The Oscar-winning actor’s environmental activism may not quite stretch back to What’s Eating Gilbert Grape but he has steadily schooled himself on the oceans and climate change since the 1990s.
Leonardo DiCaprio was a climate champion long before the actor wrapped himself in an animal carcass, vomited up raw bison liver, and risked hypothermia for his Oscar-winning role in Revenant.
DiCaprio used his acceptance speech for best actor to urge a global audience to reject the “politics of greed”, and support leaders willing to take action against climate change.
“Climate change is real, it is happening right now, it is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating,” the actor said.
The Oscars was probably the biggest audience to date for DiCaprio’s activism – but campaigners who have worked with the actor said he has been steeped in the issue for years, and is desperate about the need for action.
Over the last few years, DiCaprio has steadily donated his celebrity – and at least $30m in funding according to his foundation – to help advance the United Nations climate negotiations, protect coral reefs and tigers, and spread public awareness about the dangers of climate change.
The actor has become a fixture at events focused on global challenges since 2014, dropping in at the Davos economic forum to pick up an award last January, and holding a private chat on the sidelines with Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general, on the sidelines of the Paris climate negotiations last December.
DiCaprio marched with 400,000 through the streets of Manhattan and addressed the United Nations about the dangers of climate change in 2014, and has had private tutorials in climate science from some of the world’s best researchers.
Other actors – notably Mark Ruffalo, the best supporting actor nominee on Sunday – are avowed climate campaigners, and other wealthy individuals give to environmental causes. But DiCaprio operates at a different level of fame, campaigners said.
There are many foundations and non-governmental organisations interested in oceans and many do great work. He has a megaphone that nobody else on the planet has. He is so respected and admired and influential all around the world from the general public to head of state, so when he says something people listen.
Those efforts by the Tesla-owning, scuba-diving actor have now displaced earlier public perceptions of DiCaprio as a player who surrounded himself with a succession of models – and it’s been helpful for the cause.
DiCaprio’s foundation donated $3m in 2014 to stop overfishing, $3m to protect tigers in Nepal, and funding Sala’s initiative to create marine reserves in the Pacific.
The actor is currently at work on a climate change documentary that took him to Baffin Island in the Arctic last summer – and by DiCaprio’s own account that is highly unlikely to be the end of his activism.