‘Before the Flood’ — A Global Exploration for Answers to Climate Change

Story at-a-glance

  • “Before the Flood” explores the potential of catastrophic disruption of life on planet Earth
  • To sustain our dependence on fossil fuels, we’ve implemented increasingly risky and environmentally devastating extraction methods, such as fracking, mountaintop removal, offshore drilling and tar sands
  • Waste pollution is choking our waters and deforestation is rapidly causing serious consequences to the earth


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

In the National Geographic film, "Before the Flood," actor, environmental activist and United Nations messenger Leonardo DiCaprio explores what must be done to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on planet Earth.

We all accept that we are harming this planet to our own detriment and we must stop our wasteful and polluting ways. Whether you are an adversary or proponent of the highly politicized phrase "climate change," the solutions we need to implement for our long-term viability are obvious, necessary and beneficial for everyone that desires a regenerative world.

There are four primary components that can unite everyone and bypass further arguments. Protecting and improving our air, water and soil is simply essential — not doing so is suicide. I recommend you think about four indisputable actions that can help avoid arguments and preserve regenerative systems. These practices are essential and universally agreeable; getting caught up in any debate is unnecessary.

  1. Support Regenerative Agriculture
  2. Protect our Lakes, Rivers, Oceans and Aquifers
  3. Reduce Waste
  4. Improve Energy Use and Sourcing

Before the Flood

Whether you believe man-made climate change is real or not, I urge you to lay your judgments aside for an hour-and-a-half and watch this film. A fact that cannot be denied is that our world has become increasingly and devastatingly toxic, and these toxins are damaging our ecosystem, thereby placing the survival of mankind at risk.

We are eroding soils, polluting water, draining aquifers and contaminating our air. Any one of these issues progressing will have devastating consequences, and at our current pace we have roughly 50 years before time will run out. Some instances of pollution, such as the plastic now choking our oceans, or agricultural runoff contaminating our fresh water supplies, highlight serious damage that we can and must stop.

The decimation of forests, be it for the purpose of tar sands operations or paper milling or building cities and suburbs, also has an impact on the Earth. Whether man-made CO2 is instrumental in climate change or not, what's clear is that our Earth is in peril, and it's up to all of us, corporations included, to reassess our impact on the world at large.

We Must Reassess Our Dependence on a Fossil Fuel Economy

To sustain our dependence on fossil fuels, we've had to implement increasingly risky and environmentally devastating extraction methods, such as fracking for natural gas, mountaintop removal to extract coal, offshore drilling for oil and tar sands for synthetic crude. All of these methods are extremely disruptive and destructive to the environment. The past few years alone are rife with examples of massive spills and accidents causing environmental damage of absolutely epic proportions.

This is no overnight change, but first and foremost we can all be more efficient with our energy consumption in our homes, businesses and transportation. Solar energy will likely play the largest role in this transition, but in the meantime we need to look at all aspects of how we use energy and use less while minimizing pollution.

Melting in the Arctic

DiCaprio visits Baffin Island, situated in the Canadian Arctic, above the Arctic Circle. There, he interviews National Geographic explorer-in-residence Enric Sala, Ph.D., and Jake Awa, a native Arctic guide and hunter.

Awa recalls that in earlier years, they always used to have solid, frozen ice. Today, it has a slushy consistency, with large puddles everywhere. According to Sala, if the melting trend continues, by 2040 we will be able to sail across the North Pole. There will be no Arctic ice left.

This in turn will have wide-ranging consequences, changing currents and weather patterns across the globe. Floods and droughts will become more severe and catastrophic. As noted by DiCaprio, we're now far beyond the point where making small changes — such as changing your light bulbs to more energy efficient versions — can have an impact.

Even if the temperature were to stabilize at the levels we've seen in the past decade, Greenland will still vanish. In the past five years alone, one lower Greenland weather station has seen about 30 feet of ice melt, amounting to hundreds of cubic kilometers of ice.

Will China Lead the Next Green Revolution?

