The Environment in Peril: National Geographic’s Before the Flood

Several weeks ago, the National Geographic Channel premiered its long anticipated documentary, Before the Flood, which took three years to film all around the world and had Leonardo DiCaprio as its main narrator and passionate global warming activist. Although critics claim that Before the Flood is just one more movie that explores the same environmental issue of our time, I believe that there can be never enough documentaries that explore and put this “Armageddon” issue of our time to the forefront. As DiCaprio mentions in the movie, people have known about global warming for fifty years, but there are still many people who, as soon as they hear about global warming, simply tune out and do not understand the severity of the problem that, we, humans, have created.

The movie gets its name from the scene of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch’s 15th century painting, “The Garden of Earthly Delights” that, as a child, DiCaprio hung over his bed. He remembers staring at it as a youngster and deeply being influenced by the gradual destruction and horrific details of paradise charred and lost – all done by people with their hedonistic greed and lack of concern for nature.

DiCaprio travels the globe and points to the most crucial examples of our planet’s perilous journey into global warming disaster. We see the already familiar scenes of overpopulated and polluted cities of China, sea level rise in Florida, melting Greenland, disappearing Arctic ice, low-lying Pacific islands like Kiribati, which are producing new “environmental” refugees, Canadian production of synthetic crude oil which emits greenhouse gases, destroyed coral reefs of the Bahamas, ad rampant deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia.

One of the criticals points of the movie was when DiCaprio visited India and talked to an activist Sunita Narain who “scolds” DiCaprio for questioning Indian widespread usage of coal when the US has been hesitant to adopt many environmental measures itself. Three hundred million people are without power or light in India, and the government’s priority is to lift people out of energy poverty. Narain explains that the cheapest way to do so is by burning coal and that the Indian people want to enjoy the same energy-consumption prosperity that the US has already enjoyed throughout many decades of prosperity.

Another sobering moment in the movie comes when DiCaprio speaks of his own first hand and recent experience while filming The Revenant in 2013. The filming location for the movie was in northern Canada where they had record-breaking temperatures that melted the snow. The entire crew of 200 people had to relocate 9000 miles away to Argentina just to find snow in order to complete the production of the movie.

In the end, there are two hopeful messages of the documentary. DiCaprio visits Tesla founder Elon Musk, who is building the world’s second largest building, a lithium-ion battery “Gigafactory” in Reno, Nevada. Musk optimistically uses the word “manageable!” to describe the issue of powering the world with renewable energy. It sounds unbelievable, but 100 of these gigafactories would produce enough energy for the entire world!

The second message is DiCaprio’s visit to the United Nations last April in his role as a UN Messenger of Peace. He addresses the general assembly and urges the entire world nation’s body to focus on climate change as the most urgent issue for our existence. In a very moving conclusion, he says: “No more talk, no more excuses, no more 10-year studies. This is the body that can do what is needed, all of you sitting in this very hall. The world is now watching. You will either be lauded by future generations or vilified by them.”

Anessa Petteruti

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