5 solutions (and one major takeaway) from Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Before the Flood”

Climate change is scary. It’s fueling wildfires, sea level rise, extreme heat, and drought. It’s displacing people from their homes in Alaska. It’s causing sunny day floods on the East and West coasts. It’s increasing mosquito days and causing heavy downpours and melting sea ice and swamping forests and… yeah you get the picture.

But Leonardo DiCaprio wants to bring solutions to this scary problem. And through “Before the Flood,” the UN Messenger of Peace does just that. These are the 5 most important solutions he made cases for in his documentary (which you can watch on YouTube).

1. Palm oil is really bad for the climate. But you can help.

Palm oil is really terrible for the climate because it fuels deforestation. Deforestation prevents trees from doing their job (acting as a carbon sink), especially when “peatlands hold up to 28 times as much carbon as rainforests,” Ensia reports. Burning forests for deforestation also release carbon into the atmosphere in the form of smoke.

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Palm oil plantations (NatGeo/YouTube)

Back to palm oil, though. It’s used in pretty much everything, from lipstick to chocolate to detergent. It can be grown almost anywhere, and is really cheap to produce, making large corporations a lot of money.

That’s where you come in. If enough people worldwide boycott (or cut back on) consumption of products containing palm oil, these companies wouldn’t have to clear-cut as many forests to harvest it, which would allow trees to remain in place and do their jobs as carbon sinks.

2. Methane is also terrible (but again, you can help).

Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change (like carbon dioxide does) but is about 34 times more potent than CO2 over a 100 year period (cutting the science jargon — it’s worse than CO2). New studies have pointed to cattle, landfills and agriculture as huge sources of methane in the U.S.

So how can we help? In short – eat less beef. In “Before the Flood,” DiCaprio (along with Dr. Gidon Eshel) explains that the largest reason for tropical deforestation is beef farming. This, like palm oil production, removes trees (and in turn, carbon sinks are disrupted).

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NatGeo/YouTube

In a short segment, Eshel explains that in the U.S., 47% of land is used for food production, and of that, 70% is used to grow feed for cattle.

That feed goes to fuel cows, who produce methane through burping while eating (no, really). And as mentioned, methane is way worse for the climate. “Every molecule of methane (CH4) is equivalent to 23 molecules of CO2. And of the methane in the atmosphere, nearly all of it is due to livestock.”

So the seemingly simple solution is cutting down on beef in our diets, switching to another alternative like chicken or just having meat-free days. “Let’s face it — it’s fairly easy to switch your diet from one choice to another,” Eshel explains.

3. 100 gigafactories can serve the entire world renewable energy.

In case you haven’t heard, Elon Musk is building a gigafactory to build his Tesla batteries. When completed, the building will have the largest footprint of any in the world.

Elon Musk chatted with Leonardo DiCaprio about the future of the energy industry and how solar and batteries completely punt the need for energy plants in developing nations

“Batteries are critical to the sustainable energy future,” Musk says in this NatGeo clip..

… in which he also explains how 100 gigafactories could power the ENTIRE WORLD on renewable energy. The whole world. 100 gigafactories. The catch is that Tesla can’t build 100 of them — in order to move to this clean energy/battery future, other corporations will have to follow suit. “If the big industrial countries in China and the U.S. and Europe, the big car companies, if they also do this, then collectively, we can accelerate the transition to renewable energy,” he says. “Unless there’s a price put on carbon, we’re never going to be able to make the transition we need to in time.”

4. A carbon tax should really be considered.

A carbon tax would be a tax on any activity that puts carbon into the atmosphere — everything in the transportation sector (flying, shipping, driving, etc) and energy development (oil, coal, etc). It’s based on the principle that if you tax it, people will consume less (because it’s costing them money).

Gregory Mankiw, econ professor at Harvard, calls a carbon tax the “silver bullet” for climate change — which will cost taxpayers $44 trillion by 2060. So why don’t we have a carbon tax already if it’s such a good idea?

“Politicians don’t always do what professors want them to do,” Mankiw says. “If we want to change the President’s view on a carbon tax, we need to change the public’s view on a carbon tax.”

A carbon tax hasn’t been widely adopted, but Washington is putting the option on the ballot this year, and Canada just released plans for a nationwide carbon tax, but it’s not likely to be brought up U.S.-wide any time soon.

Side note: You can go on this website and calculate how much you contribute to climate change (hint: if you travel a lot, get ready for a heavy blow…). It also allows you to pay monthly to offset your carbon use.

5. Renewables really are the future.

Elon Musk hits the nail on the head when he says “If government sets the rules to favor sustainable energy, we can get there really quickly.”

“Before the Flood” really focused on renewables as the future of energy, and everyone else in the world agrees. The Paris Agreement has called for investments in renewable energy. Some countries are going carbon neutral (and using LOADS of renewable energy) just because they can (Costa Rica is well on its way, and so is Sweden, and Iceland, and…).

Renewables are also on track to be the source of 28% of the world’s energy by 2021, according to Climate Central, so we’re on our way.

The major takeaway… Can we actually possibly maybe do it?

Maybe we can limit warming to 1.5°C — but it’s going to take a lot of work, and maybe even carbon capture technology. Or 100 gigafactories. But the world needs to do it together. The Paris Agreement was the first step, but getting countries to limit their emissions through renewables is going to be the real test. Can we do it?

Watch the whole movie for free on YouTube until Sunday.

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