Countdown to Extinction

‘The 11th Hour’ Says We’re All Gonna Die—But Maybe Not

So it's a thrill in a way to see all of these people and more show up in The 11th Hour. There's Brock Dolman of the WATER Institute, from whom I learned how restoring rivers restores the ocean; author Bill McKibben (The End of Nature, Deep Economy), who this year organized a global day of climate action called "Step It Up" that enjoyed some tentative success; Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Prize-winning environmentalist from Kenya who has probably saved the equivalent of a year of Victoria's Secret catalogs in African forests. Their presence makes the film seem like a magical portal into a secret society, one brimming with solutions to the riddles that threaten to kill us off if we don't answer them soon and get them right.

This is where The 11th Hour directors Conners and Conners Petersen depart from the typical enviro-documentary gloom. Their film may linger too long on visions of floods and war and pestilence; it may reduce great speakers to bland lecturers by confining them all to the same side of a black-and-blue backdrop; you may wish somebody like Errol Morris had gotten involved to give the documentary a better dramatic arc (it seems longer than its 91 minutes). But such shortcomings are worth your patience, because The 11th Hour is ultimately a triumph of redemptive ideas that DiCaprio—God bless his celebrity—may finally succeed in transporting from the environmental fringe to the mainstream moviegoing audience. If it's possible to leave The 11th Hour quaking in your Earth Shoes over the quickening pace of planetary destruction, it's also possible to hold firm to the notion that we have a way out of this mess. It isn't an easy route, and we may not always like the ride. But as The 11th Hour persuades you in the end, we choose it or die.

Warner Independent Pictures
The departed: Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The 11th Hour’

"What a great time to be alive!" declares author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken (of the garden-supply company Smith & Hawken and so many other things) in the film. "This generation gets to completely change this world." It's a nice way to put it. If only we do.

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