Late last year actor and environmentalist, Leonardo DiCaprio, partnered with Fisher Stevens to release a documentary reviewing the current state of the environment and climate around the world. The film, Before the Flood, is an answer to DiCaprio’s appointment by the U.N. as Messenger of Peace on Climate Change. In being selected by the U.N., DiCaprio felt a need to further familiarize himself with the world’s climate today, current threats and possible solutions. The outcome is a brilliant film recapping major issues and encouraging others to open their eyes to the implications of climate change. After watching the film a great many times, we have compiled the following key takeaways:
Climate change is real and happening today.
Did you know the U.S. has been aware of climate change since 1958? We knew that the products and methods we use on a day-to-day basis were releasing pollutants, like carbon dioxide, that in time would result in the warming of the atmosphere, putting the planet at risk.
Climate change, like most proven theories, is highly accepted by the scientific community with only about 3% of active climate scientists disagreeing with the concept. However, there are massive disinformation campaigns being put on by major oil companies and fossil fuel benefactors to confuse the public.
Fossil fuel giants, the Koch brother’s, in particular finance a large chain of climate denial — finding people willing to sell their credentials to fossil fuel interests affecting websites, news outlets and think tanks. They even front several political groups like the “Americans for Prosperity” that sound like they are working for the greater good, but not-so-secretly pushing fossil fuel agendas and creating confusion around climate change. You can see how this trickles down to the masses, with far fewer members of the general public backing climate change compared to the scientific community.
Not a believer? Traveling around the world shows several instances of climate change happening today, even in the U.S.! Some instances DiCaprio visits in the film include:
Baffin Island (above Arctic Circle): Ice has been decreasing in recent years, now much thinner and slushier in consistency than is typical for this region. If current trends continue, by 2040 you will be able to sail over the North Pole in the summer as there will be no sea ice left.
“The Arctic is like the air conditioning for the Northern Hemisphere. If it goes away, that is going to change currents. That’s going to change weather patterns. That’s going to make floods and droughts more catastrophic. It is the most dramatic transformation of a large environment ever.”
Greenland: Visiting a climate station in Greenland shows massive ice melt, much faster than climate change models are predicting. The ice level at this particular station has decreased by 30 feet in the last 5 years. That’s hundreds of cubic kilometers of ice that is now in the ocean.
“We keep finding things that aren’t in the climate models that are used to predict the future. So that tells me that the projections for the future are really conservative. If climate stays at this temperature that it’s been in for the last decade, Greenland is going away.” – Prof. Jason E. Box (Climatologist – Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland)
Miami Beach, USA: Some U.S. coastal towns are already seeing rising sea levels to the point where they are affecting everyday life. Miami, Florida suffers from “sunny day flooding” — when water rises into the streets in the middle of a nice day. This water backflows into sewers and drains and causes all sorts of problems in the city.
“We don’t have the liberty or the time, to debate climate change. If you don’t believe in it… bring your unconverted to us.” Philip Levine (Mayor, Miami Beach)
The city is currently in the midst of a $400 million project that will raise problematic roads and add pumps to the city to escort unwanted water back out to sea. Taxpayers are helping to pay for this project that will viable for the next 50 years according to current projections. Despite Miami’s issues with rising waters, Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, is still a climate change nay-sayer and isn’t helping to gather funds or research to combat the issue. Mayor Levine of Miami thinks it is all for political reasons.
“The ocean is not republican and it’s not democrat. All it knows how to do is rise.” Philip Levine (Mayor, Miami Beach)
China: China has surpassed the U.S. as the world’s #1 polluter in recent years, as manufacturing from all over the world is outsourced to China in an effort to keep costs down. While spending time in China, DiCaprio meets with Ma Jun, China’s Founding Director at the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs.
“In the last 35 years, China has been through a massive industrialization and urbanization, and it’s growing. China is the factory of the world… Much of the pollution of the industry is getting dumped in our backyards. And in this area surrounding Beijing… coal consumption is equal to total coal consumption of United States, in a not very big area.” Ma Jun (China’s Founding Director, Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs)
Air toxicity in China has become a HUGE ISSUE and people are very concerned about their health. So much so that many opt to wear masks when outdoors to prevent inhaling pollution – responsible for causing cancer and respiratory illnesses. Some days the air toxicity is so bad that school gets shut down and kids have to stay home. Increasing pollution levels are affecting livelihoods so much that citizens are speaking out! Environmental reasons have become the biggest reason for protests and demonstrations in China. And the good news — things are changing!
