The F Word
Newcastle — The late novelist Michael Crichton stands tall in my world, and not just because he was six foot nine. His books are a pleasure to read and, though fiction, are filled with documented information on a wide range of subjects, mainly scientific. We have some things in common; we are both scientists. He was a freshman the year I graduated from university. (A difference: he graduated summa cum laude whereas I achieved nulla cum laude.) More relevant, we share skepticism over virtually all purported “truths.”
I am currently reading State of Fear, published in 2004, the plot line of which has to do with manipulation of the global warming issue. The urgency of the topic has lost strength of late, witness the disinterest of the recent presidential campaigns, but it was hot stuff late in the last century and at the beginning of this “How so?” you timidly inquire. It’s the F word.
However much lip service we many pay to nobler impulses, humans are motivated chiefly by fear; a fact not lost on those who prey upon us, which Crichton terms the PLM (politico-legal-media) complex. Politicians use fear to garner votes, lawyers use fear to initiate profitable lawsuits, and the media use fear to grab our attention. Global warming is an excellent vehicle for fear mongering, insofar as there is no scientific proof of cause and effect. It’s all speculation. Climate scientists don’t like State of Fear. They claim it is “error-filled and distorted.” Rubbish! Those attributes are better applied to climate science.
We can’t even establish global trends, with some exceptions such as the increase of carbon dioxide or the decrease of rain forest. Is the atmosphere warming? Who can say? It depends where you make your measurements. Is the Antarctic ice cap shrinking? Probably not. Is man making a mess of things. Certainly! However, I cannot readily accept that our activities contribute significantly to climate change, given the magnitude of other forcing mechanisms.
What is of more importance than specious argument is that when Sandy washes away 30,000 homes in New Jersey and an estimated 305,000 homes in New York, we immediately begin to resettle in the same locations. Now that’s insane. Here’s an impulse one can and should correct, especially if one buys the argument for a rising sea level.
As previously mentioned, the global warming paranoia is subsiding, largely due to our severely limited attention span. It has been replaced in our fear-conscience by carefully nurtured terrorism. Come to think of it, terrorism has lately lost much of its fear appeal. I wonder what’s next. Perhaps if China would resume nuclear testing we could return to the comfortable and familiar fear we felt with Soviet Russia. As Crichton points out, the demise of the Berlin Wall was not a good thing; it took away a reliable source of angst.
Part of our problem is that we are unconscionably gullible. We believe what people tell us and don’t bother with the facts, please, Mam. Crichton offers some examples. Dow Corning went bankrupt after lawyers convinced juries to wallop the company with billions in fines and penalties to compensate for damage done by silicon breast implants. It was subsequently verified that the implants do no harm whatever. The country wasted 25 billion dollars battling the fright rising from false claims of cancer caused by power lines. And we never learn, Maine continues to carp about cancer dangers from smart meters.
Cancer risk is a big fear seller. Asbestos comes to mind. Sure, Mesothelioma is linked to asbestos exposure. But it is a rare disease. Does it justify the precaution required in dismantling old buildings or all those law suits greedily pursued over the last six decades? Smoking is a killer? Sure, so is breathing.
The fact is that we in the western world have never been so safe. If we had any sense we would begin to dismantle all those safety requirements and regulations that so interfere with free will. We might even let out children ride in the car or play without all the immobilizing equipment that teaches them to be risk-adverse.
Anybody enjoy flying anymore? Last week it took me 21 hours to get to Kona, HI. I didn’t really mind the inconvenience of not checking luggage (because of the fee), or the hunger caused by not purchasing food (I did get two free cans of juice). I did mind the snaking, time-consuming lines of security. My belt is not a lethal weapon, nor are my shoes. Leave me alone, and stop radiating me in that cancer-causing booth, arms raised as if being arrested.
By the by, are you aware that the Mayan apocalypse is only a few days away? This is big in Russia. According to the New York Times, the people are frightened. Despite government reassurances some are still hoarding food, and "panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches kerosene, sugar and candles." But if the world is ending then why...never mind.