How Leonardo DiCaprio Became A Leading Climate Activist

Actor and climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio speaking on stage

When you think of Leonardo DiCaprio, you’ll most likely think of his acting. He’s been an award winning, leading man in some of Hollywood’s most popular and prestigious films, from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to The Wolf of Wall Street, Titanic to Inception, J.Edgar to Django Unchained, Gangs of New York to The Great Gatsby, Romeo + Juliet to The Revenant and many more.

DiCaprio’s career so far is impressive. However, it’s his hard work off-screen that has won him just as many fans, because for as long as he’s been acting, he’s been a proud and passionate climate activist too.

From setting up his own foundation at the age of 24, to celebrating its two decade anniversary by raising $100 million at the age of 44, DiCaprio has lent his name to as many environmental projects as he has blockbuster movies.

He has been honored with awards for his charitable work, and sits on the board of the World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Pristine Seas and Oceans 5. He also formed Earth Alliance with business woman Laurene Powell Jobs and philanthropist Brian Sheth to pool together their resources.

Keep reading to discover the top 5 things Leonardo DiCaprio has done (and continues to do) to cement his status as a leading climate change activist…

1. Set Up a Foundation

After working with director and fellow environmentalist James Cameron on Titanic in 1998, DiCaprio was inspired to become a climate activist and establish his own foundation – the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation – the following year at the tender age of 24.

The focus would be on global warming, biodiversity, forest restorations and ocean conversation to restore reefs ravaged by mass coral bleaching events. DiCaprio wanted the company to protect as many of the Earth’s most natural and untouched places as possible, as well as coming up with more effective and less harmful ways for our people and our planet to co-exist. Positive changes have been achieved through grants, PR campaigns and multimedia projects.

Following a rebrand in 2021, the foundation re-surfaced as Re:wild and merged with the Global Wildlife Conservation. Re:wild operates in over 50 different countries, supports over 120 different projects and works with more than 60 partners.

Highlights so far include working to end the ivory trade industry in Thailand, protecting tiger populations in Nepal, supporting clean water initiatives in the Amazon, restoring eroded coastlines in Brazil and Somalia, fighting poachers in Asia and Africa, funding renewable energy solutions and partnering with Indigenous peoples. 

2. Lobbied World Leaders

Being a public figure has enabled Leonardo DiCaprio to rub shoulders with some very important people, from politicians to reigning royals. Not one to use such opportunities to advertise his acting endeavours or personal life, DiCaprio has preferred to keep his conversations on the climate.

He has discussed and debated the world’s actions and inactions at length with some of the White House’s most prominent figures of the day. He met with Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore in 1998, and with Former President Barack Obama in 2016. 

He has stood alongside modern monarchs who share a planet-protecting vision –  teaming up with Prince Albert of Monaco at the Monte-Carlo Gala for the Global Ocean in 2017, and in 2019, joining Prince Harry (and Obama again) at Google Camp in Sicily. In 2021, he toured a Stella McCartney sustainable fashion exhibit at the COP26 summit with the then Prince Charles (now King Charles III).

DiCaprio has also met and worked with some other high-profile, environmental activists, such as David Attenborough, Greta Thundberg and Jane Goodall.

Barack Obama speaking to Leonardo DiCaprio3. Joined the UN

One of the world’s biggest intergovernmental organisations, the United Nations, invited Leonardo DiCaprio to the 2014 Climate Summit. Not only did he make a powerful opening speech, he was also appointed the UN’s Messenger of Peace for Climate by then Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, for his many climate activism efforts. 

Messengers of Peace are prominent and passionate spokespeople who have agreed to draw global attention towards important world issues and the work of the UN. Coming from the fields of art, literature, sport, science and more, other Messengers of Peace include author Paulo Coelho, female education activist Malala Yousafzai, musician Stevie Wonder and actors Michael Douglas, Charlize Theron and Edward Norton.

4. Made Environmental Movies

Being a climate activist and an actor has meant that Leonardo DiCaprio has had many opportunities to set his own agenda. His first major foray into the world of documentary filmmaking was in 2007, when he narrated, produced and co-wrote The 11th Hour. In it, scientists and scholars confronted viewers with their stark views on the state of the planet.

Since then he’s fronted National Geographic’s Before the Flood in his capacity as UN ambassador, produced And We Go Green (about the all-electric Formula E racing championship), executively produced Cowspiracy (about animal agriculture’s impact on the environment) and Catching The Sun (about solar power) and narrated Ice on Fire, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2021, he starred in the fictional film Don’t Look Up alongside Jennifer Lawrence and an all-star cast. With a plot about two astronomers embarking on a mammoth media tour to warn mankind about an Earth destroying comet coming their way, it was very much a metaphor for climate change.

He’s also provided his producing powers to movies about animal rights advocacy. In 2016, for the Netflix doco The Ivory Game, which shone a harsh spotlight on Africa’s illegal ivory trade and poaching industry, and in 2021, for the shark extinction exposé Fin, by director Eli Roth.

5. Promoted Meat Free Meals

Speaking of animals – and although the jury is still out on whether Leonardo DiCaprio is a bona fide vegan or not – it’s a lifestyle that he has supported strongly over the years.

Consuming less meat is one way individuals can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so it’s no surprise DiCaprio is a fan. He has partnered with meat substitute brand Beyond Meat and vegan milk company Califia Farms. He’s invested money in organic chickpea snack company, Hippeas, and cell-based meat making pioneers Aleph Farms and Mosa Meat to aid and advance the development of sustainable beef. 

He also had a hand in encouraging the plant-based menu dished out at the 2020 Golden Globes and Oscars, alongside famous celebrity vegetarians and vegans like Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Brad Pitt, Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda.

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