Crichton’s questions lead to environmental caution

In the minds of many Americans, science is less than reliable. Recently, advocates for intelligent design have made huge strides in grappling with evolution, and now, it seems that the environmental movements of the past few decades are being questioned as well.

In some minds, author Michael Crichton is leading that battle against environmentalism. Crichton’s latest book, State of Fear, asserts human involvement in global warming is overstated.

On Sept. 28, Crichton was asked to speak before the Congressional Committee on the Environment and Public Works, chaired by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.). During his remarks, Crichton consistently pointed out that our Earth is in the midst of a natural warming period and “nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made.”

Kathi Beratan, who has a doctorate in geology and chairs the Center for Sustainable Communities at Ambler Campus, said opinions dismissing human roles in global warming and other environmental issues are “troubling.” Beratran cites the precautionary principle, a belief that if results are debatable then it is better to be overly-cautious.

Crichton may be correct that scientific models predicting human effects in geological time could be unreliable, but is that reason enough to desert present pro-environmental measures? As of yet, no one has definitive information on the causes of global warming. Yet, it is sensible to argue that while scientists debate over the effects humans have on the environment, society should pursue regulations of increasing environmental awareness, especially about hazardous emissions that might be adding to global warming.

Beratan, who is also a research scientist at Duke University, draws a metaphor on the subject: “It’s like a sinking ship. You grab a bucket. Even if it’s not your fault, even if it’s futile, what else are you going to do?”

Crichton himself has argued that “we need a new environmental movement.” Likely, Crichton’s message has been misunderstood. There is no reason to believe that Crichton is against protecting the environment. Instead, it seems he wants to remind Americans that the truth hasn’t been found yet.

Still, State of Fear is being used to defend a position that claims humans have no involvement in environmental degradation. Inhofe, who was “excited” to invite Crichton to speak before his Congressional committee, called global warming a “hoax.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Inhofe’s top two monetary contributors are oil companies.

Global warming is a reality and changes are occurring all the time. On Aug. 29, a Russian research ship was the first vessel ever to reach the North Pole without needing to break ice in order to pass. In January, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the U.S. State Department held a private, two-day meeting to discuss the implications of a warming Arctic.

Are these signs of global warming entirely a naturally changing temperature period or is the heat-trapping pollution humans have caused to blame? No one can say for sure, but today’s environmentalism should not be under attack because of that.

Restricting emissions and reducing daily use of chemicals – or any product – is at the heart of respecting not only our world, but our communities and fellow humans. Nearly 150,000 Inuits, a group of Eskimoan people who call our world’s northernmost regions home, are losing hunting, fishing and traveling land in the Arctic. Whether that is the fault of humans or not, no one’s temperament regarding working toward minimizing the stress we put on the world around us should be affected.

In school textbooks that discuss evolution, some boards of education have approved putting disclaimers that ask students to approach the theory “with an open mind.” Unless Crichton is advocating a complete abandonment of environmental consciousness, maybe he should consider a similar warning for State of Fear.

Let me offer a suggestion: Global warming is a theory, not a fact – but don’t stop recycling.

Christopher George Wink can be reached at

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