Torture and Global Warming: Can a moral argument succeed in an immoral world?

Al Gore has famously said of global warming:

“This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue — it affects the survival of human civilization. Put simply, it is wrong to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every generation that follows ours.”

I strongly agreement with that sentiment — and view our climate policy, China’s, and even Canada’s as immoral. But is Gore’s approach a winning strategy in an immoral world?

You can take your pick of where you think the most immoral things are happening — with the world either standing by and doing nothing, or actively contributing to the problem: Burma, China, Darfur, Iraq, Russia….


For me, this line of thought was triggered by two recent events. First, our Attorney General nominee, Michael Mukasey, is unwilling to call waterboarding torture — yet is defended by President Bush and the conservatives, and he still might be confirmed! As the New York Times explained:

Waterboarding is torture and was prosecuted as such as far back as 1902 by the United States military when used in a slightly different form on insurgents in the Philippines. It meets the definition of torture that existed in American law and international treaties until Mr. Bush changed those rules.

If you still have doubts, listen to this NPR story on “drowning torture” or watch this demonstration.

What message does this send to the world, on top of all the renditions, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib — the latter resulting in no senior Pentagon officials (i.e. Rumsfeld) being punished?

The message sent is that, at least during this administration, the United States has lost any claim to moral superiority.


Second, the weekend box office report revealed that the most popular movie in the land is, by far, Saw IV — the fourth in a series of torture-fests, which have broken all records for Halloween movies:

For the third year in a row, Halloween weekend was dominated by a Saw movie. The horror series didn’t dull much in its fourth entry, Saw IV, snaring $31.8 million on approximately 4,600 screens at 3,183 theaters. That was the second-highest grossing Halloween opening behind Saw III’s $33.6 million and slightly ahead of Saw IIs $31.7 million. The first Saw kicked off with $18.3 million in 2004.

Is the movie any good? One disappointed online viewer writes:

The Saw movies always feature people stuck in terrible trap in which to survive, they must go through excruciating torture. The latest installment in the series, Saw IV, is one of these traps itself, in which you will either suffer through 95 minutes of excruciating torture or commit suicide before the end credits come up.

The first Saw was an accomplished horror movie. It was new and interesting, as well as very unsettling. Most of the film was spent in a single room and it focused more on suspense, rather than gore. As new installments came to theaters, there was a gradual decline of suspense and the focus was put more on gore and torture. By the time Saw III rolled around, the entire movie was basically disturbing torture, but there were at least a few scenes that attempted to be frightening….

[Saw IV] director, Darren Lynn Bousman, just tries to cram as much torture into the film as he can.

Sheesh! Nothing worse than a poorly directed torture-fest.

The Saw movies are, I guess, a cinematic metaphor for the Bush Administration.

But the glorification of torture by Hollywood extends much further, most notably into the popular TV series 24, where the hero (and darling of conservatives) Jack Bauer, never hesitates to torture people in his very time-driven desire to save the world — and the torture always works. [I wonder what conservatives will do when the series starts to “incorporate environmentally-friendly messages into episodes”.]

So, I repeat, in an immoral world, can an appeal to morality be expected to work?

Well, it remains to be seen, but if it doesn’t work, if we don’t end up taking the strong action needed to avoid an immoral destruction of our climate, I suspect it will be because such action was blocked by conservatives — supported by the ironically-named “values voters” and “moral majority.”

Then again, if an appeal to morality won’t work, what will?