Watching the opening of Leonardo DiCaprio ´s “The Revenant”, all I could think was, “That looks like Man in the Wilderness.” The Revenant was good, but as far as I´m concerned, the DiCaprio legend begins with a delightful movie about a large ship named Titanic – the budding star does a great job but dies at the end, frozen to a wooden pallet.
But I digress. I interviewed DiCaprio aboard his posh yacht as we sailed from Gibraltar to Patroklos, his Greek island, because he is credited with doing more for global warming scientific literacy than any other actor on the planet. It’s true that I inflated his already large ego with some questions about his acting, but the real focus was his concern for the planet’s temperature.
Fernando: So, this is the first time we’ve met.
DICAPRIO: Yes, it is. Please have some tartalettes, I had them flown in from Paris this morning.
Fernando: Thanks (I grab a couple), the French sure know now to make pastries. But tell me about your last movie, the one where you play the fur trapper.
DICAPRIO: It was physically grueling. And I had to spend hours getting made up. They made me get into a cold river. But they had warm towels. That´s in my contract.
Fernando: What drew you to the role of Hugh Glass?
DICAPRIO: it was epic in every sense of the word. I was pretty sure it would get me close to an Oscar.
Fernando: I heard you had problems with snow.
DICAPRIO: We had a lot of complications…it was the hottest year in recorded history. But one day we were trying to do a scene and it turned out to be 40 below zero, so the gears of the camera didn’t work.
Fernando: Yeah, it´s an El Niño year. The climate can be crazy.
DiCaprio: It´s global warming.
Fernando: Do you check the weather forecast before you go make a cold weather movie in June?
DiCaprio: No. No, I do not.
Fernando: Obviously you spent a lot of time studying global warming. I´ve done a bit myself, but I didn´t get a chance to talk to Al Gore about it.
DiCaprio: A lot of people don’t. You know, the truth is, it’s very surreal. But it’s part of who I am now. It’s part of my life as long as I choose to do what I do. And I don’t limit myself. If there’s something I want to say, I say it.
Fernando: Yeah, that´s really cool. I sure wish I could get up and talk and have two thousand newspapers quote me. We have talked a little about the crazy weather patterns that affected your movie. Of course, any talk of survival has to include talk of climate change, and you are a vocal environmentalist. So how did that start?
DiCaprio: So there was a period in my career, post-Titanic, where I took a break and I wanted to reevaluate the other great passion in my life—I’ve been interested in science and biodiversity ever since I was very young, mostly from watching movies.
Fernando: That interested you as a kid?
DiCaprio: I’m not from the country. I lived in downtown LA. I got exposed to the wonders of nature through Imax documentaries and such. So I had my agent call and I got to have a meeting with Al Gore in the White House. As soon as I arrived, he pulled out a chalkboard, and started telling me about global warming, how it´s the single greatest threat to humanity that we’ve ever had.
Fernando: What do you see as the biggest challenges?
DiCaprio: We’ve seen such a tremendous lack of leadership, and we’ve allowed these trillion-dollar industries to manipulate the argument about the science for too long. This year is a massive tipping point in the climate struggle. As I said, it’s the hottest year in recorded history. There are massive heat waves, drought, fires going on; ocean acidification is happening on a massive scale. It’s scary.
Fernando: I see you must have been reading Skeptical Science and The Guardian.
DiCaprio: Sure have. But the science is settled (I heard that from Obama). The question is, what do we do to avoid extinction? Are we going to come together as a world community? Are we going to evolve as a species and actually combat this issue? The human race has never done anything like that in the history of civilization.
Fernando: That´s a bit more complicated than holding your breath, isn´t it?
DiCaprio: I once was talking to Naomi Klein, who to me is one of the most powerful voices in the climate movement. She wrote a book called “This Changes Everything”, and it’s about capitalism versus the environment. And look, everyone loves money, I love money—we live in the United States. This is a capitalist country. But ultimately we’ve locked ourselves, through capitalism, into an addiction to oil that’s incredibly hard to reverse.
Fernando: This means capitalism isn´t for everybody, I suppose.
DiCaprio: I asked Naomi to give me something I could say that would help people understand what they need to do. She told me this needs to be a massive movement towards socialism on a global scale. And it needs to happen now. We got to move away from market capitalism when it comes to CO2.
Fernando: What do you feel is the role of technology in this crisis?
DiCaprio: Silicon Valley should be focused on this issue. Certainly Elon Musk is out there building electric cars, those Teslas are cool. And there´s the political solution. Last month in Paris, world leaders reached an historic agreement that provides the way to reduce carbon emissions.
Fernando: That Paris agreement does require US Senate approval, don´t you think?
DiCaprio: Ok, ok. Together we are fighting to preserve our fragile climate from irreversible damage and devastation of unthinkable proportions. But the US Senate has to be pushed aside. Last week President Obama told those who continue to deny the irrefutable science behind climate change that they will find themselves increasingly lonely in a swell of voices calling for action. And we got to punish oil companies. They keep producing the stuff.
Fernando: Corporations, of course, are usually driven by economics. We buy it, so they sell it. Take this boat, it has a large diesel engine, right?
Topaz, the giant yacht DiCaprio likes to lease
DiCaprio: Four Wartsilas. But that´s different, I can´t have a solar powered yacht. Let´s change the subject: Look at “Divest Invest”. It’s something I’m involved in, and it’s a fantastic way you as an individual can say, “I do not want to have investments in oil, coal, or gas.” And leaders like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos have already pledged to build a zero emissions future for their households.
Fernando: That divestment movement sure gets touted by The Guardian. But if you sell, the deniers buy. It´s a wash.
DiCaprio: I know (sighs). I sure wish we could nationalize oil companies and then bankrupt them. We simply cannot afford to allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil, and gas industries to determine the future of humanity.
Fernando: Yeah, most nationalized properties end up as nonproductive assets. But you can´t buy the Arabs or Russians out. They produce most of the oil.
DiCaprio: I´ll need to think about that. Let´s change the subject. In India I met farmers who have seen their crops, their very livelihood, literally washed away by historic flooding. There is no doubt to the world’s scientific community that this is a direct result of human activity and the effects of climate change will become astronomically worse in the future.
Fernando: So what do we do about it, we don´t have the technology to stop using fossil fuels. Do you want to go nuclear?
DiCaprio: Hell no, nuclear is dirty. Professor Jacobson and a team of researchers at Stanford University have proven that we can meet the world’s total energy demand by using existing renewable technology by 2050.
Fernando: I´m glad Dr. Jacobson figured this out. Now all we have to do is have him convince the Indians and Chinese to adopt his ideas. Tall order.
DiCaprio: Everybody keeps bringing up the Chinese and the Indians. I think we can get around them with the climate fund Obama and the EU will use to pay for developing world renewables. Let´s change the subject, I need to talk to Naomi before I talk more about it.
Fernando: We are out of time anyway. Before I go I suggest you read ¨The Lukewarmer´s Way” by Fuller. It´s a bit nerdy, but it has a lot of data you can quote. Makes you sound brainy.
DiCaprio: I´ll ask my secretary to buy it, read it, and give me a summary. Thanks for the tip. And your recognition of my acting work is a true honor.