The Real Reason Leonardo DiCaprio Got Interested In Climate Change

Leonardo DiCaprio belongs to the growing group of celebrities involved in activism. But the Oscar-winning actor has been doing it longer than most of his peers. DiCaprio launched his foundation in 1998, many years before George Clooney co-founded Enough Project's The Sentry in 2015, or Angelina Jolie became involved with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the early 2000s. 

And not only that, DiCaprio is also a pioneer in the area of activism he engages in. DiCaprio warned about the negative effects of climate change in a decade when the issue was still largely absent from the headlines and our daily conversations, as he told Wired in 2015. He launched the foundation in an effort "to urgently respond to a growing climate crisis and the staggering loss of biodiversity threatening the stability of life on Earth." 

And he continues to promote those same issues two decades later. "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," DiCaprio said in his acceptance speech at the 2016 Academy Awards. Ironically or not, DiCaprio's first Oscar win after so many nominations came for "The Revenant," a film that ran into issues during filming because producers had a hard time finding a place with enough snow to shoot. As it turns out, DiCaprio's passion for the environment was so deep as a child that he wanted to make it his career.

Leonardo DiCaprio's love for nature stems from childhood

Leonardo DiCaprio grew up in Los Angeles, surrounded mostly by buildings and not trees. But even in the concrete jungle, a young DiCaprio developed a strong bond with nature. "I've been interested in science and biodiversity ever since I was very young, probably from watching films about the rain forest at the Natural History Museum," DiCaprio told Wired in 2015, adding that he lived in the Silver Lake area and thus relatively close to the museum. Even at that point, both cinema and nature combined to develop the aptitudes that went on to define his life and career. "I got exposed to the wonders of nature through film — Imax documentaries and such," he detailed.

However, he viewed those two worlds differently. Cinema was a passion and nature could potentially be a career. DiCaprio wanted to be a marine biologist, he told Gayle King on "CBS Mornings" in 2014. In fact, he started looking for acting jobs as a way to save money for college. That's not to say he didn't absolutely love acting. He did, but he never thought he could turn it into a career. "Even though, ironically, I was living in Hollywood, it always seemed like this mystical place that I could never belong to," he told King. But in his senior year of high school, DiCaprio got the part of Luke Brower in "Growing Pains" and he learned quickly enough that being a marine biologist wasn't in the cards.

Al Gore played a major role in Leonardo DiCaprio's activism

Even though Leonardo DiCaprio had always been passionate about the environment and often became upset at news reporting the extinction of animal species because of human activity, he might not have focused his energy and resources into the cause had it not been for Al Gore. In 1998, he met Gore at an event at the White House, in which the then-vice president explained to DiCaprio the issue of climate change by drawing the earth and the atmosphere that surrounds it. "And he says, 'If you want to get involved in environmental issues, this is something not a lot of people are talking about ... but climate change is the single greatest threat to humanity that we've ever had,'" DiCaprio told Wired

The meeting happened shortly after "Titanic" came out, a point in his career that saw him considering taking a break from acting and exploring other possibilities, he recalled. "I wanted to reevaluate the other great passion in my life," he said. DiCaprio launched his foundation that same year.

The "An Inconvenient Truth" author continued to serve as inspiration for DiCaprio. About a decade later, they coincidentally found themselves on the same flight to Europe. "Leo talked to Al the whole flight over, he picked Al's brain the entire night, and it was a red eye. The two of them talked all night. That is pretty unusual," Kalee Kreider, who worked for Gore, told The Guardian in 2016.