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Knowledge is power! Even more so when it comes to protecting our planet.
The film industry is teeming with documentaries that depict the sorry state of the planet. Some of these movies aim to educate, provide solutions and alternatives, or call viewers to action. Regardless of the objective, one thing is clear: environmental issues deserve more attention from governments, policymakers, business establishments, and all residents of this planet.
While we can do our bit for the environment such as choosing laundry detergents that minimise pollution or avoiding plastic waste, it is essential not to look sight that, ultimately, climate change and action is a systemic issue. What systems do today can have a lasting and profound impact on their surroundings? So, we want to take care of our family, especially the future of our children, and we must become aware of the environmental issues beyond the small changes to our life.
Maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle can be challenging to sustain, especially with the lack of enabling policies and infrastructure. If you need to be reminded about the importance of saving the Earth, watch and stream this list of curated environmental documentaries for all ages.
Documentaries to Increase Your Environmental Knowledge
1. My Octopus Teacher (2020)
My Octopus Teacher won the 2020 EarthxFilm Festival and was released by a video streaming giant. This documentary follows the unique relationship between diver, filmmaker, and conservationist Craig Foster and an octopus in Cape Town, South Africa. The movie highlights the animal’s intelligence and, more importantly, discusses the link between humans, animals, and biodiversity. Foster also found time to link his experience and relationship with his son, making this movie a hit with parents. (1) (4)
2. The Human Element (2019)
If you want to be reminded of how small things can have a lasting impact on the environment, watch The Human Element. This documentary is a grim reminder of why people need to take better care of the environment and reduce their carbon footprint.
Famed environmental photographer James Balog is at the helm of this film, which discusses how human activities take their toll on the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. Balog effectively shows how global warming and climate change significantly contribute to more violent weather upheavals, such as hurricanes and wildfires. This movie will help make you proud of the little things you’re doing to help the environment, like choosing more sustainable companies to shop from. (1)
3. Before the Flood (2016)
Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio is not only a talented actor but a staunch environmental activist. In 1998, when he was still in his 20s, DiCaprio established a foundation under his name that aims to expand ecological awareness and teach people how they can help the earth. (2)
Before the Flood is only one of a string of documentaries featuring this high-profile eco-warrior. Narrated and produced by DiCaprio, the documentary sets its sights on the severe impacts of climate change worldwide. This movie is another potent reminder that people shouldn’t wait to make efforts to preserve the planet. (1) (2)
4. The 11th Hour (2007)
This documentary is one of DiCaprio’s earlier attempts at ringing the alarm on the dangers of climate change—and he succeeded, at least in spreading awareness. The actor was heavily involved in creating The 11th Hour, where he was credited for producing, co-writing, and narrating. The actor successfully brought in influential personalities such as brilliant scientist Stephen Hawking and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, alongside other experts and prominent individuals. (5)
The film chronicles the severe problems caused by environmental issues, such as species extinction, ocean habitat disruptions, deforestation, and global warming. But more than just raising warning signs, this film also calls for changes in traditional human activities by using technology and being more engaged in conservation efforts.
5. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t the first celebrity to spread awareness of environmental issues and their impact on the planet. A year before the release of The 11th Hour, former United States Vice President Al Gore was already warning people about global warming in the year 2000, and perhaps even earlier than that. (1)
The documentary An Inconvenient Truth discusses Gore’s slideshow presentation, which he said has been shown to multiple audiences globally over 1,000 times. The presentation shows the causes, impacts, and solutions to global climate change, and it identifies human activities as the most damaging to the environment, particularly the increasing population, traditional and restrictive mindsets, and technology. After illustrating Gore’s struggles in compelling more action about environmental preservation, you’ll see several suggestions on how to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle. (1)
6. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014/ 2015)
This documentary examines how animal agriculture and climate change are interlinked. For the uninitiated, the former covers topics such as mass animal production meant to fulfill human consumption demands for meat, fiber, eggs, milk, and dairy products. (3)
Apparently, these heavy demands are causing soil erosion, deforestation, water pollution, and substantial emissions of greenhouse gases. Though originally released in 2014, the movie was updated in 2015. While critics of the film allege that it’s made to convince viewers to become vegans, you don’t have to become one to go against animal agriculture and climate change. Just buy from companies that subscribe to eco-friendly practices and avoid food wastage. (1)
7. No Impact Man (2009)
Consider watching this documentary film if your passion for your eco-friendly stance needs to be reignited. Set in 2009 in Manhattan, this movie chronicles the life of author and blogger Colin Beavan as he and his family pledge to minimize—if not eliminate—their environmental impact. For instance, Beavan started shunning takeout and shifted to consuming locally produced food. He also refused to have coffee outside of the family home and reused a cup to reduce plastic waste. This eco-warrior also rode his bike instead of using a car and had solar panels installed on the roof of his home.
