How Leonardo DiCaprio Became A Climate Activist

From his childhood dream to become a marine biologist to meeting Al Gore, here’s how the Hollywood star has been on a mission to save the planet for most of his life

By hannah rochell 
13 january 2022

He’s currently starring in Netflix’s climate catastrophe parody Don’t Look Up, and was spotted attending COP26 in Glasgow last November, but Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio has been using his stardom to fight for the preservation of the environment for nearly 25 years. Here’s everything you need to know about one of the world’s most high profile climate activists.

Young Leo was a nature lover

Acting wasn’t the only career on the cards for a young Leonardo DiCaprio; he also fancied himself as a marine biologist, but fate intervened when he bagged his first acting role at the age of just five. As a child, he first became aware of the plight of the planet when he watched documentaries about the destruction of the rainforests, something which has clearly stuck with him over the years.

Meeting Al Gore

In 1998, a 24-year-old DiCaprio went to the White House to meet the then US Vice President Al Gore, who is well-known for speaking out about the climate crisis. The aim of the meeting was specifically to discuss global warming, and DiCaprio cites the meeting as a landmark moment for his climate activism.

He established his environmental foundation at the age of 24

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) was established that same year, when the actor was fresh out of his starring role as Jack in the blockbuster movie Titanic. The foundation’s initial mission was to protect the Earth’s last wild places and to find ways of achieving a harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world. It now supports over 35 innovative conservation projects around the world that protect fragile ecosystems and key species.

Leo and documentaries

In 2007, DiCaprio produced and narrated his first conservation documentary. Titled The Eleventh Hour, it is a commentary on the state of the environment all over the world at the time, and includes interviews with experts from physicist Stephen Hawking and oceanographer Sylvia Earle, to Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai and former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. DiCaprio has since been involved in further documentaries, including narrating Ice And Fire (about global warming), and producing Water Planet and Global Warning.

Protecting tigers in Nepal

In 2010, LDF made its first large-scale conservation grant. In partnership with WWF, it donated $1million to help expand an innovative project in Nepal. Working across the Terai Arc Landscape, the project strengthens anti-poaching patrols, protects core areas for tiger breeding, continuously monitors tiger populations, and restores critical corridors to ensure tigers have the freedom to roam. This has helped Nepal make brilliant progress towards achieving its goal of doubling its number of wild tigers. Since this first grant, the foundation has awarded over $80million in conservation grants for projects all over the world.

Saving elephants in Thailand

In 2013, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation backed a WWF petition that was signed by 1.5 million people, all asking for Thailand to end its ivory trade. ‘Much of the ivory trade goes through Thailand,’ said DiCaprio at the time as he encouraged others to sign the petition. ‘We can help save these beautiful animals. Join me and the World Wildlife Fund and tell Thailand to ban all sales of ivory.’ As a direct result of the petition, the country’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shingawatra pledged to end the trade.

Leo and the United Nations

DiCaprio was designated as the United Nations Messenger of Peace for Climate Change in 2014. And it doesn’t stop there: he also sits on the board of several environmental organisations including WWF, the Natural Resources Defense Council, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Pristine Seas and Oceans 5. In addition, he has taken a keen interest in renewable energy, and is an advisor for The Solutions Project, an organisation that scales up the adoption of clean power.

Leo’s climate Oscar acceptance speech

When accepting his Best Actor award for The Revenant in 2016, DiCaprio used his platform to address the issues close to his heart:

The Revenant was about man's relationship to the natural world — the world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production had to move to the southernmost tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. 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.

‘We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity, for the Indigenous peoples of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who will be most affected by this, for our children's children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.

‘I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted; I do not take this night for granted.’

If only all Hollywood actors were as dedicated as this to taking climate action…

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