Factories are starting to be tracked and held accountable for their actions, the Chinese media talks about climate change constantly, and the Government has totally revamped their plan for renewable energy. There has been such a push for solar and wind energy that China is now home to some of the leading companies in these industries. While China is still relying on fossil fuels, they are transitioning to renewables at a much faster rate than anyone anticipated!
New Delhi, India: India is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The country is extremely poor and struggling to bring power to its people. There are 300 million people, 30% of households, without power in India — equal to the entire U.S. population. Most of these people burn cow dung for cooking and energy purposes.
DiCaprio meets with Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. She ensures him that they do care about the environment, but India has one of the largest coal reserves in the world — and coal is cheap.
“If you (Americans) created the problem in the past, we will create it in the future. We have 700 million households who cook using biomass today. If those households move to coal, you’ll have that much more use of fossil fuels. Then the entire world is fried…If it was that easy, I’d really like the U.S. to move to solar. But you haven’t.” Sunita Narain (Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi)
India’s poor have been hit hard by climate change as unseasonal weather has harmed crops which they depend on for their food and livelihoods. During February and March 2016, they saw a tremendous amount of rain. There was a span in which farmers saw half a typical year’s rainfall in just 5 hours. Fields were flooded and crops completely destroyed.
“We need countries to believe that climate change is real and urgent. It’s not a figment of their imagination.” Sunita Narain (Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi)
Kiribati and Palau Islands: Natives to these island nations are already adjusting to rising sea levels. Within the last 12 years people have been moving further inland to escape rising waters. Kiribati has even purchased land in Fiji to relocate its people to when levels get too high, as current projections estimate their island will be under water within the next generation.
In an interview with CNN Anote Tong (President, Kiribati) stated, “We are the canary, but hopefully, that experience will send a very strong message that we might be on the frontline today, but others will be on the frontline next.”
The Oceans: Sea level rise isn’t the only problem spotted in the oceans. Overfishing has destroyed species and ecosystems, while warming waters are making living conditions intolerable for others.
“What we’ve done to the rest of the world is just, it’s criminal. It’s not just sea level rise — We’ve taken these coastal ecosystems that used to be dominated by incredibly abundant fish, and we’ve knocked the whole system down reversing half a billion years of evolution.” Jeremy Jackson (Ph.D Marine Ecologist)
According to Marine Ecologist Jeremy Jackson, reefs as we know them are going to virtually disappear. Over the last 30 years we have lost 50% of all coral. If current trends continue, experts predict that the ocean will be too warm to sustain corals by the year 2050. Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, second only to the rainforest. Along with the disappearance of corals, we will likely also lose the millions of species that call corals home. Not to mention the 1 billion people that depend on coral reefs for most of their protein, livelihoods (tourism, fishing) and coastal protection.
Warming oceans have more repercussions than the loss of sea life. The ocean water absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but it can only absorb so much.
“The oceans are like this big buffer because they absorb carbon dioxide. They take up about one third of the CO2 that we dump into the atmosphere. So because of that they are a stabilizing force in climate. The problem is the ocean can’t do its job fast enough with this absurd rate of carbon dioxide emissions.” Jeremy Jackson (Ph.D Marine Ecologist)
So basically we are going to start warming EVEN FASTER as the ocean absorbs less and less of our CO2 emissions (and more remains in the atmosphere).
Sumatra, Indonesia: Much like ocean water, the trees in forests also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, in places like Indonesia and Malaysia, rainforests are being burned down at an alarming rate to make way for agriculture (palm oil plantations), livestock and civilization.
“We are taking away the ecosystems that normally help us to restabilize the climate. Like oceans, rainforests absorb carbon from our atmosphere. Decades and decades of the forests breathing in the carbon and storing it in the trunks and the leaves and the organic matter. Those carbon emissions are being held safe for us. Until we clear them and light them on fire. It acts like a carbon bomb and releases massive carbon emissions back into the atmosphere.” Lindsey Allen (Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network)
Not only are we preventing trees from absorbing future carbon emissions, we are causing them to release all the carbon they have stored up over the years when we set them on fire.
Indonesia is home to one of the three big rainforests of the world. Flying over the country you will witness massive levels of smoke as land is cleared at a rate of 300 football fields per hour to make way for palm oil plantations. Smoke from fires in 2015 emitted more carbon daily than the entire U.S. economy. Respiratory illness is responsible for killing over 10,000 people annually in Indonesia due to poor air quality. Furthermore, the barren, burned land displaces and kills thousands of animals.
Palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil in the world and in crazy high demand. It can be found in many household products including cooking oils, processed foods, cosmetics, and detergents. The palm oil industry has grown so much that it has taken over 80% of the land in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem — the last place that still has rhinos, elephants, orangutans and tigers together in the wild. As a result, all of these species are now listed as endangered with numbers dwindling. It is a very real possibility that the next generations will never know these creatures in the wild as we have, if at all.
While these are specific instances that may seem far away, climate change is happening all around us! In our home, the Pacific Northwest, streams are warming to a point where they can no longer sustain salmon, rising acidity levels in the oceans are harming oyster stocks, ski resorts are worrying about their future as they see less snowpack, and farmers are suffering from extreme weather patterns and droughts, making it difficult to grow crops and water livestock. Furthermore, air quality throughout the U.S. is not optimal. According to the American Lung Association, more than half of all Americans—166 million people—live in counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of pollutants.
There is scientific proof!
In meeting with the Earth League — one of the world’s leading networks of scientists — and NASA scientists, DiCaprio is able to view models showing the Earth’s warming over the time. Johan Rockstrom, Professor of Environmental Science at Stockholm University, explains that we are moving towards an average warming of 4 degrees celsius this century, something that hasn’t happened in the past 4 million years.
“For the last 12,000 years temperatures are almost miraculously stable. In fact, average temperatures vary within only +/- 1 degree celsius during this entire period.” Johan Rockstrom (Professor, Environmental Science, Stockholm University)
However, we are fast approaching a 1 degree celsius warming (currently at 0.85 degree C, 1.53 degrees F) and are seeing impacts faster than expected in the way of extreme storms and droughts. Professor Rockstrom says that with current carbon levels and warming trends, the planet WILL reach 1.5-2 degrees C warmer, pretty much no matter what. He also states that the world’s coral reefs will collapse before 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) warming. At 3-4 degrees C warming, which is predicted in this century, agriculture around the world will start to collapse and we will no longer be able to feed humanity.
Rockstrom further details how for the first time, Greenland is melting on its entire surface. Instead of being a white surface it becomes a visibly dark surface. And instead of being a self cooler it becomes a heater as the bright white ice no longer reflects back the heat, but instead absorbs it. Additionally, underneath the ice and permafrost large amounts of methane gas is trapped, just waiting to be released into the atmosphere as the ice melts. More harmful than CO2, methane gas is thought to have 72 times the global warming potential over a 20 year period in comparison.
Dr. Piers Sellars is an Astronaut and Director of the Earth Sciences Division at NASA/GSFC. Using 20 satellites that collect information daily about the Earth’s carbon levels, ocean temperatures, weather patterns, precipitation, etc., Dr. Sellars has put together a model simulation of the Earth’s climate.
“A lot of people now are kind of confused about the issue… The facts are crystal clear—the ice is melting, the Earth is warming, the sea level is rising—those are facts. Rather than being, ‘Oh my god, this is helpless,’ say, ‘Ok, this is the problem, let’s be realistic and let’s find a way out of it.’ And there are ways out of it. If we stopped burning fossil fuel right now, the planet would still keep warming for a little while before cooling off again.” Dr. Piers Sellers (Astronaut, Director Earth Sciences Division at NASA/GSFC)
But it would cool off again. There is hope!
The world is run on fossil fuels.
Our world today is run on dirty energy. We know that fossil fuels are harming the planet. Yet as resources are depleted, we have found increasingly damaging ways to attain enough fuel to fulfill demand. We are resorting to dangerous methods like mountaintop removal for coal, fracking for natural gas, off-shore drilling for oil, and tar sands that drastically alter our environments and destroy the life that once thrived there.
The U.S. is transitioning to renewables, but at a pretty slow rate. In fact, both India and China are doing more investment in solar today than the U.S. While the U.S. is rich enough to withstand the first effects of climate change, the poor of the world are feeling the heat TODAY.
While renewables may not be as cost effective initially compared to coal and other fossil fuels, once you invest in the technology and set up the infrastructure, you have FREE ENERGY FOREVER! Pretty cool, right? So cool, that other countries are heavily investing. Denmark can produce over 100% of its electricity needs on a windy day — of which they happen to have a lot. Sweden declared they will become the world’s first fossil fuel free nation after a huge uprising from its people. Yay Sweden!
