top of page
  • Sophia

Before the Flood - National Geographic

This film isn't just a documentary, it forms a narrative around the learning experience of fully understanding the climate crisis. While I've plucked out the insights that were most impactful for me, I highly recommend watching Before the Flood as a whole.

All images are from Before the Flood by National Geographic, DisneyPlus, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

This graph was published back in 1998 and started a whirlwind of controversy. Climate scientist Michael Mann found that our current and projected temperatures were straying far from the norm, and increasing at an alarming rate.

Though Before The Flood uses a lot of examples from the USA, I did some digging and found a similar pattern in Australia. Energy companies and groups which represent the interests of fossil fuel make enormous political donations. Whilst some companies donate to all political parties in Australia, the amount donated is much more for the parties which deny climate change and/or refuse to take action.

Far too many people are living without electricity. They're burning dangerous and unhealthy kerosine lamps, children are unable to do schoolwork after dark, and families have limited resources for the home and business. On the other hand, Americans (and citizens of other developed nations) consume vast amounts of energy in their homes. Why should developing nations fulfil the urgent need for electricity with pricier renewable energy for the sake of the planet, while developed nations with the capability to easily implement renewable energy are over-using coal-based energy? When Leonardo DiCaprio was visiting India, the debate of providing cheap coal-based electricity to those in need or hoping technology for renewable energy would be accessible widely and quickly was raging. However, since signing the Paris Agreement, India is not only on track for achieving their target of 40% renewable energy, but is in fact aiming for 57% renewable energy by 2030. Government organisations such as The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has made this widespread change possible. When renewables are supported and funded, they become accessible to all while also helping reduce CO2 emissions from coal usage.

It is becoming well known, especially in Australia, that coral reefs are suffering from climate change. Increasing temperature and acidity are bleaching corals more and more each summer, without breaks between heat waves to regrow. Not only do fields of dead coral mean loss of biodiversity in the ocean, disrupting food chains and ecosystems, but about one billion people rely on fish for sustenance. Many of the world's poorest people eat fish as their primary source of protein - and the fish they rely on are already disappearing. The climate crisis isn't a looming threat, or a current weather inconvenience, it is already impacting people's basic needs.

There are three major rainforests on Earth, which both pull carbon from the air during photosynthesis and have decades of carbon stored in the plant matter. The Indonesian rainforest is burning though. Those who profit from palm oil plantations bribe for permits to burn down sections of the forest - turning an ecosystem which draws down carbon from the atmosphere into a carbon bomb. The carbon that was stored in the plant matter is pushed back into the atmosphere as the land is incinerated. Rows of trees are planted again, but for the purpose of harvesting palm oil. Used in food, cosmetics, and nearly everything, palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil out there. Companies with an eye on profit margins go for the cheapest option, even though our planet pays an immeasurable price.

You may have heard that cows burp methane, but why is that so problematic? Methane has an even quicker and stronger effect on global warming than CO2 does. That means on top of the resources used to feed, house, process, and transport cattle, the animals themselves are a source of emissions. In comparison to other animals that are raised for meat, cattle needs an immense amount of land. Not to graze on large fields like you may see illustrated on a milk carton, but to grow the corn and other plants which the cows are fed. Vegetables in comparison, need the least amount of land, even when you equate the protein outcome. And plants don't burp.

When the sun isn't shining, how can use the electricity from yesterday's sunshine today? Tesla has been tackling this issue with their gigafactories for producing batteries. While I hope there's going to be a few more breakthroughs in batteries, Tesla's batteries are becoming really efficient. Their gigafactory is an absolutely huge building for developing and manufacturing batteries at a massive scale. Elon Musk estimates that 100 of these factories could provide enough batteries for the entire world to have steady storage of renewable energy.

Harvard economists, experts in various countries, and many scientists are estimating that the cost of climate change will be immense. Disaster relief from floods and cyclones, support for drought-stricken areas, and relocating those along the coastlines are all expensive endeavours. But installing solar panels on every surface isn't cheap either. The interesting mindset here is that everything we do, create, or buy emits a certain amount of carbon. Driving a gas car emits more CO2 than an electric car. Eating meat emits more CO2 than eating plant-based. Products with palm oil cause more CO2 emissions than those without. So if taxpayers will be paying for the consequences of those CO2 emissions, is it really that drastic to add that cost to those products in advance? A carbon tax would increase the price of emission products and services, reducing their consumption, increasing the consumption of alternatives, and reducing the price of those alternatives. Checking the ingredients labels, energy star ratings and fine print is exhausting and may not create a huge shift in the market, but a carbon tax can. Australia even tried it for two years!

An astronaut, a climate scientist, and an inspiration. Throughout his entire career, even during his battle with cancer, Dr Sellers explored, visualised, and explained climate change. Seeing the Earth from space, and his heat maps stretching across all continents, is a frightening and hopeful reminder that we're all up against this issue together. Despite the fragility of our atmosphere, ecosystems, and planet as a whole - we know what we need to know in order to start making changes now. Even if all CO2 emissions stopped tomorrow, the planet would keep warming up for a while before settling down to cooler and normal temperatures. But past a warming of 4 degrees Celsius we'd reach a tipping point where a lack of ice caps and rain forests begins to behave like cranking up a radiator - a completely separate heat source from the greenhouse gasses.

This movie left me both disheartened and hopeful. It seems that so many people are purposefully ignoring this issue, in denial for their own profit. But on the other hand, our technology is better than ever and we may even be able to push the brakes on the climate crisis while supporting the most vulnerable people and ecosystems.

We as individuals can make sustainable lifestyle changes, which will slowly shift the markets towards energy, products, services, and infrastructure that protects the planet. For more urgent action though, it's time to engage in whatever way we can. Learning, having conversations, donating, striking, signing petitions, and protesting - anything to put pressure on the people with the power to make change NOW.

As Australians, we also need to consider that within a few centuries, colonisers have demolished the lands that the Indigenous people maintained for tens of thousands of years. In many countries minorities, the disadvantaged, and native people have already had their livelihoods and cultures threatened by the climate crisis. We ought to seek out opportunities to specifically support First Nations People, such as helping Torres Strait Islanders bring the first climate change case against the Australian federal government over human rights.

14 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page