Saturday, 7 January 2017

A Delayed Reflection of DiCaprio’s Before the Flood

Dear Leo,

I was confused to find you heading a documentary on climate change, because, honestly, I was pretty certain you drowned at the end of your previous documentary, Titanic. But after spending the 90-ish minutes taking in your message, I was actually quiet thankful you had miraculously survived, after all.

Recently, while sitting on a virtual panel with soon-to-be-graduating ESST* students at Acadia University, I was asked how do you discuss environmental issues without making everyone depressed? My answer was, of course, I left Canada and moved to Uganda where there is a high degree of discussion and conversation around the topic, because the impacts of climate change, global warming, global dimming, or whatever you want to call it, are felt here on a daily basis. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make… well…

The point is, in good ‘ol We the West where we remember to bring our reusable grocery bags with us to the store and then proceed to pat ourselves on the back for the next 35 minutes, we’re a little bit in full blown denial. And this is kind of what I believe you, my dear friend, United Nations Messenger of Peace on Climate Change, and teen heartthrob/Academy Award winning (finally!) actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, are trying to get across in your recent collaboration with National Geographic – a documentary entitled Before the Flood.

During your journey to become one of the most recognizable “non-credible” voices for the fight against climate change, you have also come up against a lot of criticism. This, as you’ve pointed out, is because you don’t have a formal education on the matter**. But I think the fact that you didn’t grow up surrounded by nature gives you even more credibility, because it essentially makes you an outsider. What I mean by this, is that you didn’t grow up with an ingrained value for nature, it came to you over time, through your own initiative, and has shaped the message you are trying to impart on the world today. It is, really, people like you, that we are needing to convert more than any others – because it’s those who have no relationship with nature that are usually the quickest to dismiss the direction we’re headed.

I will be honest; I have watched this film a couple of times now. The first time, I jotted down some fairly petty critiques and facts that I intended to follow up on (but even as I type have yet to actually do) – the most memorable being my disappointment that you could lead a discussion of this sort while standing next to a sir wearing a Canada Goose jacket in the Baffin Islands, and take him seriously. I mean, come on – how was that possible, what with your message of the tar sands, rainforest destruction, and a number of other related issues?!

Anyway, I took another glance at the film – once again, notebook in hand – and tried to really sort out how I felt about it. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

This is actually nothing more than a rehash of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, except its far more engaging, visually appealing, uses basic terminology and as a result is easily digestible to the average North American. And for me, this has been one of the biggest problems with the discussions of climate change, or environmental issues on the whole. They tend to be geared to scientific audiences already familiar with the lingo, and therefore the average working-class individual is lost before they’ve even begun.

But however informative and thought provoking this doc may have been, I fear the conversation will start and stop within the confines of this film’s popularity. I mean, I’m delayed in addressing it, and I think we can both agree the conversation has died down dramatically, already. This isn’t because the information wasn’t convincing, or the visual evidence you tried to highlight didn’t show the real impacts of climatic change currently happening in the world, but rather, we have yet to truly experience these effects in the West. In fact, many of the impacts that have already been felt have been considered fairly positive – less snow in the winters, better temperatures for growing seasons (such as the recently booming wine industry in my home province of Nova Scotia), for example. But, if North Americans in particular lived with the conditions already happening in places such as my current home of Uganda, I think the conversation would be much, much different. This doesn’t make North Americans bad, careless people, it just makes them the exact product of Western culture that has put us in this mess in the first place – act now, think later, because it will be someone else’s mess to clean up…

Furthermore, there was a comment related to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and how there was nothing in place to enforce the outcomes of these discussions. You asked how likely it will be for the signatory countries to follow through with the implementation of the agreements made. And to that, sadly, I say minimal, if at all. This speaks more to the ineffectiveness of the UN, rather than any country’s willingness to act (although that leaves much to be desired, as well). But it is also reflective of a pattern we have seen time and time again, where a lack of action is demonstrated throughout recent (global) enviro-political history.

Let’s take Kyoto, for example (and yes, admittedly, this might be a bad example). When then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper backed out of the Kyoto Protocol, he received a lot of negative feedback and press. I, on the other hand, commended him for this, not because I wanted him to further deny the very realities of our world, but because he knew it was not possible to reach those targets, and was at least honest about his lacking desire to follow through. And believe me, I know how bad that sounds, all around! But again, unlike many other leaders who signed the declaration and then turned the other way, he actually acknowledged that he just wasn’t going to do anything about it.

The fact of the matter is, climate change (or whatever the latest buzz word is to describe this occurrence), although a global issue, needs to focus on a series of locally relevant actions that are interlinked from one country to the next – not this painting everyone with the same brush nonsense that we’ve been witnessing with past UN initiatives like the MDGs. THAT’S the only way we will tackle this crisis! Not by unfairly assigning tasks to countries that neither caused the issue in the first place, nor have the means to achieve the targets that have arbitrarily been set for them, but by focusing on the meaningful actions that are relevant to their own fight, within the greater context of the global crisis. And it’s for this same reason that I resent your statement that small steps are no longer enough. In fact, this remains entirely relevant! These “small steps” are the beginning for so many to enter into the realm of environmental consciousness, which leads to environmental activism and/or justice. I can say this with great confidence, because, although I grew up playing in the woods, using nature to spark my imagination, I was just like the vast majority of North Americans – completely in denial. It took several small steps to bring me to where I am today, both geographically, but also intellectually, compassionately, and ethically. Yet despite this, I’m still not perfect, and I, too, need to be reminded. So please, do not be so quick to dismiss this entry point.

But after all is said and done, I don’t have the answers for how to make the deniers or unshakables begin to wake up and act – even if slowly at first. I mean, after all, I’ve basically left Western culture, because I find it frustrating at the best of times. But this isn’t to suggest it’s a lost hope, and I truly think attempts such as your most recent one, can help to change mindsets, actions, etc. Maybe it won’t spark a global movement, but maybe it will motivate someone to take the first step towards environmental awareness, who will, in turn, influence someone else’s first steps. After all, that’s what it’s really all about, is it not? So, I do commend you on this initiative, but I also ask that you help search for alternative means to convey these urgent messages to those who presently have not or refuse to be converted.

This fight it is, without a doubt, a much bigger one than we realize. But as I’ve already said, it must involve many local steps, not just one giant global one. We need everyone on board if we’re to make things better. So, please, keep your fight going, with energy, positivity, and just the right amount of humility so that you don’t come off as an overly preachy celebrity*** who thinks his word is all that there is.

All the best,

-the Orange Canadian

*That stands for Environmental and Sustainability Studies
**To be fair, I do have a formal education on the matter, and I’m also probably not the best voice for it either!
*** *cough* Bono *cough*

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