“Before the Flood” Is DiCaprio at His Heroic Best

Prior to going out to that election night watch party, be sure to check out Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary, “Before the Flood.” You have until midnight tonight to watch it for free on Youtube. Personally, after watching it, I decided to make DiCaprio my new hero.

A mountain of movies, books, magazine articles, news stories and blogs have been created and written over the past couple decades warning us of the perils of climate change. Yet, many of them have “pulled their punches” as have many organizations like the Sierra Club whose business it is to protect the environment. So how do they pull their punches you might ask? They do it by not addressing the root cause of anthropocine climate change which is out of control human population growth!

Early on, “Before the Flood” targets population growth and its associated externalities as one of the biggest factors contributing to climate change and environmental degradation. And population is not presented as a me vs. them scenario. As Rafi Letzter of Business Insider states, “Before the Flood” is so powerful because it presents climate change as it a really is: a global threat that links together people separated by class and geography.” There is a point in the movie where DiCaprio allows himself to be brow beaten by Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment, Dehli, who accurately points out the hypocrisy of the US asking other countries to lower their emissions when our carbon footprints, on an individual basis are many times higher than those countries.

From the late 1950s through the 1970s there was a general understanding among the environmental and ecological movements that a prerequisite for sustainability was not just individuals consuming less and producing less waste, but stabilizing and lowering our populations. By 1972, the US actually stabilized its population. However, for a number of reasons the wheels came off the cart in the 1980s. Since then we have been busy not only increasing the population of the United States, but have also been increasing our individual carbon footprints at the same time.

As I stated in a prior blog, I don’t know what more can be done to help the environment than have fewer, if not any children. I know that is a tall order because the choice to “not” procreate or procreate for replacement only flies in the face or our biological programming. I don’t think there is a species around today, or has ever existed that would not overpopulate itself out of existence if it could. To not do so requires a triumph of intellect over biology.

As Narain posited in “Before the Flood,” no one need look outside the borders of the US to see how humans individually and in aggregate impact on the natural environment.  She brashly stated, “You’re consumption is going to put a hole in the planet.”

In 2008, Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax, of Oregon State University prepared a treatise entitled, Reproduction and Carbon Legacies of Individuals. To my knowledge, it is the first in depth study that delineated the carbon footprint of someone in the United States relative to other countries.


For instance, the per capita emissions of a person living in China is 3.62 metric tons per year compared to the Unites states where it is 20.18 tons per year. So, from a global climate change perspective, where would be the most effective country to start looking at reducing population? And given that Mexico’s per capita emissions were pegged at 3.67 tons per year, does it makes sense from the global climate perspective to allow unbridled immigration to the United States from that country?

According to Murtaugh and Schlax, attempts by consumers to mitigate our impact on the environment through things like recycling, adopting energy efficient lights, more fuel-efficient cars, etc., look pretty feckless when compared to making reproductive decisions.  The bottom line is, people in advanced/developed economies put greater demands on the natural environment and produce more waste.

As the below graphic from the Population Reference Bureau’s 2016 World Population Data Sheet indicates, countries with higher incomes produce more waste. Although they may be better at sequestering the contaminants, at the end of they day the simply create more garbage. For a country like Germany whose population growth rate is well below 1%, it means they will be producing less waste in the future. For the United States with a growth rate of 1.2%, it means we will be producing more despite our best attempts to reach some level of sustainability.

From the 2016 World Population Data Sheet

“Before the Flood” lays bare the damage we have done to the natural world and the ecosystems we rely on to sustain our species. We can continue skirting the edges of the climate debate while emitting vast amounts of green house gases and other waste, or we can punch hard with the facts and the most prudent way forward. In my humble opinion, that way forward must have as its ultimate goal the stabilizing of our populations with eye to reducing them with each future generation. And it is here the US can lead and be an example for the rest of the world.

5 thoughts on ““Before the Flood” Is DiCaprio at His Heroic Best

  1. Carol says:

    Leading by example is good. But I’m a long-time environmentalist who is SICK AND TIRED of seeing my work to reduce my consumption/pollution CANCELLED OUT by OVERPOPULATION. Immigrants pour in and soon consume and pollute a lot. This is in addition to growing populations in third-world countries with more consumption/pollution than before. Also, I’ve met Americans who consider themselves environmentalists, but I’ve never seen even one of them riding a bus, waiting for a bus, or walking.

  2. Dane Kamin says:

    A recent movie considers the weight of population on society….

    The movie, “Inferno” is about a group releasing a virus to wipe-out half of the world’s population and Tom Hanks, the hero, stopping them.

    Tom Hanks uses the following analogy to show how quickly population becomes a problem: If a single celled organism, doubling every minute, filled a beaker in 24 hours, “What time is it when the beaker is half full?” Answer: 1 minute before Midnight. In other words, the half full beaker would double in one minute during the last minute of the day.

    We are in trouble.
    1) The world’s population is now 7.5 billion people. There is no way we can grow to 15 billion. We do not have a minute.
    2) What is one minute to midnight? The world’s population doubled from 3.8 billion in 1971 to 7.4 in 2016. One minute is about 45 years.

    You might be witness to this in your lifetime. But then again we are already seeing an increase in failed states, mass migrations, natural resource grabs, and starvation.

    The population will go down. The only question is, will it be thoughtful and controlled by people… or will Mother Nature step in.

    There is a way out. If each of us were to ask ourselves, “Do I want to have a baby over the next year?” (It would be great if health care workers would also ask us the same question http://www.onekeyquestion.org) If not, make sure you take the steps needed (contraception) to make sure you carry out your plan.

    Right now about half of all pregnancies are unplanned. If we reduce that number ourselves, we are in control.

    One more point about the movie, even if they were successful in wiping out half of the population, that would still only buy us one more minute, addressing the issue buys us the future.

  3. Carol says:

    A while back, a Portland, OR newspaper proudly reported that its residents had reduced PER CAPITA pollution by maybe 5%. PFIRDC got the real story – how increased POPULATION was ignored. Say Portland’s population, for the sake of example, was 100,000, with an average of 1 unit of pollution per person in a given period: 100,000 units of pollution. Some people worked hard & reduced it to .95 units per person, on average. That’s MORE POLLUTION, if population increased by say 6,000 (106,000 x .95 = 100,700 units of pollution)

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