Before the Flood: A review

A take on the much anticipated DiCaprio Documentary on Climate Change

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I’ve been reading about DiCaprio’s quest to push the agenda of Climate Change every now and then. It always came to me as ironic when I tried hard to look from the perspective of a concerned citizen. DiCaprio is an entertainer and with this altruistic act, he’s just pushing another hackneyed agenda forward from a position of power. Speaking up abstract terminologies and interviewing policy makers and stakeholders around the world — what good does that do? From the new documentary, Before the Flood, I appreciate the introspective stance taken. It is particularly appealing to me because I was part of a high school seminar presenting scores of statistics and solutions on Global Warming, which today seems to be riding a greater wave of concern.

One of the first thoughts that immediately struck my mind was the carbon footprint of making this documentary because it is pretty evident that the use of high-tech research equipment and the usage of helicopters for transportation must have had a long chain of impact. I was wondering, the carbon footprint of this documentary could potentially be equal to a handful of people at the bottom of the pyramid from India. Surprisingly, the documentary concludes by a note stating that the carbon footprint was offset by paying a voluntary “Carbon Tax”. On moral grounds, that is hilarious but, for all practical purposes, there is seriously no other choice!

Right from the beginning of the documentary, the narration presents a ubiquitous tone of zero pretentiousness. While the developed nations have already reaped colossal benefits out of fossil fuel consumption, they are inadvertently imposing unfair restrictions on the developing nations where modern energy alternatives are still far beyond a reasonable price point. This has been a major public policy shortcoming which was quite unabashedly put forward by an Indian researcher and Government official in the documentary. DiCaprio’s decision to include this piece of content, in a way, testifies for his genuine concern to find an answer to the question — How can we effectively transition towards an economy built upon sustainable energy?

The appalling state of political will has also been exposed in this documentary. The narrator has made conspicuous claims of corruption at the highest levels around the world by pointing direct fingers at the fossil fuel lobbyists. Politicians like Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have been callous in their propaganda and bending at the will of monopolies like ExxonMobil, Shell and the Koch Brothers who are hiding under the veneer of so-called “Non-Profit Organizations”. Matters become worse with the brazen denial and rejection of Climate Change as a mere delusionary propaganda. This information is most likely not new, but judging it’s far reaching impact in today’s connected world, it just might be another nail in the coffin for the fossil fuel hegemony.

A discussion with Elon Musk, who’s been striving hard to bring Solar energy to the mainstream, brings an interesting analogy to the table. The wireless cellular network evolution which, followed the advent of wired landlines, enabled many of the remote places to never wait for laying down of long distance wiring. Similarly, solar energy can save us the hassle of laying down complex electricity grid systems and instead make isolated self-sustaining power sources. It seems like a win-win for both economics and the nature.

Barack Obama brings in another perspective to the concern and surely knows how to communicate the concern to its direct stakeholders. Scientific arguments might not ring a bell with the hoi-polloi for obvious reasons. It becomes a concern when the consequences are more direct in nature. Data shows that the recent uprisings in the Middle East are a consequence of Global Warming because resources are becoming scarce and hence the escalation of unrest. Such extremist tendencies surely make Climate Change a threat to national security.

While DiCaprio has played safe and only touched the surface of things, the documentary does a fair job of putting forward a cogent argument for the awareness. One of the unfortunate shortcomings of this documentary is that while it convinces everyone of the big challenge lying ahead of us, steps being taken to mitigate this are still unheard of and very selective in approach. A tectonic shift in policy is impossible but concrete policies are yet to see the light of the day while the bottom of the pyramid still adds more first-world challenges to its basket. All we see are talk shows like the Paris Climate Agreement and the Kyoto Protocols of the yesteryears. Are the policy makers listening?

Here’s a collection of my favorite quotes from the documentary which sum up the emotions.

“It’s like Mordor” — Remarks DiCaprio after seeing a rainforest turned into the largest coal mine

“It’s ice-cream type of ice” — A Greenland dweller

“The ocean is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, all it knows is how to rise” — A research scholar disappointed with policy makers

“Politicians are elected followers” — Greg Mankiw on why mass mobilization is needed before political will

“We had to relocate halfway around the world just to find snow” — DiCaprio on shifting locations for ‘Revenant’

“If you like some flesh between your teeth, just by switching to chicken instead of beef could cut emissions up to 80%” — A research scholar on the easiest contribution we can make and switch diets

“Carbon Tax is the silver bullet” — famed economist, Greg Mankiw

“It would take a 100 Gigafactories to satisfy the world’s energy needs” — Elon Musk, “That’s it!?” — DiCaprio

“It’s a national security issue” — Obama echoing the Pentagon to reiterate far reaching consequences

“You are the last best hope of Earth”

Go watch the documentary now.