Before the Flood – A Review

“So I am living without fats, without meat, without fish, but am feeling quite well this way. It always seems to me that man was not born to be a carnivore.”

“The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation”.

A. Einstein

The complexity of solving climate change is well portrayed in “Before the Flood”, the National Geographic Channel’s documentary, starting Leonardo DiCaprio, which premiered last week on different platforms for the world to watch. The movie is full of valuable information and has a courageous approach but is lacking in depth when it comes to asking for action now but shading away from some of the immediate solutions we have at hand. Leonardo DiCaprio’s fight with his beliefs is put to the test and fails miserably at looking beyond our current western ideologies. This is somewhat expected coming from someone living within the beast that created the problem. Some of his pitches are well intended, meticulously planned and probably are there for a purpose; hoping others will fill in the gaps.

The journey with DiCaprio takes us from the UN (United Nations) as Special Ambassador to melting glaciers, destroyed boreal forests in the Canadian tar sands, flooding cities in the US, contaminated cities in China, India’s energy emissions time bomb, disappearing islands, coral bleaching, clear cut tropical forests for palm oil and grassing livestock, Tesla’s Gigafactory, the carbon tax, visiting the Pope, Obama and the NASA, the Climate Change Summit in Paris and back to the UN. All these serious problems and leader opinions have already been documented elsewhere so the documentary does not present any new information or any revolutionary insights but is valuable and historic since it puts them all in one place and having a genuinely concerned A-list actor at the center guarantees extensive viewing.

The conclusion that can be drawn from the documentary is that we need to take urgent immediate action but without breaking the boundaries of capitalism, consumerism and liberal humanism, leaving us with scarce room for trying anything else. Our beliefs in the free market, perpetual economic growth, continuous development of new technology and the idea of progress are all to be considered sacred. As well as, that all individuals have basic human rights and freedoms that are inalienable.

For this reason, when questioned by Sunita Narain, from Delhi’s Center for Science and Environment, about putting lifestyle and consumption at the center of climate change negotiations, Leonardo DiCaprio answers that “it’s a very difficult argument to present to Americans” and that “its probably not going to happen” putting the argument to the side. How does a sustainable lifestyle look like? What kind of footprint should one have to contribute to mitigate climate change? What behaviors and products are considered unsustainable? Is it that hard to talk about these questions?

Then again when talking to a scientist about the significant impact a person can have by changing his diet, the documentary fails at clearly proposing the transition to a vegetarian diet and mentioning all its benefits to the environment by eliminating half the amount of all greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding habitat destruction, making food available to all, eradicating animal suffering in the food supply and the beneficial impact on the health of the general population. This is surprising and disappointing coming from the executive producer of “Cowspiracy”, another great documentary available on Netflix where the subject is covered in detail. Based on the urgent matter at hand, one would expect an in depth look at veganism but I guess this would be too radical and the “end of the world” for most individuals. After all the evidence presented, the “business-as-usual” scenario of climate change looks more like hellish Mordor for future generations than transitioning today to veganism.

Apart from veganism, eliminating carbon intensive traveling from the individual’s lifestyle would greatly reduce that person’s footprint and their CO2 yearly emissions. One round-trip flying across the Atlantic economy class is equivalent to 2 to 3 times the yearly CO2 emissions of the average person living in India. The documentary shows the narrator hopping around the globe for 3 years in planes and helicopters in the search for answers. Yet, no word on the emissions and the impact on the environment from travel addicted lifestyles. How would the world look like if everyone had my lifestyle or worse Leonardo DiCaprio’s? What kind of lifestyles are we promoting?

The fact that diet change and lifestyle are included in the film is a courageous step taking in consideration all the economic interests involved. The brave and positive idea put forward is that we need to start moving in the right direction and this film gets very close. You can change your diet today and stop all non-essential traveling; there is nothing more immediate than that. We might not like these conclusions but we don’t have many alternatives. Getting solar energy on your roof and buying an electric car can also make a significant contribution but only if you can afford them.

Humanity and all species face the possibility of an irreversible catastrophic future. Either we break away from our beliefs and find solutions or as is well stated at the end of the film “we are history”.