David Suzuki vs. Michael Crichton (National Post February 21, 2007)

Last Thursday, environmentalist guru David Suzuki stormed out of a Toronto AM640 radio interview with host John Oakley because Oakley dared to suggest that global warming might not be the "totally settled issue" Suzuki insisted it was.

Oakley only reported a fact: Many accredited scientists -- some full professors from top universities, including Nobel prize winners and a former president of the National Academy of Sciences -- would argue that "global warning is at best unproven and at worst pure fantasy," according to novelist and independent scientific researcher Michael Crichton, author of the best-selling 2004 environmental techno-thriller, State of Fear.

Crichton, one of the first to expand on the theme of environmentalism-as-religion, would doubtless see Suzuki's gesture as a result of confusion of his role as environmental advocate with that of chief of Morals Police. Suzuki's very public censure of Oakley for his perceived blasphemy is disquieting because it smacks of the totalitarian impulse to silence and humiliate the dissenter --or even, as in this case, the dissenter's messenger.

Suzuki keeps high-profile company in his tendency to suppress environmental infidels. Al Gore called skeptics "global warming deniers," evoking (if only unintentionally) invidious and fallacious comparison with Holocaust denial. Rejecting the historical record of what has actually happened in the past is one thing ; expressing skepticism about events that are predicted to happen in the future on the basis of computer simulations is quite another. But once you get into the realm of reigning ideologies, such rational distinctions fall by the wayside. The object is to shame the one who questions the received wisdom.

Suzuki would have better served his cause if he had addressed skeptics' actual concerns. Such as:

- Why was climatologist James Hansen -- the father of global warming--off by 200% in his prediction that temperatures would increase by 0.35 degrees Celsius by 2008 (the actual increase has been .11 degrees); and why did he (and colleagues) say in 2001 that "the longterm prediction of future climate states is not possible"?

- Of the world's 160,000 glaciers, some are shrinking. But many --in Iceland, for example --have "surged" in the last few years, while most of Antarctica is getting colder; if warming is "global," why?

- Why haven't sea levels risen to the extent predicted? Why have the waters off the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean not only experienced no rise over several centuries, but an actual fall in the last 20 years?

- Where is the predicted "extreme weather?" There has been no global increase, and in many cases a decrease, of extreme weather patterns.

- From 1940-70, carbon dioxide levels went way up, but temperatures went down so abruptly that a new Ice Age was the prevailing fear; wherefore this disparity?

- The Sahara Desert is shrinking--purportedly due to the greening effects caused by man-made global warming; but isn't the greening of the desert a good thing? I know to ask these questions only because I've read State of Fear. And as the environmental hysteria burgeons, I continue to press the book on everyone I know. Forget the silly (but riveting) plot, which is to the embedded environmental science in the novel as blini to caviar. You cannot read State of Fear with an open mind and continue to believe global warming is a "totally settled issue."

Nor should readers be put off by Crichton's status as a "mere" novelist. Crichton's scientific research on environmental issues is so impressive he was invited to address the U.S. Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works. Even Crichton's most frenzied critics (the Los Angeles Times called State of Fear "the first neocon novel") did not repudiate his peer reviewed, impeccably sourced data.

Amongst the hundreds of books, journal articles and scientific reports in his bibliography, (no mention of Suzuki, strangely), Crichton lists every publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since its formation. He has read them all, and in the end humbly "guesses" -- the most one can do -- that we are experiencing mild warming, possibly more beneficial than harmful.

The remorseless pressure on Canadians to sign up for environmental orthodoxies that they are not cognitively equipped to judge is demoralizing and divisive. Tantrums by self anointed prophets do not help the situation. Whatever the eventual outcome on the global warming front, we could all use a little non-partisanship, maturity and attitudinal cooling on the behavioural front.


© National Post 2007