Hurricane Pat: Michaels offers alternate doomsday

You think this past month was rough on Florida? According to Pat Michaels, the Virginia state climatologist, you ain't seen nothing yet.

"The insured value of hurricane-prone property is equal to the gross domestic product of the United States," says Michaels. "One of these years, there's going to be a $100 billion hurricane."

His Chicken Little talk stops, however, when it comes to global warming.

"The earth– traditionally, except for the Ice Age– has been warmer than it is now," he says, "and the plants that we depend on for food evolved on a planet that was several degrees warmer than it is today."

Michaels has been a hot ticket on the lecture circuit recently, stirring up controversy with his books The Satanic Gases– and the just-released Meltdown– both of which dare to proclaim that maybe the end of the world is not imminent.

In a prevailing– well, climate– of panic, Michaels is one of the few urging calm. And he predicts huge technological advancements later this century.

"We will have the technology to set the mean surface temperature of the planet at the temperature we want," he promises. "Now, what temperature do you want?"

It's an issue that the environmental activists have taken to heart. The recent eco-disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow pushed the topic to the forefront of pop culture– for opening weekend, at least.

"I did between 50 or 60 radio or television spots out of that movie," sighs Michaels, who holds a lucrative research position at UVA and serves as one of the area's definitive experts on climate science.

He notes that federally funded researchers tend to create doomsday scenarios– a trend that guarantees more research dollars. Michaels was effectively given free rein to disagree a few years ago when funding of his position changed from the feds to the state.

"The American Association of State Climatologists tends to be very, very critical of a lot of Washington bandwagons," says Michaels, a former president of the group. "It's a fun position to be in," he laughs.

Michaels has been published in the Washington Post, and he recently won the American Library Association's competition for the best-written government document.

"I can communicate very well verbally and with a pen– which may be one of the reasons why some people might not like me," he says, displaying his wry humor.

The moral of this story is obvious: If you even think about making claims about the severity of the global warming phenomenon, you had best watch your back. The eye of Hurricane Pat might be turning your way.


Age: 54

Why here? Outrageously, the University of Virginia offered me a position as an assistant professor straight out of graduate school.

Worst thing about living here? It doesn't snow enough.

Favorite hangout? My garden

Most overrated virtue? Very little changes in Charlottesville, except the local snottiness index continues to increase exponentially, far beyond my wildest dreams.

People would be surprised to know? That I do all the cooking.

What would you change about yourself? I'd stop getting older.

Proudest accomplishment? The fact that I'm a scientist who can write and has a sense of humor.

People find most annoying about you? I have been told that I can be somewhat intimidating, particularly to students.

Whom do you admire? Winston Churchill.

Favorite book? Obvious: Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe.

Causes you to rant? The fact that most people who know nothing about climate science think they know everything about it.

Biggest 21st century thrill? Everything. I would make a deal with the devil to be alive in 2100. I'm very optimistic. I think it's a great world.

Biggest 21st century creep-out? People who don't understand why we should be optimistic

What do you drive? A Honda Insight, a gas-electric hybrid. That's an insurance policy. The greenies who don't like me would never blow it up.

In your car CD player right now? Either Mahler's "First Symphony" or Root Boy Slim

Next journey? To try and make people realize the implications of the fact that we will define the climate ecosystems and genetic spheres of our planet.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Well, I had to transfer from one graduate program to another because I kept asking impertinent questions.

Regret? I don't have one.

Favorite comfort food? Beans and rice (I used to be veggie)

Always in your refrigerator? Cold beer

Must-see TV? A blank screen

Favorite cartoon? I don't like any of them, because they're not funny anymore. Rocky and Bullwinkle

Describe a perfect day. The perfect day is when I get up on the West Coast, give a lecture, get paid $2,500 for it, hop into an airplane, get home, and see the wife.

Walter Mitty fantasy? The life I'm living

Who'd play you in the movie? I don't watch much television, and I'm even worse on actors. Probably some poorly dressed weatherman from The Weather Channel

Most embarrassing moment? It's a moment that has never occurred. When I was a kid I froze giving a talk, from stage fright, and I've been completely scared of that ever since.

Best advice you ever got? Don't ask for the approval of others, and start your own company.

Favorite bumper sticker? The one that says "If you're not appalled, you're not watching," or something like that.

Pat Michaels