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Before the flood

Duration: 1h 36 min.

IMDB rating: 8.2/10

Language: English

Director: Fisher Stevens

Network: National Geographic

Released date: 21 October 2016

Genre: Documentary

Main idea: Climate change and its consequences

Website: Before the flood

In this documentary, Leonardo Di Caprio travels around the world visiting the five continents as Messenger of Peace designated by the United Nations Environment Porgramme, to see firsthand the impacts of climate change. He speaks with political and religious figures, former president of the United States (Barack Obama), leaders, CEO, scientists, the public and tries to uncover the consequences of climate change and the reasons behind the misinformation of the public from large corporates. The message is clear and straightforward according to Ban Ki-Moon (eighth Secretary General of the United Nations): climate change is coming and much faster than we have anticipated.

The documentary starts with an amazing painting: The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. It consists of three panels: in the left panel Adam and Eve are depicted in the Garden of Eden, in the center panel the deadly sins (overpopulation, debauchery, excess) start to infuse their way into the painting, while in the right panel the paradise is degraded and destroyed, shown by a decayed, burnt landscape. DiCaprio shows this painting as a metaphor as to what may come due to climate change.

Arctic sea ice

By exploring the Arctic, DiCaprio realises that the ice is melting in unprecedented rate. Dr Enric Sala (National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence) states that by 2040 we will be able to sail over the North Pole since there will be no sea ice left in the Arctic Ocean. If this happens as the scientist explains, it is going to change currents, weather patterns and extreme events such as floods and droughts, will be more catastrophic.

As shown in the documentary, one of the most significant change that we could make as a society to battle climate change is to quit our dependence on fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas).

If climate stays at this temperature that it’s been in the last decade, Greenland is going away.

Prof. Jason E. Box – Climatologist

So, what is the problem with climate change? As Dr. Michael E. Mann (Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science, Penn State University) explains, as with everything in science there is a 97% consensus among climate scientists that the globe is warming, and that the climate is changing due to fossil fuel burning and other human activities. However, as he highlights the problem lies on the fact that there is massive disinformation campaign so as to confuse the public.

China is still heavily relying on fossil fuels, but they seem to be transitioning to renewables much faster than anyone anticipated. The question is, can less developed countries with rapidly growing populations make the same transition?

Leonardo DiCaprio

Developed VS developing countries

The documentary poses significant ethical questions. For instance, DiCaprio meets with Sunita Narain (Centre for Science and Environment) in New Delhi. From her perspective, India faces an even bigger challenge than climate change and that is to make sure that 700 million households will have energy access in the future. The ethical question that she poses is the following: “how can people from the western world expect developing countries to stop their growth that is based on fossil fuels when they [the developed world] haven’t stopped using fossil fuels themselves?”. Additionally, she highlights that “electricity consumed by 1 American at home is equivalent to 1.5 citizens of France, 2.2 citizens of Japan, 10 citizens of China, 34 of India and 61 of Nigeria. Why? Because you are building bigger, you’re building more and using more than before. The fact is that we need to put the issue of lifestyle and consumption at the center of climate negotiations”. Lastly, she emphasizes that the poor people in India, Africa and Bangladesh are the ones that contributed the least to climate change but are going to be the first to feel the consequences.

Moving on to the consequences of climate change due to manmade activities, Leonardo DiCaprio explores coral reefs and tropical rainforests since both of them absorb huge amounts of carbon from our atmosphere stabilizing our climate. However, due to coastal ecosystem destruction and deforestation, the ocean and the rainforests cannot do their job fast enough with this absurd rate of carbon dioxide emissions (Jeremy Jackson (PhD, Marine ecologist) and Lindsey Allen (Executive Director – Rainforest Action Network)).

Consumer’s choice

The documentary turns the spotlight in three very important issues: 1. deforestation in order to plant palm oil plantations, 2. animal-eating diets and 3. carbon taxes. All of these issues have a common denominator: consumer’s choices. Palm oil is everywhere (food, cosmetics, detergents etc.) and people buy stuff with palm oil. Cows are the largest producer of methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas so eating excess amount of meat burdens the environment. Lastly, carbon tax as explained by Gregory Mankiw (Professor of Economics at Harvard University) is a tax on any kind of activity that releases carbon into the atmosphere. So “when you tax something, you raise the price and people tend to consume less of it” (Gregory Mankiw).

People have to realize that what they do in the supermarket, the decisions they make in their daily lives, are affecting the environment.

Ian Singleton – PhD, Conservation Director, Paneco Foundation

What will happen if the temperature rises above 1 degree Celsius?

Johan Rockstrom (Professor of Environmental Science at Stockholm University and Director of Stockholm Resilience Center) at the end of the documentary paints a much detailed picture:

“For the past twelve thousand years temperatures are almost miraculously stable. In fact, average temperature vary within only ±1 degree Celsius during this entire period. Let us then move upwards in temperature. Today, we’re approaching one degree Celsius. Already it is 0.85 degrees, we’re seeing faster than predicted impacts. The world’s coral reefs begin to collapse even before 2 degrees Celsius. At 3-4 degrees Celsius, we will have heat waves which makes many regions in the world not livable any longer. Agriculture will be collapsing around the equator and that would take us beyond being able to responsibly feed humanity. What makes scientists so nervous is that we can reach a point where Earth takes over and starts reinforcing warming”.

Climate change is national security issue it is not just an environmental issue.

Barack Obama

Why you should see this film?

Well, firstly it is based on scientific knowledge and facts and everything is presented in a way that is understood without any prior special knowledge. Secondly, the film presents the problem (climate change) and the solutions (decarbonize, consumer’s diets, consumer’s choices). While it seems like a science fiction movie, it’s the reality humankind is going to face.