State of Fear, the new offering from novelist and master of disaster Michael Crichton, is more silly than scary. What is scary is when some media and policymakers take a work of science fiction and confuse it with science. That’s what’s happening with State of Fear, in which Crichton builds a fantasy world where global warming is not a real threat, but global warming scientists are. — NRDC website

Crichton’s novel, alas, is unilluminating as a critique and unsatisfying as a thriller. — David Roberts, Grist Magazine 

It sure is getting hot out there. 

As we head into June and it’s time to once again slap on the tanning lotion, one can’t help but wonder whether the rising temperatures are being caused by the approaching summer, manmade greenhouse gases, or perhaps the rising tempers of those in the environmental community who are fuming over Michael Crichton’s latest work, State of Fear.  To be sure, this book is causing quite a commotion.  Crichton — who hardly requires much PR for his works which include Jurrasic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and Congo — received a shot in the arm for his new book when it was covered by John Stossel on ABC’s 20/20 and trumpeted on Capitol Hill by Senator James Inhofe who “highly recommends the book to all of [his] colleagues.” Such attention has served to politicize the book to a large degree, but the questions it raises are ones sure to stimulate debate for some time to come.

State of Fear makes for some thrilling reading.  It is the story of a man named Peter Evans, a lawyer who works for multimillion dollar philanthropist George Morton who supports numerous environmental causes. As the story rapidly unfolds, it becomes clear to Evans that many of the environmental causes he embraces, particularly global warming, are not based in fact. Indeed, what he eventually uncovers is a diabolical plot by leading environmental groups to systematically hype environmental disasters on an unprecedented scale for the purpose of driving fear into the hearts of the public.  This fear would in turn funnel more money and support toward environmental causes and ultimately to the groups involved in the conspiracy.

While such a plot has understandably angered many in the environmental community, what has many even more upset though is the systematic manner in which Crichton attacks the science behind the global warming theory.  Through the interactions of the characters and using a large amount of factual data and graphs, the author peels apart the dynamics of the global warming debate and reveals many of the shortcomings behind the arguments of the theory’s proponents.  Indeed, rarely has such a work of “fiction” been written so chalk-full of footnotes and facts. Clearly Crichton is trying to drive home a point on this hotly debated greenhouse issue — and in case one missed it, he finishes the book by comparing the “science” of eugenics with that of global warming with respect to how such politicization has taken place in the past with dangerous consequences.

While one can certainly challenge Crichton’s tact, it would be a mistake to dismiss all of the assertions in his book.  He simply raises too many good questions, most which have been strongly asserted by respected global warming skeptics for more than a decade.  As highlighted in a recent CFACT/Heartland Institute fact sheet, these troubling facts would include, among others: 

  • most of the warming in the past century occurred before 1940, before CO2 emissions could have been a major factor (p. 84) 
  • temperatures fell between 1940 and 1970 even as CO2 levels increased (p. 86) 
  • temperature readings from reporting stations outside the U.S. are poorly maintained and staffed and probably inaccurate; those in the U.S., which are probably more accurate, show little or no warming trend (pp. 88-89) 
  • “full professors from MIT, Harvard, Columbia, Duke, Virginia, Colorado, UC Berkeley, and other prestigious schools…the former president of the National Academy of Sciences…will argue that global warming is at best unproven, and at worst pure fantasy (p. 90) 
  • temperature sensors on satellites report much less warming in the upper atmosphere (which the theory of global warming predicts should warm first) than is reported by temperature sensors on the ground (p. 99)
  • data from weather balloons agree with the satellites (p. 100) 
  • there has been no increase in extreme weather events (e.g., floods, tornadoes, drought) over the past century or in the past 15 years; computer models used to forecast climate change do not predict more extreme weather (pp. 362, 425-426) 
  • temperature readings taken by terrestrial reporting stations are rising because they are increasingly surrounded by roads and buildings which hold heat, the “urban heat island” effect (pp. 368-369)
  • methods used to control for this effect fail to reduce temperatures enough to offset it (pp. 369-376)
  • computer simulations are not real-world data and cannot be relied on to produce reliable forecasts (p. 566).

State of Fear, of course, is a work of fiction.  After the buzz it has created simmers down, it will perhaps best be remembered as a retort to that other work of fiction in this same genre, namely the movie The Day After Tomorrow.  While many may question the appropriateness of authors and Hollywood producers taking on such important scientific issues and thereby denigrating them to the world of fantasy, it seems as though these creative geniuses do in fact provide one useful contribution: They bring to light the debate over provocative environmental issues, and make them more understandable to the general public.  Crichton’s book is thus a welcomed intrusion in the global warming debate, and is a must read for all those desiring to become better educated and thoroughly entertained.


  • Adam Houser

    Adam Houser coordinates student leaders as National Director of CFACT's collegians program and writes on issues of climate and energy.