Leonardo DiCaprio's Before the Flood

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood climate change documentary aired right before the US presidential elections in order to sway the public to vote for a leader who will put our climate disaster at the forefront.  I’m not saying that it would have made a difference for the outcome of our elections, but I still can’t help but think that he should have been a bit harder on his stance. Directed by filmmaker Fisher Stevens and presented by National Geographic, the documentary presents Leo in his new role as U.N. Messenger of Peace on Climate Change as he circles the world trying to understand our global warming crisis a little more. He visits many countries and cities to learn more about some of the worst contributions to climate change while revealing solutions on how we can adapt to an ever-warming planet.

Image via National Geographic

Image via National Geographic

As a global celebrity and with his easy access to powerful people, like Pope Francis, Obama, and John Kerry, he could have asked tough questions during their interviews to challenge their actions or inactions but I believe he failed here to really speak up for the concerns of millions of people around the world.

As Leonardo and Suncor fly over some of the world’s most toxic sludge ponds, the Alberta tar sands mining fields, not much is said about the harm this process is doing to our air, wildlife, and indigenous people. You can read more here to find out about the various ways Alberta oil sands are harming our environment.

When he sits down with Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi, they speak about how India should move towards renewable energy sources rather than relying on coal (a nation where 300 million Indians have no electricity). Narain asks why do developed countries like the US always point their fingers at other developing nations as if it were that easy to not make the same mistake they did. She goes on to tell him “American consumption is going to put a hole in the planet.” Leonardo basically answers, “He agrees, but that it probably won’t change.” This would have been a perfect time to shine the light on the important issue of our endless high consumer demands that drive so much of the pollution in factories across these very countries he’s visiting such as India and China.

What I did like about the documentary were the scenes where he sheds light on the think tanks and front groups pushing climate deniers, funded by corporate interest, to confuse the public on the hard evidence. These are groups such as the Koch Brothers, Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, CATO institute as well as gas companies such as Exon, BP, Shell, Chevron which have bought out our US Senate (131 climate deniers in congress).

I also loved how he brought the attention to small island nations such as Kiribati. Many people forget about these small islands, which are living the repercussions of our actions. These islanders experience severe flooding, frequent storms, and the reality that their island will be underwater in the near future.

Another issue in the documentary I think was very important to expose was the palm oil plantations in Indonesia. Leonardo visits the Leuser Ecosystem located on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia commonly known for being the last place on earth where there are elephants, rhinos, orangutans, and tigers all living in one forest together. Unfortunately large corporations bribe government officials to issue permits to burn the Indonesian forest for palm oil plantations, the cheapest vegetable oil in the world making these companies an immense amount of profits. The problem here is not only the loss of habitat for these beautiful endangered animals but also the enormous amount of CO2 emissions this is contributing to global warming. Last year alone forest fires in Indonesia emitted more CO2 emissions than the entire US economy. Leonardo goes on to explain that the decisions you make in your daily life affect places and people all over the world. What can we do about this? Try to always look at labels, know what ingredients are in the types of purchases you’re making, and Say No to Palm Oil.

Image via National Geographic

Image via National Geographic

Leonardo DiCaprio also mentioned his own footprint, which as he says is bigger than most people. I remember asking my friend one day “I wonder if Leonardo takes public transportation to make a statement.” I unfortunately think not, with his Revenant movie, his whole film crew of 200 people had to be flown 9,000 miles away from where they were supposed to be shooting because they couldn’t find snow. It would have been much more admirable if they had shot the scene without snow to make that statement.

Although Leonardo DiCaprio did bring light to some very serious issues that need to be looked at right now if we want to save ourselves from the point of no return, he needed to be more powerful and not so political in order to challenge the status quo and the normal habits people don’t think twice about.