Before the Flood: too negative to inspire action on climate change? – film review


GREENBELT, MD.- Leonardo Interview with Piers Sellers at NASA. © 2016 RatPac Documentary Films, LLC and Greenhour Corporation, Inc. All rights reserved.

By Anders Lorenzen

Hollywood heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio tackles climate change head on in the recently released documentary,  Before the Flood.

In the film, the actor and environmentalist travels the Arctic and five continents to uncover the reality of a warming climate, and how bad it would get if we don’t take action now.

I really do admire his passion and the leadership role he has taken in recent years on this issue. But when I first heard about Before the Flood, the first thought that came to my mind was: do we really need another documentary about climate change, and will it inspire significant meaningful action, if any?

I think we can all agree what the objective of such a film is. It is to raise awareness of climate change, to make more people take action, and to raise the climate change issue in their own community, University, workplace, sports club and so on.

Having seen my own fair share of climate change documentaries, I can easily say this is by far the most pessimistic I have ever seen, and it paints a dark and gloomy  image. If I was uninformed about the climate change issue, I can’t say that such a film would make me get involved. It is not because the scary impacts of the film are not obvious; they are indeed and perhaps pictured so well that it does not leave much hope. And the one thing which we want to do when we debate climate change, is to give people a sense of hope. While there of course was an element of this in the film, it was largely missing.

But what struck me the most was, that not even DiCaprio himself believed that meaningful action was possible. DiCaprio himself is a brilliant actor. But this wasn’t acting, it was fear printed on his face, and it was not Hollywood fear, but real fear.

For, me the pessimistic element of this came across very clearly when he interviewed Obama. Instead of asking Obama what he is most hopeful or optimistic about, he asked him what he is most pessimistic about. It was almost like he was thinking, if you have seen what I have seen, how could you possibly be optimistic. Or when he interviewed Sunita Narain of India’s Centre for Science and Environment, he stated that Americans could not change their over-consumption habits, and the only way out is if renewables became so cheap that investments would arrive en masse.

There have been countless studies made on how best to communicate climate change. They show that when it comes to climate change, what motivates people to get involved is not the sight of the destruction created by dirty fossil fuel activity, or the huge cliffs of melting ice sliding into the sea, nor is it corrupt politicians with vested interests. It is telling the bright stories of clean energy and many other positive success stories in transitioning towards low carbon and a more sustainable economy.

But I will give DiCaprio credit for including the story of Piers Sellers, the Astronaut diagnosed with pancreatic cancer who has months not years left to live, but has dedicated the remaining bit of his life to fighting climate change.

But then I must also remind myself, I’m not the target audience, I’m not the one who has to be convinced, so maybe what he is doing is the right strategy. I would just have loved to see a bit more positivity in his messaging along the lines ‘ yes we are starting, albeit slowly, to bend the curve ; and the days of a fossil fuel economy are numbered; and there are actually countries with successive green policies that are leading the way’.

3 replies »

  1. I agree. DiCaprio paints an eclectic gloomy picture of climate change, but for anyone who has not tuned in to the issues, it might be useful. I liken it to the social reach that the documentary, ‘Blackfish’ achieved, changing forever the perception that the general public has about caging cetaceans in small tanks. The resulting publicity has eaten in to the profits taken by Marine attractions everywhere. Likewise, the negativity in ‘Before the Flood,’ will appeal to that portion of the population that ‘drives blind’ through life. Sometimes you just have to hit them squarely between the eyes! Then they might do something positive!

    Liked by 1 person

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