7 eye-opening documentaries on climate change you need to watch now
From Sir David Attenborough’s critically-acclaimed Our Planet to Chasing Coral about the disappearance of the world's coral reefs — these are the most informative films and shows that will up your climate IQ while staying home during the coronavirus lockdown.
Coronavirus is understandably at the forefront of everyone’s minds. But with a crucial United Nations summit due to take place in Glasgow next year, experts have warned that now is the time the world needs to urgently ramp up its environmental efforts in order to prevent irreversible damage. To up your climate IQ while you self-quarantine at home, here are seven must-watch documentaries that will help you stay abreast of the action needed to save our planet’s future. Some of these are streaming for free on YouTube.
Our Planet (2019)
If you need a reminder of why nature needs us to tackle the climate crisis, look no further than Sir David Attenborough’s Our Planet. The eight-part Netflix series looks at how global temperature rises are affecting wildlife around the world, from flamingos in Africa to lowland gorillas in the Congo rainforest. This docu-series comes after Attenborough’s Blue Planet II (2017) shocked viewers by showing how ocean plastic and rising sea temperatures are endangering our marine life. The series is streaming for free on Netflix’s YouTube page.
Chasing Coral (2017)
Chasing Coral taps into the collective will and wisdom of an ad man, a self-proclaimed coral nerd, top-notch camera designers, and renowned marine biologists as they invent the first time-lapse camera to record bleaching events as they happen. Unfortunately, the effort is anything but simple, and the team doggedly battles technical malfunctions, and the force of nature in pursuit of their golden fleece: documenting the indisputable and tragic transformation below the waves. With its breathtaking photography, nail-biting suspense, and startling emotion, Chasing Coral is a dramatic revelation that won’t have you sitting idle for long. The documentary is streaming for free on Netflix’s YouTube page.
Forks Over Knives (2011)
A tale of two doctors, many cows and a multitude of human ailments, Lee Fulkerson’s Forks Over Knives makes a pedantic yet persuasive case for banishing meat, and dairy from the dinner table. Positing that most of our major health issues — including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes — can be prevented (and in some cases even reversed) by following a vegetables-and-whole-grains diet, this dense documentary would rather inform than entertain. Its heroes are the nutritional scientist T. Colin Campbell and the surgeon Dr Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., whose combined decades of research into the harmful effects of animal proteins are summarized, along with a potted history of our worldwide dietary decline. Forks Over Knives is streaming on Netflix.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)
While veganism is on the rise, the link between climate change and the cattle industry has not always been so apparent. The Leonardo DiCaprio-produced documentary, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, sees filmmaker Kip Andersen questioning why no one was talking about the issue back in 2014. The film has had a major hand in making people aware of the environmental impact of meat, despite controversy over some of the claims made in the documentary. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is streaming on Netflix.
Before the Flood (2016)
Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio took his environmental mission a step further in Before the Flood, this time appearing in front of the camera. The actor, and UN Messenger of Peace, spent two years investigating both the causes and effects of climate change across the world, from deforestation in Indonesia because of the palm oil industry to melting glaciers in Greenland and the Arctic. The film culminates with DiCaprio giving a rallying speech at the UN on Earth Day 2016, telling world leaders: “You are the last best hope of Earth. We ask you to protect it. Or we — and all living things we cherish — are history.” The documentary is streaming for free on Filmsforaction.org.
A Plastic Ocean (2016)
A Plastic Ocean by Craig Leeson is one of the most shocking documentaries about plastic pollution. What at first began as a search for the elusive blue whale, ended up being an exploration of the fragile state of our oceans caused by our overdependence on plastic. The film gives us numbers and percentages with the US as a reference — the country alone throws away 38 billion water bottles every year; that’s around 120 per person in a year. But with a huge planet like ours, it is difficult for us to imagine the real size and consequences of these numbers. By 2050, when the population explodes to 10 billion people, it's expected that plastic production will triple, according to the documentary. The problem with that is that only a fraction of it is recycled. The rest ends up in our environment. A Plastic Ocean is streaming on Netflix.
This Changes Everything (2015)
Following her bestselling 2014 book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein made a documentary that asks the question: "What if confronting the climate crisis is the best chance we’ll ever get to build a better world?" After visiting frontline communities affected by climate change — including those on the southern coast of India — Klein highlights the connection between our economic systems, and the crisis facing our planet. The documentary is streaming for free on Tubi.