It was an absolute shock to hear the very sad news today that award-winning author Michael Crichton has passed away at the age of 66. His family said that he had been fighting a “courageous and private battle against cancer”, adding, “He will be profoundly missed by those whose lives he touched, but he leaves behind the greatest gifts of a thirst for knowledge, the desire to understand, and the wisdom to use our minds to better our world.”
In addition to his novels, TV and movie work, Crichton has become known to some for his expression of skeptical concern regarding the present culture, and in some limited measure the science, surrounding the issues of climate change and environmental advocacy. I remain impressed with his deeply considered, insightful, and courageous September 2003 remarks to the Commonwealth Club on this topic (which is no longer available on Crichton’s official website, but has been mirrored here), as well as his January 2003 Caltech Michelin Lecture, “Aliens Cause Global Warming” (a flippant title, yes, but with a sincere and worthy purpose — please do read the full contents of the talk to understand what he’s getting at so that you can judge his argument’s merits).
An excerpt from his Commonwealth Club address:
… I want it perfectly clear that I believe it is incumbent on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions, including the consequences to other people, and the consequences to the environment. I believe it is important to act in ways that are sympathetic to the environment, and I believe this will always be a need, carrying into the future. I believe the world has genuine problems and I believe it can and should be improved. But I also think that deciding what constitutes responsible action is immensely difficult, and the consequences of our actions are often difficult to know in advance. I think our past record of environmental action is discouraging, to put it mildly, because even our best intended efforts often go awry. But I think we do not recognize our past failures, and face them squarely. And I think I know why.
Time will tell whether and in what respects he was correct or mistaken, but I think we’re greatly in need of courageously inquisitive minds like his. He will indeed be sorely missed.