NEW YORK -- Huge fires burning forests, devastating floods, dark clouds of industrial smoke, traffic jams, a million cars, deadly earthquakes, devastating floods, melting ice on mountain tops, traffic noise, and crowded malls. That is what you see when the show starts: it's called "The 11th Hour."
Produced and directed by Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the new feature-length documentary film on the extent and gravity of the global environmental crisis is being shown in theaters across the United States and Canada this week.
The 131-minute film is based on interviews with more than 50 world-renowned figures, including the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, physicist Stephen Hawking, Noble Peace laureate Wangari Mathaai, environmentalist Bill McKibben, and Native American leader Oren Lyons.
Using striking images of the earth from aerial photography accompanied by solid music, DiCaprio tells the audience about the environmental destruction of the planet: "The evidence is now clear."
Unlike Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth," an environmental documentary released last year in July, "The 11th Hour" does not merely warn of the consequences of the dangers posed by global warming. It rather attempts to raise the bigger question of whether the existing model of economic development is compatible with the laws of nature.
"The industrial civilization has caused irreparable damage," says DiCaprio in the opening scene. "Our political and corporate leaders have consistently ignored the overwhelming evidence."
In DiCaprio's view, global warming is "not the number one environmental challenge we face today, but one of the most important issues facing all of humanity."
The movie documents a wide range of issues related to environmental destruction, including climate change, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, depletion of ocean habitats, unsustainable patterns of consumption, overfishing, and environmental refugees.
The theme of the movie emphasizes that all these issues are interlinked with each other and that any initiative to solve them must be derived from an integrated approach based in scientific knowledge.
"I keep telling people...'Let us not destroy the forested mountains, because if you destroy the forests, the rivers will stop flowing, and the rains will become irregular, and the crops will fail, and you will die of hunger and starvation,'" says Mathaai. "Now the problem is that people don't make those linkages."
Reflecting on the same theme, Gorbachev sees ecological destruction as a global issue that demands a global response. "We need to think and act differently," he says.
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Many among those interviewed by the "11th Hour" team hold a unanimous view that overemphasis on economic growth and greed for profits is largely responsible for the current environmental crises, including global warming.
In support of his thesis, DiCaprio argues that, at this point of human history, the industrialized civilization has become "sick" to the point that it needs "healing."
"That is the task of our generation," he says. "Our response depends on the conscious evolution of our species, and their response could very well save this unique blue planet for future generations."
Like many others in the movie, renowned scientist Stephen Hawking sees ecological degradation as the direct result of irrational human actions and treatment of nature, which amount to collective self-destruction.
"We are committing suicide," he says in an interview.
The movie offers sharp and pointed criticism of American and other industrial nations' dependence on foreign oil. To make a point about U.S. security concerns and their links with foreign oil, DiCaprio has also engaged former CIA director James Woolsey in the movie.
"Winston Churchill had it right about us," Woolsey says. "He said the Americans always do the right thing, but unfortunately it's only after they have exhausted all other possibilities. We have been exhausting some fairly bad possibilities for a long time. I think maybe we are finally ready to get it right."
Perhaps, conscious of the vital role indigenous people play in the global environmental movement because of their close proximity to nature, the documentary also features Oren Lyons, the Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation.
In giving his views on the state of the planet, Lyons warns the audience that humankind could disappear from the face the Earth due to its ill action, but the Earth itself will survive.
"It will regenerate. The rivers, the waters, the mountains; everything will be green again. Because the Earth has all the time in the world. But we don't. Love the place you live in."
© 2007 One World