The Null Device

Crichton on environmentalism

Best-selling airport novellist Michael Crichton rips environmentalism a new one:
Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths. There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

And, apparently, media coverups go both ways:

So I can tell you some facts. I know you haven't read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don't report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn't carcinogenic and banned it anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America.

Crichton goes on to say that secondhand smoke is not a health hazard and climate change is not such a big deal, and claims to be able to cite articles in prestigious scientific journals to back up his views. I wonder what Bruce Sterling will make of him. (Then again, in Crichton's view, Sterling and his Viridian ilk would be religious fundamentalists.)

There are 15 comments on "Crichton on environmentalism":

Posted by: mitch http:// Fri Dec 12 23:16:50 2003

I was in a debate about Rachel Carson and DDT on the Extropians list once - someone was saying what Crichton is saying. I spent a few hours in the library and came up with a rebuttal, and that was where it ended. I'll see if I can find the post archived somewhere.

Posted by: mitch http:// Sat Dec 13 04:11:59 2003

Here it is:

Posted by: gjw Sat Dec 13 04:41:43 2003

This man is soley responsible for the employment of thousands of airport booksellers worldwide, so I won't diss on him too much, but the article is really quite hilarious (I guess all anti-environmentalist / anti-science efforts are to me). Regarding the "DDT safe for birds" claim - the research was based on pheasants (herbivores), not top-level carnivores - kind of vital considering the bioaccumulation of the substance. There are smarter ways to control maleria anyway:

Posted by: Ben-Gurion Jacarutu Sat Dec 13 12:39:43 2003

Regardless of how badly it affects birds, there are a heck of a lot of people who wouldn't die from malaria if they were able to spray the mozzies with DDT like they used to.

I can see where he's coming from, a lot of environmental 'beliefs' are new-age horseshit. Things like global warming are doctrines of faith, not backed by sound scientific evidence.

Posted by: Graham Sat Dec 13 13:11:06 2003

Well, global warming is certainly real, and almost certainly caused by human activity. The debate these days is largely about what should be done about it.

Posted by: gjw Sat Dec 13 20:26:38 2003

" Things like global warming are doctrines of faith, not backed by sound scientific evidence."

That whole comment sounds like it's a doctrine of faith rather than backed by scientific evidence. Go pick up a 1st year Physics text and read about the high- and low- energy heat absorption and transmission properties of CO2, Ben. Then just do the maths. No voodoo involved.

Posted by: Chris Adams Sun Dec 14 01:28:37 2003

"That whole comment sounds like it's a doctrine of faith rather than backed by scientific evidence."

And your gross oversimplification of an extraordinarily complex system is . . ?

Global warming is a great example of how politicization obstructs science - it's not known what is actually happening, what role humans have played (there is considerable evidence that there have been equally large swings in the past) or what the outcome will be. This has not stopped many people from proclaiming the version which supports their political views as unalloyed truth.

Even practicing scientists don't resist that temptation - remember Schneider's little exhortation awhile back that they had to offer the worst-case scenarios and downplay everything else in order to get the right kind of media coverage?

Posted by: mitch http:// Sun Dec 14 03:30:29 2003

DDT debate at Jerry Pournelle's "Chaos Manor":

Posted by: Ben http:// Sun Dec 14 05:43:20 2003

"That whole comment sounds like it's a doctrine of faith rather than backed by scientific evidence. Go pick up a 1st year Physics text and read about the high- and low- energy heat absorption and transmission properties of CO2, Ben. Then just do the maths. No voodoo involved."

You can always tell the fanatics because as soon as you criticise their beliefs, they come all out and start defending them by attacking their critics.

So exactly how many of those '1st year physics texts' are written by scientists working for Du Pont?

Posted by: gjw Sun Dec 14 11:15:55 2003

Stating that increased CO2 levels will lead to increased heat retention on earth is _not_ a political statement. It's a simple calculation. Claiming that this effect will end life as we know it _is_ a political statement, but I don't see too many climate scientists making that claim - they're too busy working on their models and keeping up to date with other factors (like the possible cooling effect of sulphur dioxide) in order to provide the exact kind of data that certain people will choose to ignore no matter what. Other scientists are examining what effect increased CO2 concentrations and altered rainfall patterns will have on plant life. Do you have any good reasons why this sort of research should be stopped?

Posted by: gjw Sun Dec 14 11:29:42 2003

Scientists are doing peer-reviewed research, completely open to public scrutiny. However, on occasions when their findings happen to coincide with the beliefs of environmentalists, anti-environmentalists scream bloody murder and claim political bias. The media doesn't know how to deal with scientific research. Much of the public doesn't understand how science works. As a scientist, I feel somewhat justified in being arrogant and saying the only people I'm going to believe on this issue are other scientists.

Posted by: Ben http:// Sun Dec 14 14:40:01 2003

Be that as it may, environmentalists claim that global warming exists and that it's a phenomena which is the fault of industrialisation. In the first place there is no evidence that 'global warming' is anything more than normal temperature variations. There were no reliable measurements until relatively recently (last century) and what measurements there are are frequently off by up to 3 degrees c., which is about what they claim the temperature is rising by.

Posted by: Graham Mon Dec 15 13:08:35 2003

It's all to do with phlogiston

Posted by: Michael S. Mon Dec 15 17:44:19 2003

Mitch, I think you're confusing different uses of DDT. There's a vast difference between using DDT for agricultural purposes, and to control malaria. According to Malcom Gladwell's piece on DDT for the New Yorker, you need about the same amount of DDT to spray every house in Guyana (for malaria-control purposes) as a large cotton farm (for pest-control purposes). (He, also, says that DDT has not yet been conclusively linked to human illness.)

Jack Hitt has written about the connection between environmentalism and religion in Harper's:

Posted by: mitch http:// Mon Dec 15 20:56:56 2003

Gladwell on the DDT campaigns:

Someone who was there:

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