China has now overtaken the U.S. as the No. 1 polluter in the world. There, people have become quite familiar with the realities of pollution in the water, air and soil. Chinese media are being "very helpful," in this regard, says Ma Jun, founding director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Faced with the immediate (and easily recognizable) threat to health posed by pollution, most civil protests are now over environmental issues, with people demanding greater transparency and solutions. In most cities, people will wear face masks when venturing outside, as the pollution burns the lungs.

Jun created a website showing which of the 9,000 factories are in or out of compliance with pollution standards on any given day, allowing people to continuously pressure those factories to meet the standards.

As a result of public pressure, China has resolved to invest in "green," energy solutions such as solar. And, while the country is still heavily vested in fossil fuels, they are transitioning to renewables faster than anticipated. The question is: Can developing countries make the same transition, or will they simply repeat the mistakes of the developed world?

Balancing Immediate Energy Needs With Global Pollution Ramifications

In India, about 30 percent of households, more than 300 million people, do not have access to electricity. As noted by Sunita Narain with the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi, India stands poised to follow in the footsteps of the developed world, because coal is both abundant and inexpensive in India.

"If you created the problem in the past, we will create it in the future," she says. "We have 700 million households that cook using biomass fuel today. If those households move to coal, you have that much more use of fossil fuels. Then the entire world is fried."

However, she also notes that if using solar is so simple, convenient and inexpensive, why hasn't the U.S. made the conversion already? The U.S. needs to put its money where its mouth is, and if we're so concerned about climate change, then we need to take a long, hard look at our own consumption first, before we lay eyes on India.

According to Narain, the average American uses the energy equivalent to 1.5 citizens of France, 2.2 citizens of Japan, 10 citizens of China, 34 citizens of India and 61 citizens of Nigeria, each and every day of the year.

"Your consumption is really going to put a hole in the planet," she says. "The fact of the matter is, we need to put the issue of lifestyle and consumption at the center of climate negotiations."

In short, Narain believes Americans must take responsibility, both for our bloated energy consumption and our own addiction to fossil fuels. If we were to invest in and transition to renewable energy, then others, including India, could pressure its leadership to follow.

Crisis in Kiribati

In Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean, rising seawater has now started to enter homes, farmland and the freshwater ponds used for drinking water. According to Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, the projections put forth by scientists is that the islands will eventually be completely submerged by rising sea levels. The question is what can be done about it?

Short-term, people have been relocated inland, but Tong realizes that a long-term solution must be prepared, for eventually the island will not be able to accommodate all of its inhabitants. Ultimately, migration is inevitable. Kiribati has acquired part of the Fiji Islands, and if people choose to migrate, now or later, they have someplace to go. As noted by one Kiribatian, many of the island nations that contribute the least to global warming are the ones experiencing the worst, and earliest, impact.

Industrialization and pollution have also taken a dramatic toll on oceanic ecosystems. In the last three decades alone, HALF of all coral has been lost. And with the death of coral the entire ecosystem falls apart, ultimately leading to starvation — as more than 1 billion people worldwide depend on fish for sustenance — and loss of livelihood, which leads to poverty.

The ocean soaks up about one-third of the CO2 dumped into the atmosphere. This makes oceans a stabilizing force in climate. The problem is we have been, and certainly still are, creating CO2 at a faster rate than the oceans can process and filter. Ultimately, that is the problem: We're killing ALL of the systems that would normally help stabilize the Earth's climate, such as oceans and rainforests.

Carbon displacement is real, and soil erosion and the burning of fossil fuels are taking carbon from the land and moving it to water and air. Regenerative agriculture is the most promising and productive means we have to remedy this situation while improving the quality of our foods and water efficiency.

Destroying the Lungs of the World

Another type of oil that is robbing our grandchildren of a future is palm oil, an inexpensive oil found in countless household products, from soaps and cosmetics to processed foods and cooking oils. In Indonesia, massive fires are intentionally set to clear rainforest for palm oil plantations.

As noted in the film, "This cheap commodity is making companies tremendous profits." The ultimate price: rainforests — the lungs of the world. Today, palm oil plantations have taken over about 80 percent of the rainforest in Indonesia.

The forest fires of 2015 released more carbon into the atmosphere than the entire U.S. economy, each and every day. In the process, populations of rhino, orangutans, elephants and tigers were also decimated. The reasons these forests are being destroyed is because people keep buying products containing palm oil. This is yet another case where the purchasing decisions of consumers are driving an incredibly destructive process.

