Before the Flood begins and ends with Leonardo DiCaprio delivering a speech on the realities of climate change to the United Nations. What comes in between is a 90-minute exploration of planet earth from all angles.
DiCaprio traverses helicopters and submarines, bustling cities and tiny island nations, the White House and NASA, to shed light on the severity of the climate crisis. His journey demonstrates that there is no single place on this planet that remains unaffected by global warming's touch.
Featuring cameos from some of the world's most influential minds, the film is a harsh but necessary reminder that we are irrevocably damaging our planet, and we have a responsibility to do something about it. Here are five top take-aways from the star-studded eco-documentary.
1. Other countries are feeling the burden of our mistakes.
The United States is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world (second only to China), and our consumption is reverberating around the world. Americans don't have to grapple with the consequences of extreme weather events as much as poor farmers in India whose crops have been completely wiped out by unprecedented flooding. We aren't suffering from sea-level rise like the inhabitants of Palau, who have watched their island's shoreline be completely destroyed over the last decade. It's a great injustice that these people aren't fueling the problem, but they're the ones whose livelihoods are threatened by it.
2. Politics play a huge role in this issue (but they shouldn't).
Miami, a city where rising seas pose a distinct threat, is one of the early stops on DiCaprio's eco-exploration. The 4 to 6 meters of sea-level rise scientists are projecting would prove devastating for the region, and Democratic mayor Philip Levine is working to protect his streets with elevation changes and more advanced pumping systems. However, there's only so much he can do without the support of the state's federal representatives—Republicans who refuse to use federal funds on climate change infrastructure. "The ocean is not Republican, and it's not Democrat," Levine asserts. Especially in today's volatile political climate, global warming is not something we can afford to make a partisan issue. A city underwater affects the right as much as it does the left.
3. The fossil fuel industry is funding climate change denial.
Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that human activity is spurring climate change. That's about as much consensus as you'll find in the scientific community, yet politicians and government officials still insist that they're wrong. Before the Flood explores the origins of climate change denial in the government and traces it back to wealthy corporations like the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)—an advocacy group funded by oil barons Charles and David Koch. In order to ensure that fossil fuels remain a profitable business, they have paid politicians and thought leaders to confuse and divide the public on the realities of climate change, according to the film. It's worth mentioning that president-elect Trump is rumored to be hiring Myron Ebell, a climate skeptic and CEI director, to revamp the Environmental Protection Agency once his term begins in January.
4. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we've made progress.
While DiCaprio's journey is filled with dark realities, it also stumbles upon glimmers of light. A trip to Elon Musk's Tesla gigafactory speaks to the promising future of renewable energy. A voyage to Europe shows that Sweden is on its way to becoming the first fossil-fuel-free nation. A conversation with President Obama on the White House lawn touches on the importance of the Paris Climate Agreement. Progress is happening—the question is whether it's happening fast enough.
5. The only thing we can control is what we do next.
At the film's end, DiCaprio declares, "The only thing we can control is what we do next—how we consume, how we get involved, and how we vote." Here are a few actions you can take today to get involved, straight from Before the Flood's website:
- Write to your mayor asking that he or she commit to climate action and join the Compact of Mayors or #Readyfor100 grass-roots campaign.
- Tell major snack brands to stop destroying forests for palm oil.
- Pay a personal carbon tax.
- Add your name to the list of citizens concerned about Arctic drilling.
- Donate to Hurricane Matthew recovery in Haiti.