February 1, 2005
Bill Gates, global warming, and DavosBy Richard Baehr
The New York Times has now reviewed Michael Crichton's latest novel State of Fear twice, both times scathingly. In the Sunday Book Review Section on January 29th, the reviewer, Bruce Barcott, an editor of Outside Magazine, pins the left's ultimate smear on the author — that his book resembles nothing so much as an Ann Coulter—style assault from the right on the accepted wisdom about man made climate change, namely global warming resulting from our emissions of 'greenhouse ' gases.
Crichton's book, despite the less than critical acclaim from reviewers, has moved to number 4 on the Times fiction best seller list. It will probably go higher. Crichton is an accomplished novelist, and many of his books have been turned into successful movies— Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, The Lost World, Andromeda Strain, Disclosure, Congo. There must be great fear in the environmental movement that Crichton's latest effort will become a paperback bestseller read by millions, and then a hit movie. Though it might take a Hollywood producer with the courage and deep pockets of Mel Gibson to bring such a politically incorrect story to the big screen.
For years, the environment movement has been peddling the theory that the planet faces global catastrophe from rising temperatures. Polar ice caps will melt, the oceans will rise, coastal areas will be flooded, and other agricultural growing areas will become parched deserts. Many species will disappear, new diseases will appear. A story from the far left British paper the Guardian is typical — we will soon lose those lovable polar bears due to global warming, it is speculated.
The Guardian article talks of a 2.5 degree Centigrade temperature change from 1750 to 2026. The article is silent about the portion of this temperature change that will occur from now until 2026. If almost all of it has already occurred, and the polar bears are still around, why would a fraction of a degree increase in the next 21 years change things very dramatically? And just what kind of temperature measures were in place around the world in 1750, come to think of it?
State of Fear is not a great novel in a lot of ways. The plot is a bit preposterous. The good guys, an MIT genius and a few colleagues, manage to uncover a plot to initiate a series of environmental catastrophes that are being created by a radical environmental group ELF (Earth Liberation Front), funded by an ostensibly more mainstream group (NERF (National Environmental Resource Fund), so as to showcase the dangers of climate change. The good guys manage to escape one near death experience after another and foil the faked environmental disasters.
But the weak believability of a plot has never managed in the past to keep a Crichton novel from the best seller list, nor from the screen and big box office dollars. And that is the fear that must be rife on the left and in the salons of the major fundraising machines known as the environmental industry. For melded into the story of State of Fear, Crichton has inserted a series of conversations between the MIT genius Kenner, and a collection of lame, gullible environmentalists, who have accepted what the movement has been selling, without any real evidence or thought. And to listen to Kenner, the mainstream environmental movement has been peddling baloney. Crichton supplies a collection of footnotes with these discussions to point to real studies that discredit or challenge much of the accepted wisdom in the mainstream media on the subject of global warming, and other environmental beliefs as well.
An example is how the environmentalists have chased DDT away with a phony cancer scare. Now malaria has come back hard killing millions a year in Africa, instead of thousands. A few brave souls among the major environmental groups have agreed that use of DDT in the areas recently hit by the tsunami, might save lives from infectious diseases in the months to come.
Last week, the annual Davos World Economic Forum featured panels of preening professors, world leaders, and Hollywood stars and starlets mostly there to be seen on camera berating America for not doing its part to meet its targeted contribution to world wide anti—poverty efforts. A key claim was that more money would lead to saving more lives from malaria. Bill Gates, the world's richest man, and the world's leading private philanthropist in African aid efforts to rid the continent of infectious diseases, also talked exclusively about money, new vaccines, and mosquito nets.
Nobody talked about DDT. Perhaps, in the presence of eminences like Bill Clinton, Bono, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, Angelina Jolie, and the rock stars of Davos, Professsor Jeffrey Sachs and George Soros, Gates has lost his critical faculties. The ability to offer the challenging questions and insights for which he is famous at Microsoft was nowhere in evidence at Davos. Glamour works in mysterious ways to dull a normally—sharp mind.
Gates's foundation has bypassed many of the traditional agencies which distribute aid in Africa. Wisely, he did not trust their effectiveness amidst the widespread corruption of aid budgets on the continent in the past. I am sure he is well—meaning and his gifts and initiatives are savings lives. But taking on an accepted Truth of the environmental industry (DDT is bad) is simply not possible in polite company, apparently, even for someone of an ordinarily independent mind. This is a sad loss for Gates, for the effectiveness of the efforts he funds, and ultimately for the people who will suffer and die in Africa and elsewhere.
