Film Review – Before the Flood – an action-packed approach to reversing climate change

“Before the Flood” promotional release poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.com

In his documentary Before the Flood, released September 9, director Mr. Fisher Stevens raises awareness about the rapidly-approaching consequences of climate change and calls people to make the changes necessary to reverse this destructive process. Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar-winning actor and United Nations Messenger of Peace on Climate Change, narrates the film. He takes on the role of a student observing, inquiring, learning about the issue, and pondering its solutions. Mr. DiCaprio and influential figures such as Pope Francis, President Barack Obama, and CEO of Tesla Elon Musk aid Mr. Stevens in articulating his vision. He intends to thoroughly portray the misery humankind will experience if we continue living the way we do.

"Before the Flood" promotional release poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.com
Before the Flood promotional release poster, courtesy of thehumanist.com

The documentary introduces its audience to discussions with professors, scientists, government officials, and residents of different nations who experience the effects of global warming every day. Mr. DiCaprio asks questions and summarizes main points in elementary terms to ensure the viewer understands the scientific concepts discussed, such as how carbon degrades the ozone layer.
In one particularly informative scene, Mr. DiCaprio investigates the Tesla Gigafactory, a manufacturing site on the forefront of designing energy efficient vehicles. He discusses the sustainability of solar and battery fuel with CEO of Spacex and Tesla, Mr. Elon Musk. Mr. Musk encourages large corporations worldwide to shift to Gigafactories, which fight climate change by utilizing renewable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions. 
“All our modes of transportation, boats, planes, trains, cars, the way we produce our food, the way we build our cities, almost everything we do releases carbon dioxide and that leads to climate change,” Mr. DiCaprio said. “The polar ice caps will melt, the seas will start to rise, there will be more dangerous weather patterns, floods, droughts, wildfires.”
Mr. Musk claims a carbon tax is the “silver bullet” of climate change. This regulation would tax activities that emit carbon, such as those listed above. Mr. DiCaprio also interviews Mr. Gregory Mankiw, professor of economics at Harvard University, who also supports a carbon tax. Mr. Mankiw claims that the main reason the tax it is not yet in effect is because most people do not take the effects of climate change seriously.
To my surprise, Mr. DiCaprio and his interviewees do not hesitate to criticize the media for its role in confusing the public about current environental problems. The documentary shows video clips of newscasters denying climate change. Scientists claim that a large ecochamber of fossil fuel interests bribe professionals with fairly impressive credentials to publicly deny climate change, in the interest of their company’s profits. To disprove these claims, the film highlights that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the earth is warming due to fossil fuels and other human activity. But most importantly, Mr. Mankiw advises people to embrace the severity of climate change.  
“We need to preach [the danger of climate change] to the people. Once the people are convinced, the politicians will fall in line very quickly,” Mr. Mankiw said.  
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth and Science Director Dr. Piers Sellers also believes that the public should be better informed of the issues effecting the environment.
“A lot of people are kind of confused about the issue […] Rather than feeling like this is hopeless, let’s say, ‘This is a problem, now let’s find a way out of it.’ And there are ways out of it,” Dr. Sellers said.
In addition to the shocking statistics and information, the film also includes many jarring images of people suffering from the effects of environmental abuses. The documentary includes images I can still easily picture. The violent flow of arctic melt water, depleted expanses of rain forests in Sumatra, Indonesia, and polluted dust clouds hovering over villages and cities are examples of the horrifically eye-opening images in Before the Flood.
Later, alongside a series of flashing charts and visual aids, Mr. DiCaprio explores the food industry. I found this segment strikingly memorable because it accused each person who eats beef or palm oil of contributing to enormous carbon emissions. The more demand there is for products containing palm oil, ranging from packaged bread to shampoo, the more companies are inclined to abuse the resources necessary to create these products, according to worldwildlife.org. If more people buy beef products, more cattle will be bred to satisfy that need. As a result, the cattle will produce more methane gas, one molecule of which is equal to the effects of 20 carbon molecules.
The Garden of Earthly Delights by the Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch. This painting is a reoccurring image within the documentary "Before the Flood," courtesy of Khan Academy.
The Garden of Earthly Delights by the Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch. This painting is a reoccurring image within the documentary Before the Flood. Courtesy of khanacademy.org.

By including scenes such as these and presenting the opinions of scientists who spend their lives studying environmental abuses, Mr. Stevens evokes pathos from the viewer. In turn, the documentary spurs people to help restore the environment through their actions at home. 
Throughout the documentary, Mr. DiCaprio insists that people must accept the need for a much greater change. He suggests that the Paris Climate Agreement will not go far enough to reverse the downward trajectory of our environment and he urges each person to change at least one aspect of their lifestyle in the interest of the future of Earth. 
Although there is much to admire in Mr. Steven’s documentary, the film occasionally feels rushed, glossing over shocking statistics and images that may urge viewers to take climate change and its consequences more seriously. Mr. DiCaprio, through his inquisitive nature in the film, skims concepts with a few broad questions, never pursuing one idea for more than about 10 minutes. I would have liked to see the director refrain from prioritizing the action-movie-effect, and instead ensure the message comes across effectively. After all, this is a call to action, not an action-packed block-buster. 
After watching Before the Flood, I could not help but continue to ponder its heavy subject matter. The graphic images that captured the consequences of our seemingly benign every day choices moved me, regardless of how quick the scene cuts were.
After informing the audience about this viewpoint, Mr. DiCaprio firmly declares at the end of the film, the future of our planet is simply up to us.
-Christina Weiler, Arts and Entertainment editor