A Week in Books: a classic tactic of reactionary propaganda
Friday 17 December 2004
Since the early Nineties, the data-heavy techno-thrillers with which Michael Crichton followed early coups such as
Jurassic Park have built up a massive reputation - for pomposity, hysteria, false prophecy and turgid preachiness.
Since the early Nineties, the data-heavy techno-thrillers with which Michael Crichton followed early coups such as Jurassic Park have built up a massive reputation - for pomposity, hysteria, false prophecy and turgid preachiness. Prey saw him waxing portentous about the "grey goo" menace of nanotechnology, with all the panache and plausibility of, well, the Prince of Wales, who believed it. In Rising Sun, he touted Japan as the irresistible threat to US supremacy - just as its economy plunged into a decade-long nose-dive. Since 1992, when oracle Crichton spoke, the American way has had as much to fear from his sinister Japs as from - Vanuatu, perhaps?
Vanuatu, as it happens, has a bearing on Crichton's State of Fear (HarperCollins, £17.99). This 600-page leviathan of anti-environmentalist abuse should win hands down any contest for the clumsiest "novel" of 2004. The book operates as a fictional tract against green activists - seen as, at best, naive dupes and, at worst, terrorists. It rails against the belief that human activity has caused significant global warming, and that governments should act to rectify its effects.
Now, it's always a classic tactic of reactionary propaganda to stand the real world on its head. Make the strong appear weak, victims look like bullies, and vice versa. So Crichton, while giving a free ride to every corporate plunderer, creates a corrupt and violent ecological group, Nerf. He then sends his eco-sceptic hero and heroine on a race across oceans to thwart its vile designs - which include a plan to fake a disaster in the Pacific just to confirm the green-terrorist lies.
Selective data - such as average-temperature graphs - interrupt the frantic plot; an epilogue and bibliography show us Crichton's sources. An appendix equates the consensus scientific view on global warming with Nazi fantasies of racial superiority. Libellous drivel. And a media expert in the novel attacks the "state of fear" regarding climate change that limits our freedoms - just at the moment when Crichton's pals among the neo-cons have forced through repressive laws in the wake of a state-induced global-terror panic. This really is the world turned upside down.
Much of the eco-sceptic message is delivered as the sporty scientist hero talks (down) to the various dimwits, hypocrites and crackpots of the green movement, in mini-lectures adorned with footnotes. So, as he scorns the notion of growing "desertification" around the Sahara, Crichton cites a piece from New Scientist by Fred Pearce.
As a test case, I consulted Dr Pearce, who has a track-record of caution on doomsday scares. Yes, he ranks as a doubter about desertification. But Crichton cites authorities only to boost his polemic against man-made global warming. On this bigger picture, Pearce remains firmly in the enemy camp: "I'm convinced that humans are altering the climate in a way that we really do need to care about." As for Crichton's claim that urbanisation, rather than greenhouse emissions, can account for upward trends in temperature, Pearce calls that belief "fairly systematically disproved". So speaks one of the allies Crichton press-gangs into his war on the evil green giants.
And what about Vanuatu? This 200,000-strong nation of 83 Melanesian islands lies at the eye of the storm of climate change, its coasts acutely vulnerable to any rise in sea levels. What does Crichton do with this fact? He invents a tinier, fictitious state, mischievously and misleadingly called "Vanutu". Then he makes his gang of eco-crooks mount a blackmailing court case on its behalf. Pretend that the minnows are ogres, and always blame the victims - the ruse of the right-wing ideological bully throughout history. Rupert Murdoch, boss of HarperCollins, Fox News and The Sun, must be very proud of Crichton now.
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