It Makes You Think

September 3, 2010

On Prakash’s recommendation, I started reading Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. Let me say up front that it’s a completely crappy book (sorry, Prakash) and reminds me why I practically gave up on contemporary fiction a long time ago.

Why is it so bad? Well, I mean! It’s written like a Hollywood flick and a particularly lousy Hollywood flick, at that. In slow motion. It’s all highly improbable. For example, the hero and one of the many heroines are thrown into a crevasse in Antarctica. They climb out and are found by… a robotic machine! Which just happens to come and crawl right over them! Next, another hero and the same heroine manage to climb into a small chamber where lightening simulation is done. The bad guys try to fry them. They, of course, survive. Later on, the same heroine and the first hero – the Antarctica one – are driving through a storm and the lightening follows them as they leave their car and run into a house. They have lightening bolts crashing down on every side of them (and nowhere else, apparently). Yet, they survive.

Meanwhile, they have prevented the largest ever iceberg from calving off the Antarctic peninsula and prevented a flash flood from killing untold hundreds. They are also, apparently, going to prevent a tsunami or something. And probably some other stuff, I don’t really know – I haven’t finished the book yet.

Oh and the hero and various other supporting cast also get stung by a tiny octopus that causes them to get completely paralyzed and eventually die. Not the hero, of course – only the supporting actors die. The hero is saved by not one, but two of the rival heroines!

So you see what I mean – all that action and that’s before the interval.

As I said, as action thrillers go, it’s crappy. But, if it were a straightforward action thriller, well, you take it at face value and don’t bother too much about the details, right? Now the problem is that this book also wants to throw serious spokes into the global warming argument. So after every little improbable action sequence comes a load of preachy, lecture-type information about why global warming is all propaganda and there’s no real scientific basis to it. Different people give different perspectives, including why governments would want to propagate the global warming theory – to create and perpetuate a state of fear – and what all the various NGOs want out of it – obviously, lots of funding.

My problem is, I don’t really want my scientific information coming in the interstitial spaces between people getting killed in various interesting ways and cockeyed theories of why the global warming is the political flavour of the month. I’m no scientist, but a device that controls where lightening strikes sounds like crap to me. I don’t want that kind of crap mixed up with serious arguments about why carbon emissions aren’t having a significant impact on climate change. Give me action thriller. Or a political-business nexus thriller. Or give me scientific debate. Don’t mix them up and give me a cocktail.

That said, if this Crichton guy wanted to make people sit up and really think about global warming and its causes and the impact of humans – ok, he’s done that much. He did make me sit up and think. I didn’t immediately discard the idea of carbon emissions and industrialization being the root cause of global warming, but I did think that maybe I should make some effort to find out more. So I went on the Net and I did some reading. What I found was – nobody really knows.

What I’ve read so far – and of course, it’s only a drop in the ocean – indicates that global temperatures might be going up, and atmospheric carbon dioxide might be going up, but they have done so periodically over millions of years. Some people think we’re heading for another ice age so enjoy the summer while it lasts, folks. Others say, we are currently in an ice age – there’s loads of ice all over Antarctica, and that’s not a given. Only 40 million years ago, it wasn’t there!

Also, it’s not clear that carbon dioxide fluctuations cause temperature fluctuations and if so, to what extent.

It also seems that there are a large number of other factors involved, such as polar continents and ocean currents and the orbit of the earth. And given the scale of things, these might have a much greater impact on global temperatures than minuscule quantities of carbon dioxide. I mean, 380 parts per million, up from 350 ppm does sound like very little, doesn’t it? And not all of that is due to human activity, it seems.

Ok, I haven’t completely gone over to the dark side yet. I still think we should clean up the air. I still think we’re doing horrible things to this planet. But now I also realize that the world has been much hotter and much colder over millions of years and there are forces at work that are much, much larger and stronger than us puny humans. So global warming might be bad for us – a lot of us might get hit in terrible ways. But the planet will survive. I think.

And that’s the only good thing I can say about this book – it makes you think.

And that’s a good thing. Thank you, Prakash.

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