Here in the U.S., we have the ability and technology to switch to renewables, so what’s the hold up?
The Big Problem: Fossil fuel influence in the U.S. government.
The film was released prior to the Trump administration and points to several climate deniers within government that receive funding from oil companies and fossil fuel benefactors. In particular, James Inhofe, the Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — someone that you would hope has our environment’s best interests at heart — is an outspoken climate change denier. He has been quoted saying, “Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. There are some people who are so arrogant and think that they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.” Coincidentally, Inhofe is one of the largest recipients of fossil fuel money in the U.S. Senate, collecting over $1.8 million.
In late fall 2016 when the film was released there were 131 climate deniers in Congress and 38 climate deniers in the Senate — meaning it was nearly impossible to get climate bills passed. Fast forward to 2017, we now also have Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) working to gut programs protecting land, water, air and animals across the country.
While not in the film, we feel it is important to note some of Pruitt’s obvious conflicts of interest to his new appointment:
- Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times to block clean water and air regulations. His co-litigators include some of the biggest polluters in the nation. Find a breakdown of the lawsuits here.
- Pruitt does not believe in climate change — something the EPA had previously been working towards raising awareness of and combating.
- Emails and financial backing from the fossil fuel industry shows close ties with Pruitt. How is he supposed to honestly regulate the polluters he has been conspiring with for years?
The initial days of Pruitt’s reign have shown him to be against a majority of EPA employees and supporters. The new proposed budget will slash EPA funding by 31% — with an expected 25% cut to the workforce, and eliminating 56 of the agencies programs that work to protect public health and the environment. However, there is one area of the agency that is looking to get a boost. According to a draft of the budget obtained by the Washington post, the Trump administration is asking to add 10 full-time security professionals solely for the purpose of protecting Scott Pruitt 24/7 as his personal bodyguards. This would more than double the security typically required by EPA officials and is estimated to cost taxpayers upwards of $8 million USD over an 8 month span.
As long as the fossil fuel industry has close ties within our government, it is unlikely we will see a switch to cleaner energy. But when we are ready, the technology is out there!
We consume too much, too inconsiderately.
The government isn’t the only problem. The U.S. is the #1 consumer of the world, and historically the #1 polluter as well. We buy more things, live in bigger houses, use more electricity and drive our cars more than any other country. In fact, the typical American household has more cars than it even has drivers.
The American lifestyle is driven by entertainment and in large portrays an attitude of “bigger is better”. While there is a push for sustainable products, minimalism at home and decreased energy usage — the masses seem largely unmoved by the looming concerns of climate change and our disappearing natural environment.
We are spoiled with so many choices in our daily lives — at the supermarket, at our workplace, in our homes. We need to start realizing that these choices are affecting the rest of the world!
Eating less beef would help.
You likely don’t spend much time thinking about the various resources going into the foods you eat. If you do, you realize that beef in particular has a very large footprint.
“Of all the reasons for tropical deforestation, the foremost is beef. And beef is one of the most inefficient uses of resources on the planet. In the U.S., 47% of land is used for food production. And of that, the lion’s share (70%) is just to grow feed for cattle. The things that we actually eat — like fruits, vegetables, nuts — it’s 1%. Most importantly cows produce methane and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas…Every molecule of methane is equivalent to 23 molecules of CO2. And of the methane in the atmosphere, nearly all of it is due to livestock. About 10-12% of the total U.S. emissions is due to beef.” Gidon Eshel, Ph.D (Research Professor, Environmental Physics at Bard College)
See how the emissions created when making a half pound burger stack up:
In the U.S., it typically takes more than 6 kg of grain to make 1 kg of beef. In other words, beef has a feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 6+. That means all of the grain that is fed directly to a cow throughout its life until it is ready for slaughter adds up to more than 6 times the amount of beef it produces. Grain, that many argue, could otherwise be fed to people directly. See how beef compares to other meats:
Aside from the amount of feed it takes to produce beef, cows raised for beef take up a lot of space and require a ton of water! Did you know that land dedicated to animal agriculture takes up 45% of the entire Earth’s ice-free land? Furthermore, animal agriculture is responsible for 55% of the total water consumption in the U.S. and is the leading cause of freshwater pollution.
A dietary shift as minor as eating less beef and more chicken could make a big difference!