Is Transition to Solar Energy a Feasible Goal?

Revisiting the issue of transitioning to renewable energy like solar, DiCaprio talks to Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla. Would it actually be possible to transition not only the U.S., but the entire world, to solar energy?

At Tesla's gigafactory in Reno, Nevada, Musk is working on producing batteries that can efficiently store solar energy. This is a much-needed component of the solution, as the sun does not always shine, no matter where you live. A massive advantage of solar panels and batteries is that you avoid having to build any kind of electrical power plants.

A single battery pack could store energy collected by solar panels and supply power to an entire village, without having to build a power plant and draw power lines.

"It's like what happened with landlines versus cellular phones," Musk says. "A lot of developing countries didn't do the landline phones. They went straight to cellular."

Musk has calculated how many gigafactories like the one in Reno would be required to transition the whole world to renewable energy. The answer? One hundred gigafactories, measuring about 15 million square feet each. That's all that would be required to make enough solar powered batteries to give solar energy to not just the U.S., but every nation on the globe.

As noted by Musk, were larger industry giants to get in on this, along with nations like China, the transition could be accomplished rather quickly. It would be even quicker if governments were to implement laws and regulations favoring renewable energy. Some countries are already well on their way.

About 30 percent of Germany's energy comes from solar energy, for example. Denmark uses as much as 100 percent solar, and Sweden recently declared its intention to become the first fossil fuel-free nation in the world.

The Easiest Way to Opt Out of a Destructive System

As noted by Gidon Eshel, Ph.D., a research professor of environmental physics at Bard College, one of the absolute easiest ways to opt out of destructive systems — without appealing to or waiting for governments and corporations to change — is by changing your own diet.

Eshel is a scientist who studies the effects of agriculture on climate. According to Eshel, 47 percent of the land is used for food production and, of that, 70 percent is used to grow feed for cattle in feedlots. Fruits, vegetables and nuts account for a mere 1 percent of the agricultural land.

While I believe everyone needs some beef, most Americans do eat as much as five times more than they need, so cutting back on beef could also have a number of health benefits. An even more important change would be to switch to grass fed beef which reduces the carbon footprint and improves the soil, water and environment.

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) create an enormous amount of waste that pollutes soil, air and water. CAFOs also routinely use antibiotics, thereby promoting antibiotic-resistant disease and drug-resistant pandemics.

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Voting for a Cleaner World With Every Meal

Hopefully you can find the time to watch "Before the Flood." I think you'll find it to be an eye-opener. And, while realizing the extent of the environmental destruction can be distressing, it's important to realize where your power lies. In this case, the greatest power you have as an individual is your purchasing power.

Each decision you make either adds to the problem or facilitates the solution. So take responsibility for your decisions. As mentioned, one of the easiest ways to opt out of a number of destructive systems is to change your diet.

By supporting your local farmers and choosing fresh, local produce over "cheap" conventional varieties commonly sold in larger grocery chains, you help steer the agricultural industry toward safer, more sustainable systems. You can also slash your food bill by focusing on locally grown foods that are in season, typically a bargain at that time of year, or by growing some of your own. Remember to choose organic, grass fed/pasture-raised beef, poultry and dairy, in addition to organic produce.

While many grocery stores now carry organic foods, it's preferable to source yours from local growers whenever possible, as much of the organic food sold in grocery stores is imported. If you live in the U.S., the following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods:


EatWild.com provides lists of farmers known to produce wholesome raw dairy products as well as grass fed beef and other farm-fresh produce (although not all are certified organic). Here you can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass fed products.

Weston A. Price Foundation

Weston A. Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.

Grassfed Exchange

The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass fed meats across the U.S.

Local Harvest

This website will help you find farmers markets, family farms and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass fed meats, and many other goodies.

Farmers Markets

A national listing of farmers markets.

Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals

The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, hotels and online outlets in the United States and Canada.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.


The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, Community Supported Agriculture memberships (CSAs) and markets near you.

The Cornucopia Institute

The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO "organic" production from authentic organic practices.


If you're still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund1 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.2 California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.


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