Before the Flood

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Leonardo DiCaprio at the screening of "Before the Flood” at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on October 20, 2016. 

Last week, I took some time to sit down and watch Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary on climate change, “Before the Flood.” It was partly because he’s a very beautiful man, but mostly because it’s important to be knowledgeable about what’s destroying our planet every second of the day. 

The film debuted in theaters on Oct. 21 and was released to the internet by distributor National Geographic on Oct. 30. Due to a commitment to covering climate change, the documentary was made free of charge and is widely available on various media platforms, including YouTube. 

“Before the Flood” was directed by Fisher Stevens and features guest appearances and interviews with Barack Obama, Pope Francis, John Kerry and others. 

Although the science and statistics presented were downright horrifying, that’s not what struck me the most about this documentary. What gives the film its edge is DiCaprio’s passion for the subject matter. 

Some may be skeptical of his credibility and view him as just another Hollywood celebrity, which is precisely why you should watch it. DiCaprio doesn’t pretend to be more knowledgeable than the average person. 

At one point during the film, DiCaprio turned to a companion and said, “There’s so much I don’t know. So much we’re not aware of.” This philosophy is extremely important for science and the quest for new knowledge. The first step to solving any problem is realizing there is one, and you must admit you are ignorant before you can become wise. 

Rather than spitting facts at the audience himself, DiCaprio took the role of the curious citizen and traveled around the world to discover what’s going on and interview prominent world leaders. 

DiCaprio spoke with a representative in India who had no problem telling him that his own insatiable consumerism is destroying the climate. He immediately shut his mouth and listened to her. 

In no way is DiCaprio a perfect example of mitigating climate change, but he’s trying. And that deserves your attention. Just as I aim to do in this column, DiCaprio is bringing science to the common person, who wouldn’t regularly read reports on climate change, and encouraging them to care about it. 

Throughout the film, DiCaprio is an advocate for urgency. Rather than spending time arguing with climate change deniers, he claims we don’t have the time or liberty to debate its existence. It’s real, it’s happening and we must continue to press forward. 

He spoke of an Earth Day convention he participated in at the turn of the century. Back then, he was optimistically talking to Oprah about fluorescent lightbulbs and how easy it is to do your part for the environment. According to DiCaprio, we’re way past that. We’ve come to a point when huge changes are needed, and they’re needed immediately. 

The New York Times published a review of the film that read, “The film wants to spur individual changes in behavior, but there’s a fair amount in it that might discourage you from even trying.” 

The film does turn the public’s eye to the horrible effects of climate change. We’re shown deserts filled with black tar and oil, glaciers melting into the ocean, rising sea levels, natural disasters, dead coral reefs, intentional forest fires and clear-cut rainforests. However, this is not a negative thing. 

We’ve tried the simple “do your part” approach. Everybody can get on board with recycling their soda cans instead of throwing them away, but not many people are willing to give up the gasoline they put in their cars. Small changes in a consumeristic lifestyle come from good intentions, but they aren’t enough at this point in history. It’s a truth that needs to be told, even if it’s not fun to hear. 

Even the Paris Agreement, which DiCaprio discusses, is an example of good intentions and poor execution. Countries vowed to do their part in combating climate change, but there were no punishments for nations that didn’t follow through, and many nations didn’t. 

According to DiCaprio, we are moving toward a more sustainable future, but doing it way too slowly. The Pope called upon the world community to accept the science of climate change, which is the first time he’s ever done anything like that. 

The public is finally beginning to accept what scientists have known for decades, and it’s up to us to appeal to our local politicians. One of the experts DiCaprio interviewed noted that politicians do whatever people want them to do, so we need to be responsible and push for climate change mitigation and sustainable energy measures. 

It’s not too late, even though we’re getting very close to the brink. To end the film, DiCaprio reminded us that life isn’t a movie script and we can’t just write a happy ending and wish for the best. The only thing we can do is control what we do next: actively fight against climate change by consuming differently in big ways, become involved in activism and vote for leaders who care. 

Rachael Snodgrass is a columnist. Reach her at