Movie Critic A.O.Scott Educates Us on the 'Lethal, Terrifying Urgency' of Global Warming

Movie reviewer A.O. Scott on Wednesday applied his expertise to the scientific ssue of global warming and rising sea levels, in his sarcasm-laden review of "The Island President," a documentary about "climate change" and the danger it supposedly poses to the island of Maldives: "In Paradise, and Closer Than Ever to Disaster."

For many of us who live in temperate zones, inland regions and the industrialized West, global warming is a source of anxiety -- even terror -- and something of an abstraction. The mildness of this past winter on the Eastern Seaboard might have seemed ominous, yes, but it was also pleasant, and much of the time other social, economic and political problems have a way of seeming more urgent than human survival.

There is also a noisy subculture of obfuscation and denial that has pulled an already contentious conversation about climate change and the environment down into the fever swamp of American ideological animus. It’s a hoax! It’s a liberal conspiracy! It’s a scheme on the part of greedy scientists and power-hungry international organizations to shame us out of our S.U.V.’s and our plastic grocery bags!

In other parts of the world, though, the issue has a lethal, terrifying urgency. “The Island President,” a new documentary by Jon Shenk (“The Lost Boys of Sudan”), visits one such place, the Maldives. That archipelago of roughly 1,200 low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean, of which about 200 are inhabited, is described as “paradise crossed with paradise,” and its soft sand beaches and blue waters have made it a haven for wealthy tourists. Though the film includes spectacular aerial and underwater footage of the Maldives’ beauty, it concentrates its attention on uglier realities.

For 30 years the country was ruled by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a dictator with the usual authoritarian habit of imprisoning, torturing and terrorizing his opponents. Among them was Mohamed Nasheed, who after years as a pro-democracy activist and a political prisoner was elected president at 41 in 2008.

As soon as he took office, Mr. Nasheed faced an environmental crisis of existential dimensions. The steady rise in ocean levels caused by melting polar ice and increasing global temperatures had already caused serious erosion on some islands, and the eventual catastrophic inundation of this small, vulnerable nation was starting to look inevitable, rather than just frighteningly plausible.

Scott, a fan of leftist documentary maker Michael Moore, uses the thinnest of pretexts to indulge in liberal politics, even questioning whether the 2010 Robin Hood movie was "one big medieval tea party."