Friday, April 07, 2006

Escape from Miami: the newest thriller from Michael Crichton

It's been four years since my last trip to South Beach, and I was stunned, during my otherwise relaxing vacation, by how much development has occurred there. On the one hand, Miami appears to be America's boomtown (again); on the other, sections of SoBe seemed more like Disney World and Club Med than the edgy Cuban-Jewish-bohemian-gay oasis I used to frequent during the 90s.

What struck me most, however, was how often we heard discussion from Florida's residents about both the perennially devastating hurricane seasons and the specter of global warming. Friends and relatives brought up, unprompted, the damage they endured last year and their fears of the damage they nearly all assume they will suffer this year. One friend, worried by reports (as summarized by the EPA) that the Everglades will vanish and that much of southern Florida might well be reclaimed by the ocean, is considering selling his residence, which is located a mere four feet above sea level.

And so the latest post at Acronym Required, prompted by see-no-evil realty advertising, carries special resonance:
I'm not the first to think that island properties and beach front resorts in Florida are worrisome, but what's perhaps more discomfitting about the ad is the insouciance of the presentation and its inadvertent reflection of common attitudes about global climate change.
As the writer spells out, we're faced with a threefold attack that will only exacerbate commercial overdevelopment: the silencing of government scientists on the issue of climate change, the Bush administration's reliance on novelists and college drop-outs to influence scientific policy, and the blatherings of George Will and other conservative hacks whose knowledge of science is so minimal that they are likely to use Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to bolster their imagined examples of Democratic flip-flopping.

Secure in their ignorance and comfy in their corporate media perches, these same pundits are inventing and disseminating fictions to discredit those who actually have degrees in science.
[Robert] Novak claims that [James] Hansen in 1988 over-predicted global warming by 400% (a story originated by Pat Michaels and subsequently propagated by Michael Crichton). This story is a fabrication...
I am not a scientist. But when, with near unanimity, the community of researchers responsible for the technologies that allow us to live in wasteful luxury warn us that we are approaching a point that we won't be able to live that way any longer, I think it behooves us to listen to the folks who win the Nobel Prizes rather than a second-rate science-fiction author who famously warned us, a little over a decade ago, that the Japanese economic behemoth was going to take over the world. (I mean, really--this is the guy who wrote and directed the camp-classic Westworld.)

Whether Miami might be destroyed either this year by a "hypercane" due to cyclical weather patterns or in the remote future by rising sea levels stemming from ecological abuse seems to me, ultimately, a petty and callous debate when conducted by the likes of Novak and Will. What is beyond argument, as the ongoing debacle in New Orleans should have proved to any intelligently designed being, is that we are unprepared for either (or any other) crisis. Much like the lack of imagination that shackled our defenses before September 11, our government refuses to envision (or even consider) worst-case scenarios that might threaten corporate profits and individual desires to live for the moment, future generations be damned.

How many New Orleans will it take before this administration stops treating American lives as the stuff of bad fiction?