Inspiring action before the flood

Watching movies or documentaries about sustainability by yourself can be quite daunting or even depressing. Nyenrode’s Alumni Circle for Sustainability organizes events in the Netherlands to bring people together to share insights and discuss sustainability topics. So on March 21, 2017, a diverse crowd of students, alumni, as well as other sustainability enthusiasts and professionals watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood together at Nyenrode.


A triptych vision of the state of our world

Throughout the movie, DiCaprio refers to the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch. It starts with an idyllic panel depicting the creation of planet earth and everything on it. The middle panel seems nice at the top, with man and nature coexisting, but then further down, the balance is clearly disturbed. According to the movie website: “Humans take creation into their own hands and turn away from the natural order. People are consuming the abundance given to them with abandon, completely impoverishing the planet.” The final panel shows the devastating results of taking more than the earth can regenerate. The movie’s narrative suggests we’re currently at the brink of disaster, between the second and third panel.


Opening doors before the flood

In 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Leonardo DiCaprio as the UN Messenger on Peace with a special focus on climate change.  The combination of his star status and this role opened many doors when he traveled the world to investigate the causes and effects of climate change for this movie. Here are some of the most remarkable (paraphrased) quotes from people featured in the movie:

  • We’re way beyond the point of changing light bulbs. – Bill Clinton
  • We’ve known about this for over 50 years, but in the US, we have been kept unaware by a massive misinformation campaign. Chinese media offer constant coverage on climate change. Chinese people really worry about their health and want to be part of the solution.Professor Michael Mann
  • Lifestyle and consumption are at the heart of climate change. If switching to solar and more sustainable lifestyles was so easy, why hasn’t the US population done it? What is the US doing that the rest of the world can learn from? – Dr. Sunita Narain
  • Beef is one of the most inefficient uses of resources on the planet. In the US, 47% of the land is used for food production and, of that, the lion’s share is just to grow feed for cattle.  Most importantly, cows produce methane. And methane is a powerful greenhouse gas … About 10-12 percent of total U.S. emissions is due to beef. – Professor Gidon Eshel
  • Politicians are not really elected leaders, they are elected followers. – Elon Musk
  • A huge proportion of the world’s population lives near oceans. If they start moving, then you start seeing scarce resources are subject to competition between populations. This is the reason the Pentagon has said this is a national security issue. – Barack Obama
  • The Paris agreement is not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction, I pray for the human race to survive. – Pope Francis


In his own words

Leonardo DiCaprio’s own quotes looked at climate change from his perspective as an actor. The first quote is from the beginning of Before the Flood. The last quote is from his speech addressing the heads of state at the United Nations Assembly.

  • I’m an actor, I pretend for a living, but we can’t look at climate change the same way.
  • Climate change is not a movie. We can control what we do next. It’s terrifying and a real shame towards future generations. We had the means but lacked the political will to act. There’s reason for hope, but that’s not enough. We need to go beyond promises and can no longer hide behind talks, excuses and lobbies. The world is watching.


Instilling urgency, hope, and action

Watching the movie together was still daunting, yet the discussion in the room afterward presented new points of view and hope. Joost Brinkman, leader of the sustainability services team at Accenture for the Benelux countries, shared his personal reflection on the movie and encouraged everyone in the room to talk to people sitting near them about the impact of the movie.

Some found the movie too overwhelming, raising the urgency yet lacking solutions and a clear call to action. Others felt that Leonardo DiCaprio’s message provided a “reassuring lie” of not having to change our lifestyles in Western countries. As there’s nothing reassuring about where we’re at, it’s all an inconvenient truth.

Yet, most felt a need to do something after the movie, using the movie or other means to raise awareness and a stronger sense of urgency among their friends and networks. And to stay connected to share solutions and to keep up the urgency.


Closing remarks by the Lorax

We closed the evening with wise words from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, inspiring us all to take action stemming from this movie night:

“But now,” said the once-ler, “now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.

UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”



This screening of Before the Flood was the second movie night hosted by the Nyenrode Alumni Circle for Sustainability. To watch the film (again), check out the options on the movie website. A shorter version of the movie is available for free via Vimeo.  During the first movie night, Renée Scheltema presented her solution oriented, award-winning documentary Normal is Over.


Adapted from the original blog written for Nyenrode Business University’s alumni website, written by Marjolein Baghuis (@mbaghuis). To read about interesting people, book reviews and other posts about sustainability, change, and communications please subscribe to the Change in Context blog.

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