“Chicken will require 20% of the land and 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions…If you switch to chicken you will have eliminated 80% of what you emit, depending on where you are coming from.” Gidon Eshel, Ph.D (Research Professor, Environmental Physics at Bard College)
The world has acknowledged climate change as an issue.
At the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris the world’s leading polluters came together and agreed that climate change is an issue we need to address. The window is still open to transition back to a stable planet, but just barely. An agreement was reached striving to keep global warming levels below 2 degrees C — aiming for only 1.5 degrees C warming. 196 nations signed the Paris Agreement agreeing to reduce carbon emissions and increase ambitions in the pursuit of cleaner energy. No official carbon taxes or regulations were put in place, but a hope that all countries will follow through.
In meeting with President Barack Obama he expresses that this is the first time all countries have verifiable steps to take towards reducing emissions and he is happy to see the architecture in place. However, there is still concern that the targets set in the Paris Agreement are nowhere near aggressive enough. Not to mention, new administration in the U.S. has expressed interest in abandoning the agreement.
A huge percentage of the world’s population lives near oceans, and if they start moving with rising sea levels, there will be scarce resources and competition between populations. This is what makes Obama most terrified for the future.
Even the Pope believes.
Pope Francis made history when he came forth and called upon the world community to accept the modern science of climate change and take action — the first time a Pope has ever acknowledged climate change as an issue.
“Our common home has fallen into disrepair. Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out. That we can always redirect our steps. That we can always do something to solve our problems. Still we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point.” – Translation of Pope Francis
Everything in the future is going to be different — from landscapes to biodiversity. We have to completely change the way we utilize electricity and travel, and we are fighting powerful fossil fuel interests that are doing everything they can to resist change. The fossil fuel industry has more money and more influence than any other sector of the world.
Solutions are out there.
DiCaprio visits the Tesla Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada. It is here where Elon Musk and his team work to create affordable batteries capable of storing solar energy. By collecting and storing solar energy, these batteries make it possible to avoid building electric power plants all together. The battery packs are capable of providing energy to an entire village, without the need to run wires and cables all over the place. It’s like comparing cell phones to landlines. Developing nations that yet to have complicated electrical infrastructure in place can skip it and start clean with solar battery packs.
When the gigafactory is complete it will have the largest footprint of any building in the world at 15 million square feet, counting multiple levels. Musk notes that it would only take 100 gigafactories to give solar energy to the whole world, which really sounds manageable.
He also states that unless there is a price put on carbon, we are never going to deal with it and make the transition that we need to in time.
Musk isn’t the first person to suggest a carbon tax. Gregory Mankiw, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, says it is the silver bullet for climate change. A carbon tax would be a tax on anything that adds carbon to the atmosphere. This would in turn reduce the usage of items that create a lot of CO2.
Without a carbon tax, Mankiw says people have to think too often about climate change. Where if you have a tax, it will raise awareness and take the responsibility off of individuals plates. According to Mankiw, the tax gets a bad public wrap, but it would actually be a great thing! In adding a carbon tax, other taxes — like payroll tax — could be decreased to offset the cost to consumers. And it would actually save taxpayers money in the long run as it is estimated that by 2060, climate change will cost taxpayers an estimated $44 Trillion USD through flooding, droughts, wildfires, water scarcity, food shortages and increased need for national security. However, as “carbon tax” doesn’t poll well, politicians tend to avoid it. First we need to change the public’s perception, then politicians will follow!
What can you do?
The responsibility falls to each of us. We need to consume differently. What we buy, how we eat, where we get our power — all needs to be reevaluated. In particular, here are 9 ways you can start helping the environment and animals right now! Moving forward we also need to put leaders in place that fight for climate change, end subsidies for fossil fuels and invest in renewables.
“The only thing we can do is control what we do next. How we live our lives. How we consume. How we get involved. And how we use our vote to tell our leaders we know the truth about climate change…Now think about the shame that each of us will carry when our children and grandchildren look back and realize that we had the means of stopping this devastation, but simply lacked the political will to do so…We need to move towards a collective consciousness to survive as a human race…No more talk, no more excuses, no more 10 year studies, no more allowing the fossil fuel companies to manipulate and dictate the science and policies that affect our future. The world is now watching. You will either be lauded by future generations or vilified by them.” Leonardo DiCaprio
Learn how to offset your carbon emissions at Carbontax.org!
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