At the heart of the film is Beavan’s wife, who, like most of you, was not as willing to give up comfort for greener practices like using organic products, recycling plastics, walking and biking instead of riding a vehicle, or making compost pits. (1)
8. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (2020)
It’s hard to look at environmental narratives and not be reminded of Sir David Frederick Attenborough, who’s also considered one of the United Kingdom’s national treasures. A long-time broadcaster, historian, and naturalist, Attenborough is a stalwart in the conservation movement and started his career exploring the world’s wonders.
This documentary serves as 96-year-old Attenborough’s statement as a witness to ecological degeneration, which he has covered extensively throughout his adult life. It shows the naturalist in several locations, including the African plains and the Chernobyl nuclear plant, to present how biodiversity has changed in the last 50 years and to present solutions that could help reverse the impact of human activities. (1)
As an environmentalist, he has called for biodiversity restoration, managing populations, renewable energy use, reduced meat consumption, and other practices that can help reduce the impact of climate change.
9. RiverBlue (2017)
The fashion industry is a resource-intensive sector. It takes several liters of water to process garments and textiles, and wastewater may pollute our water sources. This documentary captures the journey of Mark Angelo, a Canadian professor and conservationist, through the world’s rivers. His journey covers the damage caused by the fashion industry to multiple water supplies around the globe. (1)
Watching RiverBlue will make you question your buying habits and encourage you to repurpose your clothes and skip purchases until your clothes don’t fit anymore.
10. A Plastic Ocean (2016)
This award-winning documentary tells the story of a team of scientists, researchers, a journalist, and a diver, tasked to explore and monitor the world’s oceans for four years. The group soon found out about the destruction caused by plastic pollution, and they used their discoveries to call for drastic solutions to the problem. (6)
Watching this movie can help convince viewers to avoid single-use plastics, as their production considerably increases greenhouse emissions. According to the World Wild Fund for Nature, or WWF, up to 8% of the world’s petroleum production is allocated to manufacturing and refining plastic materials. Equally alarming is how they’re disposed of, with a significant number ending up in landfills or incinerators, which exacerbates pollution. (7)
11. And We Go Green (2019)
Who would’ve expected that car racing and environmental protection could go hand in hand? If you think saving up for an electric or hybrid car is a losing battle, you may want to watch this movie. A couple of years ago, a documentary on Formula 1 racing was filmed, with drivers using electronic vehicles and subscribing to green energy. (8)
As you would expect, DiCaprio was also involved as a producer and even lent his star power to discuss how sustainable racing practices could be possible and how these shifts can help the planet. So, keep on saving to get that eco-friendly truck you’ve been eyeing, as it can be a big help to the planet. (8)
12. Ice on Fire (2019)
Another of DiCaprio’s produced and narrated documentaries, Ice on Fire was first shown to the audience members at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival 2019, and it received a standing ovation.
While the subject of global warming is continuously used, the movie was compelling and skillfully made. It talks about the impact of Arctic methane release but balances the narrative with possible solutions, including technologies that could help filter carbon out of the atmosphere. While you may not be able to get your hands on that technology, it’s up to you to adhere to eco-friendly practices to put less strain on the ecosystem. (9)
Whether educational, heartwarming, or thought-provoking, there’s a myriad of ecological documentaries to choose from, and this list is in no way comprehensive. So, feel free to choose any of the movies that may be streaming on your favorite app or video subscription service.
The good thing about these types of films is that they’re suitable for general audiences. You don’t have to worry about letting your kids watch these videos to help them understand why being eco-friendly matters.
And while you may have been contributing to the conservation movement by buying a hybrid car, walking more, or insisting on green energy and sustainable products, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of why you’re doing those things in the first place.
- “The 21 Best Environmental Films of 2022”, Source: https://earth.org/best-environmental-films/
- “Before You See Don’t Look Up, Watch All of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Environmental Documentaries”, Source: https://www.popsugar.com/entertainment/leonardo-dicaprio-climate-change-documentaries-48644573
- “What is Animal Agriculture and How Does it Affect Global Warming?”, Source: https://thehumaneleague.org/article/animal-agriculture
- “10 Environmental Documentaries To Stream This Summer”, Source: https://www.earthday.org/10-environmental-documentaries-to-stream-this-summer/
- “The 11th Hour | Environment & Society Portal”, Source: https://www.environmentandsociety.org/mml/11th-hour
- “A Plastic Ocean- Summarizing the information of the Documentary”, Source: https://medium.com/@trashpackers/a-plastic-ocean-summarizing-the-information-of-the-documentary-3acb9c19a9bb
- “Plastic waste and climate change: what’s the connection?”, Source: https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/plastic-waste-and-climate-change-whats-the-connection
- “Leonardo DiCaprio Produces ‘And We Go Green’ Documentary on Sustainable, Electric Car Racing”, Source: https://www.livekindly.co/leonardo-dicaprio-and-we-go-green-documentary/
- “Ice on Fire 2019 Review—A Climate Change Documentary Laced with Hope”, Source: https://www.highonfilms.com/ice-fire-2019-documentary-review/