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Before the Flood

I watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary, Before the Flood, earlier this week. It was . . . decent. I respect him, as I respect anyone, for putting out art and information about climate change issues. I really liked the places that he filmed, the people that he interviewed, and his personal anecdotes throughout the film. I’m just left feeling that it’s all not enough. The people who need to know more about climate change and act accordingly probably don’t know that this documentary exists, and if they do, will never watch it. Those who have and will watch are going to feel relatively powerless to do anything besides change their diet (which is important, but can feel pretty inconsequential on an individual level).

Ugh, I don’t want to be such a downer about a genuine effort of make a difference on issues that I care so deeply about! Because it’s pretty incredible that a high-end movie star cares so much about climate change, has invested a ton of his own money in making it accessible for others, and weaves so many other important people (the Pope, President Obama, Elon Musk, John Kerry, etc.) into the film. I connected with his skepticism, and his sadness, because I too see climate change as an over-arching source of human suffering that is getting more intense over time.

I follow Charles Eisenstein on Patreon, and he sent out a recent update about his upcoming “sort of about climate change” book that feels appropriate to mention now. Here is a quote:

“Climate change is a symptom of a deeper condition, and part of the reason for our inability to address it effectively is the focus on the symptom. To make [the new book] about climate change would be to feed into that symptomatic emphasis.”

Climate change is happening because we (developed countries) burn fossil fuels to live the way we do, which is disconnected from the Earth’s natural systems. Before the Flood does a great job explaining the consequences of climate change, the politics of climate change, and gives a few good suggestions about reducing consumption, but it does not create an urgent call to dramatically change how we Western consumers are living. It does not encourage human connection with the Earth, which is so needed right now.

Leonardo DiCaprio is not responsible for anyone but himself, and I am grateful for his efforts, but when the film ended, I had a deep, sad feeling that it isn’t going to move the needle very far beyond the current status quo.

Here is an angrier review that is perhaps overly harsh, but I get it. I especially like the author’s comments on filming The Reverent, because I was thinking the same thing when I watched it:

Interspersed throughout the film is Leo on the set on The Revenant, his recent movie about a man fighting against the elements. Apparently the film crew couldn’t find snow in the Canadian Rockies when needed, so the entire crew flew to Argentina to finish filming. This was meant to be an alarming example of climate change, and yet it struck me as the root of the whole problem – the privileged uber-rich who love their entertainment so much that they can afford to fly hundreds of people and piles of gear in fossil fuel-powered planes to film a few snowy scenes on schedule!

Also, Before the Flood reminded me yet again: fuck palm oil.