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Fisher Stevens on 'Before the Flood' and climate change deniers

The director of a new documentary talks about wanting to turn young people into environmentalists, with the help of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Before the FloodFisher Stevens

Fisher Stevens wants you to care about climate change. Even if you’re just talking about it is fine. Because we don’t anymore, not really. It’s no longer at the forefront of political arguments. That’s disturbing. Because in the decade since Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” climate change has gotten worse. Stevens, a filmmaker (“Stand Up Guys”) as well as a prolific actor (he might be best known for the “Short Circuit” movies), tries to make it a talking point again with “Before the Flood,” which upgrades from stodgy Al Gore to pretty Leonardo DiCaprio. The film follows the Oscar-winner as he travels the globe, talks to experts and tries to get us worked up enough to take action.

Stevens talks to us about trying to reach young people, not making another “Inconvenient Truth” and the simple reason that motivates deniers.

First off, it’s really chilling that climate change never came up in the three presidential debates, except for a brief mention where Trump said he never called it a hoax created by China, which, of course, he did say.
What’s even crazier is I read that in 2012 climate change never came up during the Romney-Obama debates. I find that really hard to believe, especially since Obama has become this environmental warrior. Hopefully when Hillary’s president she is going to not only take up where Obama left off but go further. And now that Roger Ailes is out of Fox News, I’m hoping they start to shift a little bit. A lot of this climate denialism is because of Roger Ailes. It wasn’t always a bipartisan issue. Fox News tried to polarize it, then Breitbart jumped on. It’s really sad. George W. Bush, not that he was great with climate, but he certainly wasn’t a climate denier. And his father really believed in the environment.

I’m not sure how I feel about all people pointing out how George W. Bush was a saint compared to Trump and the Republican party right now. Even if it’s true.
I know, I know. No one thought it could get worse. In 2004 I basically moved to Ohio, because all my political friends said if Kerry can win Ohio he will win the election. I spent three months of my life there, dedicated to getting George W. Bush and Dick Cheney out of office. All this is mindblowing. But don’t worry: You can go online and look at his speeches and you’ll cringe again, I promise you.

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No offense intended here, but the existence of this film is depressing. “An Inconvenient Truth” was a huge deal, but 10 years later and a movie like this reminds us we’re still at square one.
We’re a lot worse off. We’re better because solar and wind is so much cheaper; there’s more way to get power. We’re better off because of the Paris Climate Accords. Then again, that just happened and they don’t even start some of it till 2018. And the population keeps growing. You can’t breathe in New Delhi and other places. It’s a bummer. [Laughs] No one took Al seriously.

Still, the film is nothing like “An Inconvenient Truth.” It’s not someone lecturing you; it’s a famous actor traveling around the world, trying to get people motivated.
We wanted to make the movie for young people, to energize and motivate them. Because they’re the people who are going to be most affected by [climate change]. We wanted to make the most accessible, broadest film possible. We made Leo an everyman, even though he’s not an everyman; it’s just a role he’s playing. You want people to step in his shoes and be engaged. We tried not to make it preachy. We wanted to make it a movie you saw in a cinema and had an experience.

It’s also important to stay hopeful. You can’t just bring the doom and gloom.
It’s easy to feel the doom and gloom, but then what are you going to do? You really want to inspire people to action.

One thing I really didn’t know is what’s happening in Miami Beach. The water levels are rising so much that streets are often flooded. The mayor has taken expensive steps to filter the water elsewhere, but Senator Rubio is a climate denier, and so is the governor.
You go to Miami and you feel climate change more than any place I’ve been in the United States, after Louisiana. When we filmed there, at night the water started seeping up where our hotel was. There was excrement floating down our street. That’s why the mayor is so great: He says, “Come down to Miami Beach, see it firsthand.”

Deniers grumble about not being able to always feel it, or they bring snowballs onto the Senate floor as proof that the planet isn’t heating up.
That’s why it’s tough to get climate change in people’s heads. Unless you really feel it right now, you don’t give a crap about it.

There’s an arresting chart you have where you show the number of climate scientists who believe in climate change versus those who don’t. It’s 97 versus three.
We were even being generous with three. It’s more like one-and-a-half. And that one-and-a-half, they’re all being paid by Americans for Prosperity and the Heritage Institute. Once in a while you get someone like James Inhofe, who truly doesn’t believe in it. That’s just because he’s an old man who doesn’t want to change his ways. Nothing he says has base in reality. But it’s his reality. It’s kind of like Trump and almost everything Trump says. It’s just that James Inhofe happens to be the head of the environmental committee in the United States Senate.

I’ve often wondered about the mindset of deniers, because they not only ignore hard data and glom onto the very few scientists who back up their beliefs, but they get hopping mad and angry about it.
With a lot of people the motivation is simple: It’s simply money or political clout. Mitch McConnell lives in Kentucky. Coal is a very important industry there. Coal miners keep him in office. Peabody Energy gives him a tremendous amount of money to run his campaign. He doesn’t care about anyone but Mitch McConnell. They’re just narcissists. Maybe he does believe in climate change. I can tell you the Koch brothers know climate change is real. One of them, Bill, went to MIT. These are very smart individuals, but all they want to do is what’s best for them at the expense of others. No matter how many museums or theaters you put your name on it’s not going to change the fact that climate change is real. And David Koch loves to put his name on things and give away money that, in my mind, most of it’s blood money. It’s not going to get him to heaven, despite what he thinks.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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