By Joseph Iemma
Known for his award-winning performances on the big-screen, 41-year-old Academy Award Winning Actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, on Oct. 30 delivered a marvelous piece of investigative journalism by way of a documentary on National Geographic Channel, titled “Before the Flood.”
Roughly 90 minutes long, Nat Geo’s cameras followed DiCaprio across the planet. From the disappearing rainforests of Indonesia, to the melting, blackening ice caps of Greenland, DiCaprio inserted himself on the front lines of climate change. The film started when DiCaprio introduced his boyish charm, inviting the audience into his crib that sat below an image by Hieronymus Bosch.
Bosch’s painting illustrates the three stages of humanity’s relationship with Earth. The first image on the left describes a peaceful coexistence between Earth and mankind; it’s a happy medium, a sustainable transaction of give and take. But the second image paints a much different story. Here, Earth is crowded and animals are used solely to serve mankind. Even Earth’s landscape is manipulated, as large manmade structures replace Earth’s natural features.
The last image on the right tells a much different story as Earth’s pristine landscape in scorched. Drained of its natural resources, mankind fights with one another for whatever is left. The animals are all but gone, and the world has entered the abyss: the point of no return.
DiCaprio tied and based his documentary around this image of Bosch’s painting. He kicked off the film by traveling to China, witnessing first- hand how the irresponsible burning of fossil fuels has choked China’s urban residents by way of toxic smog. DiCaprio then met with Indian officials, who explained to him how irregular weather patterns have destroyed farmland by way of flood or drought.
Mired in disbelief, DiCaprio traveled to the rainforests of Indonesia, the last place on earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and primates all coexist with one another. DiCaprio’s love affair with these lands is short-lived after learning that these forests are burned and destroyed every day and are re-placed with fields designed to produce vegetable oil.
This is a double-edged sword, as when the forests are burned, they act like a carbon bomb and emit tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Who’s profiting off of this? According to the documentary, Pepsico, Smart Ones, and Burger King are some of the corporations behind the operation, reaping the rewards of this carbon catastrophe.
DiCaprio didn’t stop there, as he learned how Greenland’s ice cap is melting at a record rate and changing its color from white to gray, causing Greenland to melt faster than anticipated. He also discovered how cattle produce the greenhouse gas methane, which warms the planet even further.
According to the documentary, all of these factors are destroying our planet. DiCaprio successfully makes the connection that global warming will soon become an economic and national security issue, and how the scarce amount of resources may lead to global conflict.
The film also featured a one-on-one interview with George Mankiw, a professor of economics at Harvard University, who served as a top-economic policy advisor to President George W. Bush. Mankiw explains how a ‘Carbon Tax’ may help cut carbon emissions. He cited the tax on cigarettes and how it led to a decline in smoking amongst Americans. Mankiw also explained how a Carbon Tax doesn’t necessarily mean a tax hike, but rather a tax shift.
DiCaprio also interviewed Tesla’s CEO and Head Scientist, Elon Musk. Musk explained how Tesla’s new electric car and solar panels could lead the way in breaking our carbon addiction. Before the end of the film, DiCaprio even interviewed President Obama and Pope Francis, who both stressed similar sentiments, stating how we must take care of our planet before it’s too late, and how changes in policy can eventually reverse our climatic woes.
The film ends with DiCaprio addressing the United Nations, stating how “scared to death” he was when he learned about the effects of climate change while filming “Before the Flood.” DiCaprio then called the room of world leaders “our last hope,” before walking off stage accompanied by a thunderous applause.
It doesn’t matter if you like or dislike Leonardo DiCaprio, or whether you believe or don’t believe in climate change, this documentary was beyond powerful. It’s an insightful piece, and a journalistic masterpiece.
“Before the Flood” can be viewed on YouTube, Netflix, and NatGeo.com, for free.