Leonardo DiCaprio has produced a thoughtful, important film about a vitally important subject, the devastating impact of industrial development on the fragile environment. He has assembled an impressive collection of scholars and world leaders to emphasize the precariousness of the situation and the urgency of action to reverse the effects of human opportunism and greed, to change our idea of “progress” from growth and acquisition to sustainability and respect for the fragility of the environment that sustains us.
He is so concerned about not being overly alarmist or controversial that it is all a bit too stately. DiCaprio and his experts are specific and vivid when talking about the “infected organism” our environment has become, where “every system is in decline and the rate of decline is increasing….There isn’t one living system that is stable or improving.” But when they talk about the failures of our institutions to consider the long-term effects, they get vague. They briefly point to corporations and government. This is where he needed Al Gore to come in with some Powerpoint, or better yet, Michael Moore to name names and show exactly who got how much money from lobbyists for which companies.
The movie’s greatest strength is its breadth of compelling participants. They do more than describe our failures and the damage we have done. They question our assumptions, our smug certainty that nature exists to serve humans and will be eternally replenished. They explain that the uniquely human ability to think about and affect the future has created this problem; but that it can also help us to recognize and solve it. And they provide assurances that all the technology we need is already available; all it takes is the will.
Each of them has an important lesson to teach. Perhaps the one that is by iteself the reason for every middle- and high-schooler to see the film is this quotation from Eric Hoffer: “We can never have enough of that which we really do not want.”
Parents should know that some of the images and themes of this movie may be disturbing to audience members. Scenes of environmental degradation and damage, including brief footage of an animal being killed, and descriptions of potential consequences that could include extinction are intended to be provocative. Even though they are presented as a call to action and there is reassuring material about choices that can make a difference, it may be very upsetting.
Families who see this movie should visit the movie’s website to learn more about the scientific data on climate change and the technologies that can make a difference.