Few issues have the capacity of uniting the world's populace as effectively as climate change. Sunday's People's Climate March brought 400,000 people from a variety of socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds to the streets of New York City to protest the current state of environmental policy. Among the crowd was Leonardo DiCaprio, who spoke at the UN Climate Summit in New York on Tuesday. Despite the growing support for the cause, there are still a few stragglers who still don't believe that the Earth is warming and that we may soon be stuck without a habitable planet. And that's when you call in the big guns — not Bill Nye, not Al Gore, but rather, Leo. When science and reason fail, Hollywood doesn't.
Of course, DiCaprio is far more than a pretty face for a campaign (though he does have an awfully pretty face all the same). Just last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon named the Oscar-nominated actor a UN Messenger of Peace on Climate Change, and the title is well deserved. DiCaprio, no stranger to social justice and charitable work, has long been known as one of the most philanthropic and environmentally conscious actors in the business.
In 2007, he appeared alongside Al Gore at the Oscar ceremony to announce that the most famous award show in Hollywood had "officially gone green." This, according to Gore, meant that "environmentally intelligent practices [were] integrated fully into every aspect of the planning and production," and DiCaprio further noted that at-home viewers could take inspiration from the Academy Awards to do their own part. And if Leo gives you a directive, you do it.
This time, his instructions were aimed at a much more influential audience. Said DiCaprio,
I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems. I believe that mankind has looked at climate change in that same way. As if pretending that climate change wasn't real would somehow make it go away, but I think we all know better than that now.
We all certainly should know better by now. This year's summer officially became the hottest on record, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The summer months of 2014 were 1.28 degrees warmer than the 20th century average. Most concerning was the fact that ocean temperatures set record highs, beating the average by 1.13 degrees. Warmer sea temperatures is linked to a number of environmental issues, including more erratic and powerful tropical storms, creating dangerous conditions for marine life, and melting glaciers, which contributes to rising sea levels.
By 2100, some scientists have estimated that sea levels could rise by as much as 6.5 feet, which would submerge most east coast cities. If the Greenland ice sheet melts, some believe that it could flood the entire city of London.
Though these situations seem, quite literally, like the stuff of movies, the scientific reality behind them is a growing source of worry for scientists and non-scientists alike. At the end of the day, it doesn't take a PhD in atmospheric sciences to realize that your home is now underwater.
DiCaprio emphasized the plausibility of many of these doomsday-esque scenarios in his remarks. "Every week we're seeing new and undeniable climate events, evidence that accelerated climate change is here right now," he said. "None of this is rhetoric, and none of it is hysteria. It is fact."
While several pieces of legislation have been catalyzed by much less convincing evidence, there is still a conspicuous lack of policy surrounding environmental issues. But with the UN Summit, DiCaprio and other speakers clearly hoped to change that. Political leaders, DiCaprio said, stood at a crossroads, with their fate in their own hands. With the climate change crisis now at a tipping point, DiCaprio gave delegates a choice: to "make history or be vilified by it."
Placing the blame squarely upon corporations and big businesses whose practices have aided in the pollution of the planet, DiCaprio urged those present to "end the free ride that industrial polluters have been given in the name of a free market economy. They do not deserve our tax dollars, they deserve our scrutiny."
As fiery as his rhetoric may be, DiCaprio isn't the most perfect representative of complete environmental friendliness himself. Though he owns a number of electric and hybrid vehicles, he isn't as stringent on his green standards when it comes to his friends. Earlier this summer, he was spotted on the yacht of Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, whose $30 billion wealth is derived almost entirely from the oil business. It is also unlikely that the $400 million yacht was entirely solar powered, but I suppose I'm willing to give Leo and company the benefit of the doubt.
Regardless of his vacationing habits, his passionate UN address ended with a definitive call to action.
Honored delegates, leaders of the world, I pretend for a living but you do not. The people made their voices heard on Sunday around the world and the momentum will not stop, but now it's your turn. The time to answer humankind's greatest challenge is now.
Bravo, Leo. Bravo.