The Politics of Hope and Despair: Leonardo Di Caprio and Environmentalism.

Leonardo Di Caprio just did another film. This film was different, transcending the fictitious make-believe of Hollywood. This film was on nothing less than the fate of our planet. Before the Flood represents a huge opportunity.

Lets be honest, climate change is not asexy subject and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to small talk. It calls for an honest and sobering conversation, an alteration of collective values. Climate change is unfashionable in an era of neoliberalism because in properly dealing with it we have to question the excess heralded in The Great Gatsby and the Wolf of Wall Street.

This film is timely, released on the back of perhaps unprecedented global environmental optimism with Paris and Kigali (look it up!) in particular. A level of intent has been reached. But as we all know, to elicit real change, intentions must be made into actions.

It is the public who inspire action (or rather inertia) in politics and action on the climate is no different. Fine gains and margins in public approval can be decisive, ahem Brexit .

Di Caprio has been my favorite actor since I was young. I can think of no better guy to inspire global collective will on the most important issue of our time. Arguably the coolest person on the planet, he has the gravitas and charisma to bring something new to an old debate and crucially, take audiences with him. In Titanic, he got the girl. In Wolf of Wallstreet, he sold that pen.

A few people care a lot about climate change but frankly most don’t. There are over a million articles on Taylor Swift, many of which are about her legs. In comparison there are just 30,000 on those arctic ice sheets.

To make important news interesting, we have to move beyond collective guilt and tap into human nature. For the pictures, we must plug into the emotive but with more charm and nuance. Crucially, we must avoid the nihilistic narrative we have seen before.

With effectively 90minutes screen time, Di Caprio had the opportunity to trigger a global environmental sensation. Dicaprio has an air of invincibility. In taking on climate change, could he be the one to force the issue, engage the people, and make climate change a political priority? To do so, he had to transcend the familiar guilt ridden wasteland of doom and gloom and empower his audience in a battlecry for action amongst chaos.

This had to be his best performance yet.

DiCaprio steps up to the role of an intrepid environmental investigator in the documentary, and tackles the negative effects of climate change while seeking (some) viable solutions. But this is a tragic film not because of the material but because Leo plays…. himself.

In his honest account of frustration, ‘the problem is getting worse and worse and worse’, DiCaprio doesn’t stray into doom and gloom, he bathes in it and like the title suggests, this is not an optimistic film.

Leo appears human, all too human in the face of the complex forces seemingly acting outside his control. Of course this is something we all feel at one point or another, but leaders blast this negativity by galvanising courageous action in the places we least expect. We are long overdue a superman in the public eye who can take up the mantle of global environmental leader. In being so relatable, Leo missed his chance here.

Published on the eve of the Presidential election, this film is certainly marketed to the U.S. audience. He shames those who have profiteered from climate denial. His approach is purposefully naïve to bring round those plugged into Fox;

Conservationist: These are the only survivors

Leo: But where are all the others?

Reply: They’re gone.

Of course, as an interviewee says, ’Once the American people are convinced the people will fall in line very quickly’. But unfortunately this brings nothing new to the table and is effectively a rehash of an inconvenient truth (yes, even if it has got Leo’s face on it). But, if his audience are diehard republicans then surely Leo knows better than to align himself with Bill Clinton, Kerry and Obama as he does here?

For real change in climate politics, we need a new message. Whilst, Leonardo Di Caprio is a laudable environmentalist, on the evidence of this film, he is no leader. You only have to listen to the closing music to see that the film is awfully stoic and fatalistic.

Leo does do something right by acknowledging that it’s difficult to breach the subject of climate change in public conversation. ‘Try to have a conversation about climate change with anyone and people just tune out’. Yet, with such a bitter and almost fated account of its frontline, he does nothing to bring people over.

We will have to wait and see what sort of response this timely video gets. On the brink of 10million views, it has surpassed ‘Funny Cats 2016’. Perhaps nowadays this is the litmus test for a real engagement in climate politics. Let’s hope so.