A version of this review was first printed in the King Sentinel newspaper, October 19, 2017
“If you consider the vastness of this universe, this Planet Earth is just a small boat. If this boat is sinking, then I think we will all have to sink together.”
Ban KI-moon, former Secretary General of the United Nations
This somber message was delivered to a rapt audience of King and Caledon citizens in King’s magnificent Country Day School Performing Arts Centre. The occasion was a viewing of Leo DiCaprio’s film Before the Flood presented by National Geographic on Wednesday evening, October 11, 2017. A partnership consisting of the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust, the Arts Society of King, and the Country Day School brought the movie and Chris Ballard, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, together to learn and to dialogue.
The movie opens with a story and a painting that hung on the wall of Leo’s childhood bedroom. It was titled “Before the Flood” by Dutch Renaissance master Heironymous Bosch. The original was on three hinged oak panels that closed to reveal an unusual outer painting of Earth as a single globe, an amazing intuitive feat when you consider that Magellan had yet to complete his first circumnavigation of the planet. The three inner panels depict the innocence of the Garden of Eden, the Seven Deadly Sins of humankind, and the wasteland that follows our overindulgence and consumption.
The film expands on that theme as DiCaprio takes us on a journey of celebration and degradation. We see the magnificence of this gift of life called Planet Earth and then we bear witness to the squandering of resources that our very selfish species has inflicted on all of the other systems with which we share this Home Planet.
This journey is inter-spliced with clips of DiCaprio speaking with Ban Ki-moon and taking the podium at the United Nations as their UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change. He also meets with Pope Francis when the Earth Encyclical was enacted, and talks with President Obama in the heady days of environmental hope following the world’s commitment to the Paris Accord.
The movie is a cautionary tale, much like the British TV series “Black Mirror” is to the dangers of the electronic drugs of cell phones and flat screens. Before the Flood shows us the garden of Eden that we inherited and what we have done with it in a few short millennium. Will we descend into social chaos as the many without food, water, health care and shelter turn their anger towards the 1% who seemingly have it all? And like the ancient Romans that didn’t get it until the Barbarians really were at the gates, will we realize too late that we could have turned the tide?
The hardest part to watch, of course, is the build towards a positive ending with the hope of the Paris Accord being signed by united nations equally concerned about the impacts of accelerating climate change on their countries and the global commons. There was real hope seen in the sincere conversations between DiCaprio and John Kerry and Barack Obama, and in the innocent cry to cast your vote for a secure future.
But as the film concluded, the audience sat in silence, and in the depressed knowledge that the U.S. had just elected a science illiterate as President, who then appointed climate change deniers to head the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA. A President who withdrew his country from the Paris Accord, quickly began to dismantle every environmental security advance made over the last decades, and reinstated the glory that was coal to the US economy – a fossil fool for the fossil fuel industry.
Of course, the film is not without its critics either. One of the most poignant segments is when DiCaprio tours Indonesia and meets displaced peoples and animals from the areas that have been deforested. Deforested so that they can grow lucrative plantations of African palm oil trees that provide the palm oil that saturates almost every one of our processed foods. However, it turns out that a lot of the financing for DiCaprio’s movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street” came via palm oil profits from an Indonesian investment group linked to their Prime Minister, prompting cries of hypocrisy and asking DiCaprio to step down from his UN role.
However, for the purposes of raising sensibilities for this move night, those details were kept from the audience. Instead, at the end of the film, the audience got to turn their angst towards our newly appointed Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Chris Ballard. MP Ballard had already fielded pre-film questions from the audience and some very intelligent questions from Grade 11 and 12 Country Day students that left him responding, “Look, I’ve only been on this job for ten weeks. I promise to get back to you.” And to be fair, Chris Ballard’s portfolio is huge. As an educator and journalist, it has taken me 25 years to come close to understanding the science and anti-science surrounding accelerating climate change and its impacts, so we should be more than willing to give Chris a few more weeks.
The realities of energy production – and Ontario can be quite proud that we have no more coal fired power plants – was one of the things that Ballard touched upon, acknowledging the anger that many Ontarians were feeling over high electricity rates. He also explained that part of that increase was due to the fact that the government had to replace thousands of kilometers of aging infrastructure, including the basic wires, that previous governments had simply passed on to the new kids at Queen’s Park.
The Minister tried to calm the audience’s fears about accelerating climate change impact by telling them some good news – that human related CO2 emissions had stabilized. However, he forgot to mention that the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were continuing to rise, possibly because the natural ocean sinks were saturated. Besides fielding questions, Minister Ballard also got a lecture from renowned climate scientist Hans Martin – probably the smartest guy in the room when it comes to understanding accelerating climate change. Yes Chris, a lot to learn, and no time to waste.
This event was a classic in partnership planning between the King City, Country Day School, the Arts Society of King (ASK), and the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust (ORMLT) whose MC, Susan Walmer, was an articulate host. As a special guest speaker, Chris Ballard did a fine job of handling questions as honestly and as completely as he could. Steve Pellegrini, Mayor of King City, was gracious and brief in his welcome to guests, and Mr. John Liggett, Head of School for Country Day School, gave a warm greeting and a strong endorsement to the role that “grumpy scientists” play in our modern world, acknowledging that he preferred hard science to analogies and stories.
Interesting, that meteorological and climate change scientists at Environment Canada contacted me to translate their hard science into analogies and stories that the public could understand. As Albert Einstein once said:
“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
We’re going to need both if we are going to get through the next flood safely.
Skid Crease, Caledon