November 4, 2016

by Mitch Ziems

“If you consider the vastness of this universe,
this planet Earth is just a small boat.
If this boat is sinking, I think we’re all sinking together.”

– Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

It says a lot about the world humanity has built that in 2016 we are still trying to convince sceptics about the reality of climate change. We have been aware of the danger it presents for over half a century – longer than we’ve even had a name for it – and yet like so many of the greatest issues that threaten our way of life on this celestial haven, we refuse to confront it until we are up to our necks in the consequences.

This time, however, if we fail to act, there will be no going back.

Before the Flood stars and was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio alongside Martin Scorsese and The Cove writer Mark Monroe. Released a decade after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, it does as exemplary a job of catching viewers up on the crisis as it has unfolded since the release of Gore’s eye-opening production while also avoiding the kinds of predictions that made the previous film a soft target for naysayers.

Ironically, DiCaprio has time on his side. Though the documentary starts slowly, focusing on the star more than the topic at hand, things start picking up as soon as he visits a climate station on Greenland’s arctic shelf. When Climatologist Professor Jason E. Box presents a 30-foot tube that, five years prior, was vertically submerged completely under ice, we move past figures and projections to the kind of hard proof necessary to convince those who say climate change isn’t real because last month was colder than average.

Though the film is ultimately rooted in the American side of the issue, Before the Flood is at its best when focusing on the two other largest polluting nations on Earth – China and India. In China, after decades of direct impact on the citizens of the country’s most toxic regions, the push for change has reached fever pitch. Communities are putting direct pressure on the businesses creating the most emissions, and the media are covering the nation’s incredibly swift transition to renewable energy sources on a daily basis.

India is another story. DiCaprio calls himself a pessimist when it comes to the issue of climate change, but in conversation with the Centre for Science and Environment’s Sunita Narain, he comes to look exactly the opposite.

The country is the third-largest polluter in the world, is in the midst of both a population and business boom, and yet doesn’t have the infrastructure necessary to provide 300 million Indians – 30% of the population – with energy.

“If you created the problem in the past, we will create it in the future,” Narain warns, highlighting the need to provide for citizens over the need to safeguard a broader future. It’s not that she doesn’t think a switch to sustainable energy is feasible, but scoffs at the notion that India should be making the move while a more developed nation like the USA refuses to take action.

DiCaprio is made to look naive, but he isn’t. He’s been active in the fight for environmental sustainability since the age of 24.

That is what makes Before the Flood such an important documentary. DiCaprio may not been an expert on the level of environmental scientists or, so we’re expected to believe, politicians charged with developing environmental policy, but as a UN Messenger of Peace with 17 years of experience in the field, he understands the issue better than most. That he should be left shocked and bewildered by the scope of what he saw while making the film is deeply troubling, and will no doubt leave an impact on those who view the film as an introduction to the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.

The film also marks a revival of the hard-hitting content National Geographic have failed to produce over the last decade, and audiences have returned to it eagerly. In the short amount of time since its release, Before the Flood has been viewed more than 30 million times, making it the most-watched documentary in 16 years, and NatGeo’s most popular film ever.

Before the Flood is available online through various VOD services until November 6th, when it will air on National Geographic channel.

Watch it. Share it. Spread the word. The time for action is now.

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