Global warming, however, is a much bigger deal than DDT. The environmental movement has won on DDT, resulting in millions of unnecessary deaths of course. But the anti—corporate, anti—American agenda of the global warming and greenhouse gas movement has not reached a similar victory. The US has not signed on to the Kyoto Accords (which the Senate rejected 95—0 during the Clinton administration, lest we forget). That agreement, calling for the Western countries to roll back their emissions to 1990 levels, while the rest of the world faces no limits at all, manages to accomplish little other than an enormous transfer of wealth from some countries to others.
It is not as if India and China and Southeast Asia really need such an artificial boost to their economic growth rates, which are more than double ours, and four times those in the EU. One last note on Kyoto: the temperature simulation models indicate Kyoto would reduce global temperatures by 0.04 degrees Centigrade by the year 2100 if implemented. Does that sound like enough to avert a crisis? One does not become a defender of emissions to point out such thing, nor does it make one a tool of the coal and gas interests.
Crichton lays out some information that will not be part of the environmental unit at your child's junior high school. If the earth's atmosphere is thought of as football field, carbon dioxide now makes up an inch in length on that field of 100 yards. It has grown by a sixth of an inch in a quarter century. Somehow this sounds less dramatic than computer simulations of 9 degree temperature change in the next century.
The best estimates we have are that global temperatures rose one degree centigrade last century. But while the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere rose continually in the century, the global temperatures rose for 40 years, then dropped for 30 and then rose again the next 30. Does that sound like a pattern with a high correlation between temperature and carbon dixoide levels? There is a lot of skepticism about early century global temperature data from the 1900s. The US data, considered more reliable even by environmentalists, shows only half a degree change in temperature in a century. Climate changes, not directly or indirectly attributable to humans (as emissions from power plants or cars would be) have been many times more dramatic than that throughout history. Remember glaciers and ice ages? Crichton posits a competing theory — that much of the warming that has occurred, modest as it is, may be attributable to urbanization, and the well documented heat capturing effects of large cities.
This past week, the New York Times, in a remarkably dishonest story on the front page of its Science Times section, noted the exhilaration experienced by some climate scientists with new data showing a melting of the ice cap in some sections of Antarctica. With most of the world's ice in this huge southern hemisphere continent, the developments portend rising seas and future calamity. The article pointed to similar developments with the northern hemisphere ice caps. The first page of the article included six maps that pointed to the areas where temperatures were rising, and the ice was breaking off. Under one of the maps, but nowhere else in the two page article, was the note that in most of Antarctica, the temperatures were dropping, and the ice caps were expanding. In fact, Crichton tells us that the area of rising temperatures in Antarctica is only about 2% of the continent. Up north, the data is also mixed: Greenland shows some melting, Iceland shows the reverse. In every country in the world, one sees the same pattern: some areas have rising temperatures, others dropping temperatures. There appear to be significant local factors that affect temperatures, and create micro climates.
The Times article was significant for its trumpeting the new data so dramatically. Could it be a pre—emptive strike before too many people read the Crichton book? One has to wonder about the gleeful scientists with their new data. One would have hoped scientific research would be disinterested scholarship, not partisan rooting for specific results. Certainly, the scientists cannot be happy if they believe that the research results indicate that calamity is ahead for the globe. Wouldn't that make them depressed and fearful? Or is it that as part of the army of environmental advocates, they have a new weapon in their arsenal for the scare campaign required to head off the Crichtons and other skeptics (Peter Huber, Bjorn Lomborg, John Stossel, Gregg Easterbrook) of the secular left's religious belief in global warming?
Here is hoping that many people read State of Fear, and follow up with further study of the sources and studies that Crichton points us to. Even better, the book might be turned into a movie, though the environmentalist lobby, a big player in Hollywood, will probably pressure the Hollywood studios to avoid making it. In my dreams, a newly open—minded Laurie David, the environmental activist wife of the comedian Larry David, will drive her Prius to a private airport near Los Angeles, to fly her private jet into New York for the opening.
One by one, the last protected preserves of the left are under assault: the college campuses, the media, the environmental shtick. Sunday was a great day for freedom in Iraq, defying the mainstream media naysayers, and the defeatists in the Democratic Party. Now let us get some truth and facts into the environmental debate.