Documentary December: Before the Flood

As a writer, I have always been a huge fan of fiction. There is some truth behind all of those imagined stories though, and while it may be much easier to hide in that make believe, I don’t want to ignore the truth anymore. My ever-growing list of movies to watch has lately been filled with documentaries. I decided to devote some of my time this month to watch some of those documentaries, and to learn. I want to learn about the world, about its people, its history and its future—and I want to learn how to protect it. Because for all of its faults, the earth is a pretty magical place.

The first time I watched Titanic, I fell in love with Leonardo DiCaprio and then spent every possible moment belting “My Heart Will Go On” while I listened to it through the speakers in our family room. Aside from Carl in kindergarten, Leo was my first crush. Now, nearly twenty years later, DiCaprio has acted and produced in sixty films and TV shows. In that time, he has also used his voice to become a champion against climate change.


Before the Flood, directed by Fisher Stevens and co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a 2016 documentary film about climate change. The documentary begins with DiCaprio’s recollection of his earliest visual memories of a framed poster of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. We studied the three-fold painting in one of my humanities classes in college, where we had many in depth discussions on its religious elements and the popular belief that Bosch’s work represents a “warning on the perils of life’s temptations.” The second panel is what Bosch called “Humankind Before the Flood,” which precedes the final panel’s charred, blackened skies that could appear in the very near future.

“I remember the anger that I felt reading all these stories about how explorers and settlers would just wipe out an entire species and, in the process, decimate the ecosystem forever. The difference now is, we’re knowingly doing this. It’s just on a much larger scale.”


The documentary follows DiCaprio around the world as he meets with world leaders, environmental activists, scientists, and many other people over the course of three years. DiCaprio, the newly appointed United Nations Messenger of Peace on Climate Change, documents the devastating impacts of climate change. He questions our ability to reverse what is possibly the most catastrophic problem mankind has ever faced: man-made global warming.

How many people do you know, either personally or otherwise, who have denied climate change or said, “It’s not that bad” before? They are wrong. It does exist, and it is that bad. Our world depends on fossil fuels. Mining for coal, fracking for natural gas, offshore drilling for oil, and tar sands impact wildlife and native communities, and they’re ruining the planet. We need to follow the leads of countries who have already moved toward renewable energy. Germany gets 30% of its electricity from solar and wind power. Some days, Denmark gets over 100% of its power from wind energy alone. Sweden is working toward becoming the first fossil fuel free nation in the world. If these countries have made renewable energy possible, why can’t other countries? Why can’t America?

Climate change, or global warming, is more than just the earth getting warmer. Yes, it causes polar ice caps to melt and seas to rise. But it also creates dangerous and erratic weather patterns, including floods, droughts, and wildfires. It affects wildlife populations. It will put islands and coastal cities underwater. There is nothing fictional about it.


“If climate stays at this temperature that it’s been in the last decade, Greenland is going away.” – Professor Jason E. Box


“The ocean is not Republican and it’s not Democrat. All it knows how to do is rise.” – Philip Levine


“[The United States’ energy] consumption is really going to put a hole in the planet… [India is] doing more investment in solar today. China is doing much more investment in solar today than the US is. What is the US doing that the rest of the world can learn from?” – Dr. Sunita Narain


“[Palm oil plantations] grow the cheapest vegetable oil in the world. It’s in cooking oils and processed foods. In your cosmetics and detergents. … The expansion of the palm oil industry in Indonesia has taken over about 80% of [its] forests.” – Farwiza Farhan

“Of all the reasons for tropical deforestation, the foremost is beef. Beef is one of the most inefficient uses of resources on the planet.” – Professor Gidon Eshel


“If we’re going to solve this problem, we all have a responsibility to set an example. And more than that, help the developing world transition before it’s too late.”

Every choice we make impacts the climate, and the future, of this planet. And, yeah, most people don’t want to think about that all the time—it’s exhausting and not particularly fun. Truthfully, I haven’t always paid climate change enough attention either. I recycled and I turned the water off when I was brushing my teeth and I carpooled when possible, but for the most part, climate change was a passive thought for me. Now, I think about it every day. And it is exhausting. I’m scared, terrified actually, of what it’s doing to this planet—and if you’re not scared too, you’re not paying attention.

But what is there to do? If we sit idle and wait for someone else to do all the work, it won’t happen. We have to fight for the planet ourselves. Get educated on climate change. Speak out about it and help others get informed. Make small changes in your life—reduce your beef and palm oil consumption, opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet. Reuse and recycle. Encourage renewable energy like solar and wind power wherever possible. Elect politicians and leaders who believe in climate change and are prepared to fight it. Our planet depends on it.

“The facts are crystal clear: the ice is melting, the earth is warming, the sea level is rising. Those are facts. Rather than feeling ‘Oh my god, it’s hopeless,’ say, ‘Okay, this is the problem. Let’s be realistic. Let’s find a way out of it.’ And there are ways out of it.” – Dr. Piers Sellers

You can view Before the Flood on National Geographic, or rent or buy the film here.

If there are any documentaries you think I should add to my list for this month, let me know in the comments.


5 thoughts on “Documentary December: Before the Flood

  1. Nancy Silva says:

    Dear Jess,

    Yes, I am terrified too! Uncle Steve and I watched this documentary around Thanksgiving and it is probably one of the best I have seen. From what I know to be true (if Cowspiracy documentary is to be believed) the single best thing we can do for the environment is stop eating animal products – which I believe you have already done. In spades – being vegan. Lena did I for a while. I did for a very short time.. Thanks for putting the thought back at the front of my mind.

    The next two documentaries I plan to watch are The Best Democracy Money can Buy – a film made by Rolling Stones investigative reporter Greg Palast. He’s been called a modern day Edward R Murrow.
    The other is The Coming War On China which is recommended by my progressive radio fav Thom Hartmann. Here’s a video of him interviewing the film maker:

    I love your thoughtful writing, Jess. Thank you for a good read!!

    Love, Aunt Nancy


    • ennaacissej says:

      I’m only a vegetarian as of now, but I do eat vegan when possible. I haven’t seen Cowspiracy yet either, but I did talk to Lena about it after you guys watched. And I’ll add those documentaries to my list too!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s