603 pages, $27.95). Crichton’s statement comes at
the end of a novel that makes important and rarely heard points
concerning the global warming debate.
may be asked: “Why is an earth science organization reviewing a
work of fiction?”
much of what passes for science is actually fiction.
State of Fear, which is on the “Best Selling” list, is not an ordinary
work of fiction. It is meticulously footnoted and has 34 pages of
bibliographical material with commentary on each reference by the
author, together with two appendices. Many papers presented in esteemed
journals of science cannot make equal claims.
Crichton has real science credentials. He has both an undergraduate
degree in anthropology and an M.D. from Harvard University.
A genus of ankylosaurus is named after him: Crichtonsaurus bohlini,
a late Cretaceous, three-meter long fossil, discovered in China
State of Fear is a wide-ranging exposition on the status of climate
and earth science.
unlikely the plot (left), the book does make a number of
extremely important points concerning the science of global warming.
Kenner’s repeated exposition of scientific studies shows that there
is a substantial amount of evidence that the planet is not warming
at all. In spite of the dire pronouncements we hear from the mouths
of reporters, musicians, actors and fellow scientists, the science
of climate change is not nearly as clear as could be wished. In
fact, a case might be made that the earth is actually cooling. As
many may recall, an impending ice age was widely predicted by many
of these same celebrities and assorted luddites in the 1970s. As
noted by Oscar Wilde: “The pure and simple truth is rarely pure
and never simple.”
is obviously outraged by the mis-allocation of resources and the
human misery and environmental destruction that have resulted from
the misuse of science and the misunderstanding of our environment.
He debunks many of the more popular myths of our age: Alar, DDT,
the power-line cancer scare and others. Through his character of
Professor Hoffman, Crichton argues that the true agenda is “control.”
the thought is chilling. Environmental considerations color nearly
every conceivable issue. If anything, Crichton understates the impact
of the environmental movement.
for us all is that science should be left to the scientists and
protected from misuse by the unscrupulous. Advocates have perverted
science through ignorance or outright misrepresentations. This mistaken
or maligned advocacy diverts available resources to nonexistent
problems. The result, in Crichton’s words: statistical murder.
tongue is firmly in his cheek in his disavowal of an agenda; however,
many of his forthright suggestions in the “Author’s Message” are
right on target.
to be taken is not whether global warming is in fact occurring,
or even whether or not man’s activities are having an effect. The
point is that at present we simply don’t know if the earth’s climate
is changing. It is even less clear whether any action we can take,
no matter how drastic, will make one whit’s worth of difference.
The earth has been both much cooler and much warmer many times before
in its over six billion year history. Humanity has not even been
witness to the vast majority of those events.
know that fact. The earth science community has largely stayed on
the sidelines during the environmental debate that has raged for
the last 30 years.
Fear is a wake-up call.