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Published: Saturday, 12/25/2004

The myth of warming

GLOBAL warming is heavily politicized pseudo-science like eugenics and Lysenkoism, and potentially more dangerous. That's the message of Michael Crichton's new techno-thriller, State of Fear. He seems to have written the novel chiefly to get this message to people who don't ordinarily think much about the issue.

Based on Mr. Crichton's track record, he'll probably succeed. Mr. Crichton has written 13 previous best-sellers, most of which were made into movies. You may remember Jurassic Park and Rising Sun.

Mr. Crichton is an awfully smart guy. He wrote thrillers to earn money to put himself through Harvard medical school, but when The Andromeda Strain took off like a rocket, he became a full-time writer. His medical training wasn't wasted, though. He used it to create the hit television series ER.

Mr. Crichton is always a good read. The action is fast-paced, his characters are well-sketched. But what I like best about Mr. Crichton's stories is the science education I get in the course of reading them. In his earlier novels, the science was subordinate to telling a crackerjack story. But in State of Fear, the purpose of the story is to present the science. Mr. Crichton explains it in terms laymen easily can comprehend.

The planet will warm - probably by less than a degree Centigrade - by 2100. This will have little effect on humans or most other forms of plant and animal life, and such effects as it will have are likely, on balance, to be beneficial.

This warming almost entirely will be the result of natural processes. The Earth is always getting either warmer or cooler. It has been both very much warmer (there were once jungles in Siberia) and very much colder (glaciers once covered most of North America) than it is today. All of this happened before Henry Ford built the first Model T. Most of this happened before man first walked upright.

Mr. Crichton illustrates the preposterousness of the notion that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide can have much effect on climate with this analogy, put in the mouth of his character Jennifer Haynes:

"Imagine the composition of the Earth's atmosphere as a football field. Most of the atmosphere is nitrogen. So, starting from the goal line, nitrogen takes you all the way to the 78 yard line. And most of what's left is oxygen. Oxygen takes you to the 99 yard line. Most of what remains is the inert gas argon. Argon bring you within 3 1/2 inches of the goal line. That's pretty much the thickness of the chalk stripe. And how much of the remaining three inches is carbon dioxide? One inch.

"You are told carbon dioxide has increased in the last 50 years. Do you know how much it has increased, on our football field? Three-eighths of an inch - less than the thickness of a pencil. Yet you are asked to believe that this tiny change has driven the entire planet into a dangerous warming pattern."

In between extricating his heroes from crevasses in the Antarctic, flash floods in Arizona, and cannibals in New Guinea, Mr. Crichton explodes cherished myths of environmentalists. Antarctica, which has 90 percent of the world's ice, is getting colder, not warmer. Sea levels aren't rising.

Satellite measurements show negligible warming in the upper atmosphere, where the "greenhouse effect" ought to be taking place. Increases in surface temperatures are caused by urbanization. For instance, average annual temperatures in New York City rose 5 degrees Fahrenheit between 1822 and 2000. But average temperatures in West Point, an hour away by car, didn't rise at all, and average temperatures in Albany, three hours away, fell.

Environmental groups are run by crackpots and con men, not scientists. On the rare occasions when environmentalists tell the truth, they omit important details. The glacier on Mt. Kilimanjaro is melting but it's been melting for 6,000 years. A computer model indicates the ice pack on Greenland might melt but not for 1,000 years.

In order to boost fund-raising, environmentalists allege a connection between warming and hurricanes and tornadoes. (Few of us panic about what may happen, gradually, 1,000 years from now.) But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says hurricane strikes in the United States are less than one-third of the number that existed in the 1940s.

State of Fear is a valuable education in the guise of entertainment. Do yourself a favor and buy it.



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