We’ve had countless warnings about global warming. We know better than to use the air-conditioning indiscriminately or eat food that isn’t sustainably grown. But we still do it. Because the choices are hard and the facts aren’t presented quite as hard-hittingly. That’s until you watch Before The Flood.
This 96-minute film directed by Fisher Stevens and created by actor Leonardo diCaprio in 2016 is one of the most powerful and meaningful documentaries made on the environment in recent times.
DiCaprio, who has been actively involved in creating environmental awareness since 1998, when he was just 24 years old, was appointed United Nations Ambassador of Climate Change in 2014. He has since had a chance to address the UN assembly a few times, excerpts of which you can see in the film. DiCaprio uses his connections for the larger good and that’s why the film could have the wide canvas it does.
Spanning three years of travel across the globe, Before The Flood features conversations with not just climate change experts but also the actual people already affected by various aspects of environmental degradation. From the Canadian Arctic to the Indonesian rainforest; from the rising water levels in Florida to the unbearable air pollution in China; one gets glimpses of the gargantuan scale of destruction that’s already wrought and also what’s waiting in the wings.
From former Presidents of the United States Barack Obama and Bill Clinton to former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, from inventor and visionary Elon Musk to astronaut and NASA scientist Piers Sellers (who passed away after the film’s release) to even Pope Francis in The Vatican, DiCaprio has engaged them all in deep discussion to better understand how each of them in their own situation is addressing the alarming data. Dr Sunita Narain, Indian environmental and political activist and Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment, made some strong points when interviewed by DiCaprio too.
Several multinational companies that have been (and still are) instrumental in depleting natural resources — be it demolishing the precious orangutan habitat in Indonesia for extensive palm oil plantation or intensive oil mining in Canada that’s destroyed vast tracts of pristine boreal forest land — have been named in the film. The first step for us would be to reduce and reject use of their products. Lifestyle changes and reducing consumption of non-vegetarian food (especially beef) would make a huge turnaround possible too. The third and perhaps most important would be to ensure that we elect leaders whose mandate while in power is to focus on preserving and protecting the environment which is often battered at the cost of perceived progress like setting up industries, building roads, tapping fossil fuels, etc. The way forward according to people in the know all over the world is for the majority of nations to move towards sustainable forms of power generation such as solar power or wind energy.
In the film, DiCaprio draws parallels with The Garden of Earthly Delights, an oil-on-wood triptych by the 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch which now hangs in a Madrid museum. A print of this rather vivid piece apparently hung over his crib and predictably had quite an impact on his early years. The three panels ostensibly show the perfection of the Garden of Eden, the profanity of a life lived in debauchery and excess (what could be interpreted as our world today), and finally, the scary scarred and scoured world of retribution that we are fast hurtling towards.
Watching the film in pin-drop silence with a big slice of the city’s elite opinion makers at the only screening in India, which was sponsored by several worthy brands (National Geographic, Sanctuary Nature Foundation, Godrej and Gaia Foundation) at Mumbai’s iconic Metro Cinema on January 23, 2017, I felt that this was just a small start. The more people that watch and understand and grapple with the enormity of the effects of climate change within our own lifetimes and that of our kids’, the bigger the hope that the world as we know it will sustain.
[DiCaprio in his acceptance speech for Best Actor at the 2016 Oscar awards]
Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.