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Before the Flood Documentary: the Effects of Climate Change

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Before the Flood is a documentary about the impacts of climate change, it is 1 hour and 36 minutes long and was released in 2016. National Geographic, producer Fisher Stevens and actor Leonardo DiCaprio come together to chronicle DiCaprio’s exploration of how climate change is impacting the world and if its ramifications can be stopped. The documentary begins as DiCaprio is appointed as a United Nations Messenger of Peace on Climate Change, as both narrator and investigator DiCaprio sets out to find answers from scientists and policymakers on what is being done on this issue. In the first half of the documentary, DiCaprio travels around the world discovering the impacts of climate change on 5 continents and talks with scientists about how these changes impact the land, the animals, and the people who live in these areas. Fossil fuels are universally acknowledged as the main cause of climate change and the reasons that this remains true after decades of awareness of this are explored. The second half of the documentary focuses on what climate models predict will happen under varying conditions, such as, if climate change continues unabated, if climate change is exacerbated or if climate change could be remediated. DiCaprio talks with representatives of countries who are making headway in alternative energy sources and discusses if the entire world can be powered by alternate sources. He examines how viewers can help lessen climate change on a personal level and how it also needs to be made a societal priority to make governmental shifts in policy and action. Throughout the documentary DiCaprio interviews scientists, politicians, and experts in a variety of pertinent fields to educate the viewer on the multiple levels of complexity that come with climate change. The documentary ends with DiCaprio addressing the United Nations on the importance of acting immediately on the issue of climate change in the interests of future generations. This documentary can be found on iTunes.

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DiCaprio and Stevens make a commendable effort in creating a sense of urgency on the wicked problem of climate change. The visuals and music make the message that much more impactful. Before the Flood has DiCaprio visit some of the most impacted areas of the globe, where climate change has affected all aspects of the environment. The cryosphere of the North, the hydrosphere and the lithosphere to the South, and the atmosphere in the East are all pushed to the limits of resilience. They talk to experts in multiple fields, scientists, and politicians exploring why something that has been known for decades is still so hotly debated and contested. Other experts and scientists discuss how the average person can reflect on and mitigate their ecological footprint, emphasizing the carbon cycle and how everyone needs to expect more from their government in holding to the agreements made to remediate the effects of climate change. And yet other experts and scientists show climate models that should concern anyone who plans on having children or being alive in 40 years.

This documentary is aimed at the middle-class westerner who may be aware of climate change but who is unaware of how severe the effects are beyond their backyard. It is trying to alarm and motivate the viewer to act for those who need the world to act in a concerted way. It is trying to educate the naïve, the ones who believe the misinformation tactics that have been so effective up until now. What it is trying to do is valuable but ultimately, I think it won’t have the impact it strives for. The middle-class westerner has chosen to be ignorant, has chosen not to act, has chosen not to see because to choose to know, to choose to act, and to choose to see will mean they have to admit that they contribute to the problem and would have to make meaningful changes to their lifestyle and they just don’t want to.

The things I liked about this documentary: The visuals, the music, and the message. The honest appraisal that the West is worse for climate change than the East, that the West has an arrogance that blinds it to its responsibilities in how severe climate change has gotten and how its lifestyle has created many of the problems the world is experiencing. How it shows that environmental migration is already occurring, and it will only get worse and that who will need to migrate in the future might surprise you. That scientists and experts in their fields were interviewed, well-respected ones at that. That there is a website (https://www.beforetheflood.com/) to accompany the documentary, listing all the scientists and experts interviewed allowing the viewer to scrutinize who is educating them.

The things I didn’t like: They kept talking about believing climate change, which I think legitimizes those who are trying to continue the campaign of misinformation. Science does not require belief. Instead of asking people if they believe in climate change, they should have been asking people if they understand it. Several times throughout the documentary DiCaprio mentions a painting he remembers from his childhood and at those moments I’m reminded that DiCaprio is an actor and that when he talks of the painting, I feel like he’s performing which does not lend to the documentary’s credibility.

In conclusion about my favorite parts of this documentary. Firstly, when environmental author, Sunita Narain, calls out the West and its arrogance without apology or backing down. When DiCaprio tries to soften her message, she calls him out and doubles down. My second favorite is when UN Secretary-General, Bin Ki-Moon, uses the analogy of the Earth as being a tiny ship in the cosmos and that if it goes down, we all go with it.

 

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