"Before the Flood" Screening at Columbia University
October 18, 2016
"The Garden of Earthly Delights" inspired the title of the film; by the third panel, Eden turns into hell because of man's actions.
It wasn’t easy to leave work at 5:00pm. But three subways and hour of travel were well worth it to return to Columbia University for a pre-screening of “Before the Flood”.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Before the Flood” was just the invigoration I needed after a world-weary ten years in sustainability.
DiCaprio and crew travel to Canada, Greenland, China, India, Indonesia, The US, France, and Kiribati (offset by a voluntary carbon tax, of course) to demonstrate the dramatic effects that climate change is already having on economies and families around the world. Touching on everything from policy to diet to religion, the film examines the complexities of solving the climate crisis - how do we develop growing economies sustainably while reducing emissions from industrialized nations, without compromising business, health, or dignity?
DiCaprio interviews world leaders and industry experts as diverse as Dr. Piers Seelers, Elon Musk, Dr. Michael E. Mann, President Obama, and the Pope. His narration – much like my own internal dialogue – oscillates between excitement and despair while reflecting on the overwhelming drama between the players of climate change: the conclusive science, the misinformation campaigns, apathetic (or informed and helpless) consumers, climate refugees, and the renewable energy revolution that will need to take place to sustain life as we know it on Earth.
One common theme of this film was the paralyzing international heresay that stonewalls these necessary changes from happening. The phrase “If ___ can do it, so can we” was repeated at least twice in the film, but as Sunita Narain points out, most countries are waiting for the biggest carbon polluters (China, the US, and India) to take responsibility for their contributions and lead the way. Collectively, we know we need to take immediate action to curb climate change, but how can we even begin when every nation is waiting for another nation to lead? Since the Paris Climate Agreement fails to enforce accountability, what will motivate action?
The film offers carbon taxation as the solution to our collective climate change inertia. However, as conversations with my neighbors after the screening pointed out, there is never one easy answer to such a multifaceted problem. We discussed other solutions – conservation farming, carbon sequestration, renewable energy storage – and the consequences of each. It’s clear that preventing the flood of melting icecaps will require a combination of technologies and policy, but the question remains – is it all too little too late?
I’d like to think that even if individual nations act independently, we won’t go down without a fight. I’m sure I’ll wind up bringing friends & family out to see this film another dozen times. It’s been a decade since “An Inconvenient Truth” was in theaters, and it’s time for climate change laypersons to get another dose of urgency and a reality check with the lethargic pace of sustainable development.