Before the Flood  – Leo Raises the Essential Climate Change Alarm
Sea levels are rising. Ice caps are melting. Temperatures are rising. Coral reefs are half-way into extinction. Consumers are blindly consuming. Fossil-fuel and energy companies are not only poisoning the atmosphere, but also possess gangs of climate change deniers and lobbyists to oppose any government policy regarding renewable energy. It’s the same information we have been receiving ever since Al Gore made his sobering documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006). In the ten years, since the climate-change documentary’s release, there have been many vividly detailed films, fully exploring the scientific side and the socioeconomic damage global warming could cause. But, the policy-makers still remain lost in the muddled waters, created by filthy rich fossil-fuel companies. We have had a Paris Summit (Climate Change Conference) that’s taken a step in the right direction, although it didn’t clear major obstacles which may provoke future large-scale human catastrophes. Climate change and species extinction are the single biggest story of our planet. The majority of human race (from powerful media-house to ignorant consumers), however, haven’t been paying enough attention. Fisher Stevens’ “Before the Flood” (2016) tells the very familiar story we have been hearing for the past decade or two. The documentary doesn’t give any new information or take a distinct approach to observe the problem. Still it will have an enormous reach, unlike the others covering the same topic. The reason is simple: Academy Award winning actor Leonardo Di Caprio.
“Before the Flood” is pretty much preaching the same lesson. Nevertheless, with the involvement of Di Caprio the people who would really listen may increase. The famous American actor has been a committed and informed environmental activist for the past 15 years. He has earned the credentials to be United Nations Ambassador of Peace. Those who don’t deny the climate change would wonder at Di Caprio’s sense of commitment; if it was some vanity project. The actor and director Stevens are well aware of this. And so, the documentary opens with Di Caprio recalling the painting of Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘Garden of Heavily Delights’ that once hung above his crib. The painting’s final panel shows a desolated and annihilated planet. He often thinks that that is the reality facing all of us. We see the clips from Fox News and other media outlets brandishing him as an ‘ignorant American actor’. It is later juxtaposed with the clips of Di Caprio interviewing Clinton (when he was President) about climate change and participating in environmental rallies as far as 2000. Di Caprio isn’t just interested in giving a long lecture to justify his stance; he rather takes us around Earth to showcase the wretched consequences of climate change.
“Before the Flood” isn’t giving a shiny picture of how our Earth’s rising temperature will be revoked if we follow these things. The documentary exhibits the current realities and accepts them. It shows the ways people or governments around the world are preparing themselves for the inevitable climate change. For example, Di Caprio interviews President of small Island nation Kribati and hears his plans to relocate the nation’s entire population to islands near Fiji, since the nation is being swallowed up by rising sea levels. In America’s Florida, the local body is taking preventive measure to keep the water out of its streets, which may only hold for the next 40 or 50 years. Di Caprio and his crew flies over the depleting ice in Greenland, where there’s rough, grey terrain in place of thick ice caps. He journeys to the massive tar sands operation in Alberta, Canada; smog-shrouded Beijing; hears sad tales of farmers in India; shockingly looks at the decimated rain forests of Indonesia (for Palm oil plantations).
Di Caprio, of course, isn’t a good interviewer although he shows genuine interest and remains humble as well as curious. He brings new, far-reaching voices to discuss this topic like President Obama, Ban Ki-moon, John Kerry, ‘green’ capitalist Elon Musk and even Pope Francis. The most interesting interview is the one with Indian environmentalist Sunita Narain. She takes charge of the interview and changes Di Caprio’s topic regarding use of renewable energy (in developing countries) to ask when will the US consumers set an example with their consumption habits. Di Caprio couldn’t answer back, except smile and nod. The actor does admit at one point that he is pessimistic about the achievement of environmental policies in America. He says it would be very hard to blast through the swarm of politicians and big corporations whom desperately want to maintain the status quo. He is also worried over the carbon footprint of someone who takes a jet to address climate change. Di Caprio does find some signs of hope by the end of his journey. His interview with NASA meteorologist Piers Sellers and presence in the climate change conference at Paris (last December) talks of how small changes and few individuals could make a profound effect for the grim-looking future.
Di Caprio does show himself as an approachable figure without being strident and he does his best to be as wide-eyed as the young viewers, unaware or ignorant of global warming. As I said before the documentary doesn’t break any new ground and proposes the same generalized preventive measures like many other docs: to consume less and to vote for the super-elite politician who believes in climate change. There is no call for actions or big boycotts. We can talk about carbon tax or solar batteries or less consumption of beef, but the vital ingredient to address Climate Change is to call for basic transformation of the current capitalism. The documentary shows how the elites in Congress take money from corporations to vehemently deny climate change. The change of mindset of the elite politicians (never going to happen) isn’t going to put an end to the rampant destruction of our planet. The basic foundation and values of industrial society must be addressed and possibly transformed to seek some sort of solution. May be the documentary didn’t want to be too complex to confuse its young viewers (who are watching it for DI Caprio’s screen presence & somehow getting educated in the process). That’s understandable.
“Before the Flood” (95 minutes) walks the same ground as many other efficient eco docs have walked over. But the involvement of a big name like Leonardo Di Caprio would definitely create awareness among people (the uninitiated or unenlightened ones) who otherwise might doze off after hearing the word ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’.