When asked Monday if climate change -- global warming -- was behind the deadly Asian tsunami, the United Nations' Jan Egeland -- he of "stingy" aid fame -- said no, the tsunami was a "geologically caused" disaster. "A tsunami like this is caused by an earthquake that has nothing to do with climate change," he explained.
Minutes later, however, Egeland did suggest a possible connection between global warming and the disaster. He had heard that one-third of the Maldives islands disappeared momentarily underwater, he said, adding that "actually climate change means oceans (are) growing, (so) certainly tsunamis will have an ever greater effect."
Most environmentalists, to their credit, are not trying to capitalize on the Asian catastrophe. But a few cannot resist.
As a letter writer in The New York Times scolded, "But the next time there is a severe offshore earthquake and resulting tsunami, the sea level will be just a little bit higher, and the water and destruction will go a bit further inland and kill even more people. And for that, (President Bush) will bear some culpability for not even wanting to consider global warming, much less do anything about it as the leader of the country most responsible for man-made warming and ice-cap melting."
(Forget that Bill Clinton never worked to ratify the Kyoto Protocol global-warming treaty -- just blame Bush.)
In an unhappy slice of synergy, the tsunami hit just after Michael Crichton's new novel, "State of Fear," was released. The plot involves eco-terrorists who try to create four "natural disasters" (including a tsunami) in order to alert the world to the dangers of global warming. Crichton penned the book to warn the public not to believe everything it hears about global warming.
In his mind, "environmentalism" has become a religion. As he said in a 2003 speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, "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."
Crichton takes on the gospel according to the enviros, that is: that all scientists believe global warming is human induced, that climate projections are accurate, and that the planet is undergoing unusual change, when change is the norm in nature.
I saved the September 2004 National Geographic issue on global warming to read after the election -- to see if there is reason to reconsider my skepticism. The part on the dwindling Adelie penguins that inhabit the Antarctic Peninsula, with actual statistics, gave me pause. Otherwise, on every page, Crichton's complaints came to life.
In the article, true believers warned that the end was near. The magazine cited climate models as if they were peer-reviewed fact. "I don't think anybody down here looks at the sea-level-rise problem and puts their heads in the sand," it quoted Windell Curole, the manager of a Louisiana levee district. To back up the sea-level argument, a chart shows the sea level rising 4 inches over 100 years. The problem is, the earliest data is from 2000, so the chart doesn't show actual increases; it plots "projections." A best-case scenario shows the 4-inch rise by 2100; a worst-case scenario shows a rise closer to 3 feet. Guesstimates aren't hard science.
The libertarian-leaning Cato Institute's Pat Michaels, who wrote his book on global warming, "Meltdown," took on the National Geographic piece in an op-ed published in the Washington Times. Michaels chided the magazine for showing a flooded rice field in Bangladesh, cautioning that rising global temperatures and sea levels threaten rice farming. "In the last 50 years," he wrote, the sea level at Bangladesh has risen "an infinitesimal seven-tenths of an inch, far too little for anyone to notice."
National Geographic editor William L. Allen responded just as Crichton's characters would -- by attacking Michaels personally for writing a report funded by "the Western Fuels Association, an association of coal-burning utility companies." The letter didn't take on Michaels' facts.
On Dec. 29, National Geographic's Web site reported that while media accounts "frequently assert that climate change is uncertain," a University of California at San Diego professor read 928 scientific papers and found, "Not one of the papers refuted the claim that human activities are affecting the Earth's climate." (Funny, Crichton's 20-page bibliography found contrary opinions.)
But as Crichton and Michaels both argue, some global-warming true believers argue things that they know aren't true. And that makes them dangerous.