Leonardo DiCaprio explains how Al Gore played a role in his environmental activism

By Michael Miller and Jodi Guglielmi
Updated September 09, 2016 06:40 PM
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Credit: George Pimentel/WireImage

Leonardo DiCaprio has spent years raising awareness and funding in the fight against global warming – and now he’s opening up about where that passion for environmentalism comes from.

“At a young age I was very saddened by species that had become extinct by the result of man made activity and so that led me on a long sort of journey to get me involved in environmental issues,” the Oscar winner told PEOPLE at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he’s in town to promote his new documentary The Ivory Game.

But after speaking with former Vice President Al Gore, DiCaprio felt a new level of motivation. “It was really a meeting that I had with Al Gore in the white house in my early 20s,” he explained.

“He sat me down, drew a picture of the planet, drew our atmosphere and said, ‘This Is the most important crisis facing humanity’ and from that point on I really become not only fascinated with the issue but really concerned why we as a collective world community haven’t done enough about it.”

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Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth helped put the dangers of global warming in perspective for millions of people when it was released in 2006. And The Revenant star founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998, and to date the organization has raised nearly $60 million in grant awards.

The Ivory Game, executive produced by DiCaprio, will make its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday ahead of its release on Netflix. Described on the festival website as a “suspenseful on-the-ground documentary,” The Ivory Game follows “wildlife activists and investigators [who] put their lives on the line to battle the illegal African ivory trade.”

DiCaprio told PEOPLE he “wanted to make a movie that really highlighted the scientific community,” adding, “We spent 2 and a half years in multiple locations speaking to dozens of people trying to get the message out.”

Speaking on the fight against global warming, DiCaprio said, “Each year is getting hotter than the next and now is the time to act on this issue. We are at a real turning point, not only in human history but as far as the manipulation of our planet is concerned due to global emissions. We need political leaders to really take a stand.”