Michael Crichton was a challenging individual. His books generally centered around some controversial policy issue: medical malpractice, airline safety, biotechnology, sexual discrimination, Japan’s economic dominance, nanotechnology, and—the issue that brought us to each other’s attention—global warming. His approach was unique—he would spend about a year reading everything he could find on the topic, then take one side of the controversy, and lock himself away for a month to produce the novel. His was a highly disciplined approach that created a range of always readable, enjoyable, novels. And he made money—lots of it—even when he challenged Chattering Classes’ orthodoxy.
His 2004 novel, State of Fear, elevated CEI into the pop culture world. In the novel, we are castigated by an environmentalist villain as “Neanderthals.” After the book’s publication, we invited him to speak at our Annual Dinner speaker, but, unfortunately, he was unable to do so.
His arguments were sensible. “I’m a writer, not a crusader,” he said. “I write popular novels, not intellectual treatises.” Despite this modesty, his writings, speeches, and television interviews broadened and deepened the debate about environmental policies—and science policy more generally. Considering the success of movies based on his books, I asked him for only one favor: If State of Fear ever becomes a movie, I pleaded, please retain the scene where the green villain attacks CEI!
With his untimely death, Hollywood’s liberal establishment will probably sidetrack any plans to bring State of Fear to the screen. Hollywood has long preferred the Day After Tomorrow vision of noble greenies fighting to save our planet; Al Gore even received an Oscar for his An Inconvenient Truth. And America has just emerged from a presidential campaign in which both candidates, in the name of fighting global warming, adopted eco-theocratic faith-based energy policies. Both argued that energy rationing would have no significant costs and would create large numbers of well-paying “green jobs.”
Crichton would have found much meat for further novels in America’s intellectual dithering. He’ll be missed; let us hope others will pick up his mantle.