Beijing choked by smog, boreal forests in Canada razed by logging, rain forests in Indonesia incinerated by industrial fires, drought in California, flooding in Miami and glaciers disappearing in the Arctic: These are just some of the warning signs that Leonardo DiCaprio has witnessed on his odyssey to spur climate action.
"All that I have seen and heard on my journey has absolutely terrified me," he told leaders at the UN on Earth Day, where they assembled to ratify the most ambitious climate agreement of all time.
Over the past few years, Leo has become a climate truth-teller, standing before the most powerful leaders in the world and railing against their inaction. His international fame shields him from potential blowback and his environmental philanthropy lends him credibility.
On Earth Day, Leo's words were laced with urgency. He called climate change "the defining crisis of our time" and a "runaway freight train bringing with it an impending disaster for all living things."
He called for a "massive upheaval" of the status quo that will usher in a "new collective consciousness."
Currently, the world is nowhere near a massive upheaval. The economic model powered by fossil fuels still reigns supreme and emissions have been rising in the past few years.
Leo warned the collected leaders not to pretend that the COP21 agreement is good enough. He invoked Abraham Lincoln's fight against slavery as a parallel, to inject a stark moral dimension to his argument. "Everyone knew [slavery] had to end, but no had the political will to stop it." Similary, most people accept the dangers of climate change, but the political will to act has yet to be summoned.
The tools for action are available--renewable energy, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, revamping infrastructure--but only if leaders act with the urgency that is demanded.
Leo finished his speech by urging leaders to "push beyond the promises of this historic agreement."
"You’ll either be lauded by future generations, or vilified by them. You are the last best hope for Earth."