I just finished State of Fear, by Michael Crichton.
I'm a big fan of Crichton's earlier books (Jurassic Park, The Great Train Robbery, A Case of Need) , and I hated his more recent ones (including Timeline, Airframe, and Prey). I found State of Fear to be most like Jurassic Park -- a thriller infused with science.
At its most simplistic level, the book is about a chase to stop ecoterrorists from manufacturing some serious damage. Above that, it's about a conspiracy within the environmentalist community to preserve and grow their cause by heightening the sense of crisis surrounding threats to our environment. But all of that is basically throwaway plot; the conversation sitting behind all of this is a debate: how much do we really know and understand about the environment? Crichton does his homework and rattles off reams of data showing that the case for man-made global warming is not as strong as we would like to believe.
The major points he makes:
1. We don't understand how our environment works. The information we are working with is woefully incomplete, and there is no model that matches the data that we have. We certainly can't predict with any reasonable level of certainty what future environmental conditions will be. While there is some evidence of global warming, for example, we don't really know how much is man-made and how much is natural.
2. The notion of a "balance of nature" is a complete myth. There is no balance or stasis in nature; it is constantly changing.
3. While there are many cases where man has had a severely damaging effect on his natural surroundings, as often as not the corrective action we have taken has only made matters worse. We often don't realize when we're destroying the environment, and we equally don't begin to understand how to fix it.
One gets the feeling reading this book that Crichton felt that he needed to get full value out of the three years he spent doing research for this book. It is chock-full of references to real research papers, books, presentations, transcripts, and other sources of information. And by the end of the book he is really beating a dead horse when it comes to the forced-dialogue debates on what we know about the environment.
Over the last six months, I've spent a fair amount of time reading up on environmental research on my own. My take on Crichton's three points above:
1. Probably true, though there is enough cause for concern in the data that we do have that we should be careful to minimize our impact on our environment -- simply put, we should not be messing with things that we don't understand. We can't afford to be casual or careless.
2. Absolutely true.
3. Absolutely true. One more reason not to be casual or careless, because if we break it, we can't fix it.
All criticisms aside, State of Fear is an interesting read, and is certainly much better than Prey or Airframe. Jurassic Park is a more interesting story, but State of Fear is more broadly thought-provoking. If you like having your beliefs challenged, definitely pick it up. But be patient, and be prepared to skip some bits if it gets too repetitive.