Star power

Leonardo DiCaprio leads a host of celebrities shining light on climate change, social issues

In <i>Before the Flood</i>, Leonardo DiCaprio meets with leading scientists—including marine ecologist Enric Sala, shown here—and political figures to discuss climate change and possible solutions.

In Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio meets with leading scientists—including marine ecologist Enric Sala, shown here—and political figures to discuss climate change and possible solutions.

About this story:
It originally ran on environmental news site

Nothing sells quite like celebrity. And Leonardo DiCaprio is working hard selling climate change.

The A-list actor has crisscrossed the globe to raise awareness of the long-term health and well-being of our planet. Part of those travels aired Sunday on National Geographic: A 90-minute documentary looking at the impacts of—and alternatives to—our fossil fuel addiction.

Before the Flood airs again on the National Geographic channel Friday night (Nov. 4) at 9 and again at 10:40 and remains available for free on multiple platforms. DiCaprio’s star power is having an impact. Almost 2 million people have watched the full movie on YouTube as of Monday afternoon. DiCaprio takes us to Alberta’s tar sands, to smog-choked Beijing, to Elon Musk’s battery factory. President Obama gets three minutes an hour and 12 minutes in; DiCaprio’s audience with Pope Francis comes 10 minutes later.

Sunday also marked the premier of season two of Years of Living Dangerously, an Emmy Award-winning series employing celebrity correspondents to report climate stories (David Letterman, beard and all, takes us to India).

The timing isn’t coincidence. Both shows aired on National Geographic, and CEO Courtney Monroe told Environment & Energy News that the outlet believes “it’s our duty to inform voters” before the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

Said DiCaprio, in a statement: “We sought to make sure that voters know this could be the last chance we have before it is too late to elect leaders who believe in science.”

But do these films move the needle? The most famous of these climate documentaries, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, came out a decade ago, when the public’s acceptance of climate science was on an upswing and both Republicans and business leaders (including Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump) called for change.

Today’s fractured, polarized media landscape makes the messaging harder. The first season of Years won awards but had a miniscule audience on Showtime. DiCaprio’s film has won critical acclaim—and a 70 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer. But as The Playlist critic Gary Garrison noted, the film “is a well-crafted, well-intentioned attempt to highlight a dire problem that all of its viewers will already understand.”

(The answer to that question can in some ways be found on YouTube’s trending list Monday afternoon, where Before the Flood was fourth—behind a John Oliver skit on school segregation but ahead of the Cubs’ World Series Game 5 win.)

DiCaprio, of course, has both a global platform and a global audience. He became a household name in 1996 playing Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, then followed it a year later starring opposite Kate Winslet in Titanic, a film that demolished all box office records at the time.

He’s used his platform more than most stars. In 1998, he launched the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, focusing on wildland and marine conservation, climate change, indigenous rights, among other causes. The foundation has given out more than $60 million since then.

In 2014, DiCaprio was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. As such, he opened the signature ceremony for the Paris climate accord at the UN earlier this year. He filmed Flood while juggling work on Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant, for which he won the 2016 Academy Award for leading actor.

DiCaprio leads a pack of Hollywood celebs using their star power to push for environmental and social change. Movie star Mark Ruffalo has fought fracking in upstate New York and last week helped deliver solar panels on trailers to the Standing Rock Sioux tribal elders standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota—where Shailene Woodley, who stars in the Divergent series, was arrested earlier in October. Singer Akon is bringing solar energy and lighting to Africa, where 600 million don’t have access to electricity. Emma Watson, the face of the UN’s #HeForShe campaign, seeks equal rights for women.

All of them are hoping to galvanize their considerable fan base into action.

“Our goal was for audiences to be informed and inspired to take action, to stand up and do their part to act as stewards for our shared planet,” DiCaprio said. “It doesn’t stop with electing leaders.”