Environment & Sustainability Fresh Perspective

The Ultimate List of Environmental Documentaries

Today’s post is going to a be a little bit different. With the Thanksgiving long weekend just past here in Canada, I found myself with some very rare free time on my hands and decided to actually sit back and relax for once. And what better way to relax than with some Netflix? While Netflix has a ton of great shows and movies, one of the best things they have is a plethora of great documentaries about environmental issues.

Inspired by all the great (and practically free!) learning available on Netflix, I decided to compile a list of my favourite environmental documentaries. Many of these are available on Netflix and those that aren’t can be found on YouTube, or rented for a few bucks on iTunes or Amazon.

A Plastic Ocean

Focus: Marine Pollution

This is one of my favourite documentaries about plastic pollution in our oceans. This film documents the life cycle of plastic products in a full circle, from the moment we buy them until they re-enter our bodies through seafood consumption. It’s a hard-hitting film that exposes a lot of the terrifying realties about the fragile state of our oceans.

Before the Flood  

Focus: Climate Change/Climate Politics

This National Geographic Film by Leonardo DiCaprio is one that I think appeals to environmentalists as much as everyday citizens who may not be as aware of the current threats to our Earth. This movie follows Leonardo DiCaprio’s conversations with climate scientists and political leaders as they discuss struggles and solutions to fighting climate change.

Cowpsiracy

Focus: Agriculture

I was entirely unaware of how harmful animal agriculture was until I watched this movie. Cowspiracy was actually so powerful that it inspired me to give up red meat and push myself to eat a mostly plant-based diet. This film really rocks the environmental movement to the core and exposes the animal agriculture industry as the leading cause of climate change. It will make you rethink how you eat and where you get your food from.

Food Inc.

Focus: Agriculture

This is another film about the animal agriculture and corporate farming in the United States. It looks at the agriculture industry through the lenses of meat production, grain production, and food labeling regulations. It looks at the environmental unsustainability of agriculture as well as the unsustainable economics of the industry.

Mission Blue

Focus: Ocean Conservation

This documentary chronicles the incredible life of Sylvia Earle, who served as chief scientist at the National oceanic and Atmospheric Administration between 1990 and 1992 and has been an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society since 1998. The movie follows thousands of scientists and activists as they attempt to ffulfillEarle’s lifelong wish to create a global network of marine protected areas.

Chasing Ice

Focus: Climate Change

This is one of the most powerful climate change documentaries I’ve seen. It follows environmental photographer James Balong, on an Arctic expedition to gather undeniable evidence about climate change. While photos of melting glaciers are impactful, something about seeing them disappear in real time at such an alarming rate is that much more powerful.

Chasing Coral:

Focus: Ocean Conservation

This Netflix original is brought to you by the director of Chasing Ice and this time showcases an epic adventure to capture our changing oceans. Rather than chasing melting ice, this film is chases the coral that’s disappearing in our oceans due to bleaching events as a result of climate change, ocean acidification, and pollution.

A Fierce Green Fire

Focus: Climate Politics and Activism

A Fierce Green Fire is one of the first big-picture explorations of the environmental movements. This film focuses on five different campaigns tackling the environmental movement from different angles including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Love Canal. 

The True Cost

Focus: Clothing Production

This film approached the environmental movement from a perspective I have personally never considered before. The True Cost exposes the fashion industry and tells the true story of where we get our clothes and who is really paying the cost for them.

Tapped

Focus: Bottled Water

This is a great documentary that exposes all aspects of the bottled water industry from the environmental pollution of plastic bottles, to the impacts on human health, and human rights issues associated with the privatization of water. I’m personally using this video as part of a campaign to end the sale of bottled water on my university campus and have found it to be a great educational resource in exposing the bottled water industry.

The Blue Planet

Focus: Ocean Conservation

Blue Planet is actually a British documentary series made up of several sections that explore our marine environment. Sir David Attenborough narrates this series as it follows divers to the deepest depths of the ocean in attempt to answer some of the biggest questions about the state of our planet. 

The Smog of the Sea

Focus: Marine Pollution

Smog of the Sea chronicles a journey through the remote waters of the Sargasso Sea to expose the realities of marine pollution. This film looks at ocean pollution from a different perspective, arguing that the plastic garbage patches or “gyres” are a myth and that instead a fog of microplastics permeates the world’s oceans. The argument here is that you can clean up a garbage path, but how can we stop a fog of millions of tiny pieces of plastics that are making their way up our food chain?

An Inconvenient Truth

Focus: Climate Change

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is one of the first environmental documentaries I watched and paved the way for climate change discussions in mainstream media. This film was part of Al Gore’s campaign to educate citizens about climate change, then still referred to as global warming, and includes Gore’s own narrative combined with that of several climate scientists.

Inconvenient Sequel

Focus: Climate Change/Climate Politics

Ten years later, Al Gore’s sequel movie takes on a different approach to climate change, focussing more on leadership and political and environmental activism. This film is a desperate plea to persuade global leaders to take climate change seriously and invest in renewable energy, culminating in the landmark singing of the 2016 Paris Agreement. 

Plastic Paradise

Focus: Marine Pollution

This plastic pollution documentary focuses specifically on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It follows journalist Angela Sun’s journey to the most remote place on earth to uncover the truth behind the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The film is filled was dramatic scenes of plastic pollution, including a bird being cut open to expose a stomach full of tiny pieces of plastic.

The Cove

Focus: Marine Life

The Cove is one of the most disturbing documentaries I have ever seen. It follows Ric O’Barry as he exposes the unethical dolphin hunting practices in Japan. The film is a call to action to halt mass dolphin killings, change Japanese fishing practices, and inform the public about the dangers of mercury poisoning from consuming dolphin.

 Sharkwater

Focus: Marine Life

This is a Canadian documentary by Rob Stewart, who sadly passed early this year while diving off the coast of Florida to collect footage for the sequel of this film. The film aims to educate people about sharks and break the negative stigmas surrounding them. It exposes the harmful shark finning industry and how dangerous practices such as these have depleted many species of shark across the globe. The film is a plea for stronger government regulations and protection of shark species.

The Ivory Game

Focus: Animal Ethics

The Ivory Game is another powerful wildlife activism movie that attempts to expose and end the illegal ivory trade in Africa. Filmmakers went undercover for over a year, infiltrating and documenting the deep-rooted corruption at the heart of the global ivory trafficking crisis.

Planet Earth

Focus: Natural Environment

This is another series documentary narrated by David Attenborough. It has eleven episodes, each of which features a global overview of a different biome or habitat on Earth such as mountains, fresh water, deserts, jungles, and oceans. There is also a Planet Earth 2, which features an additional six episodes with six new habitats to discover.

Revolution

Focus: Climate Change  

This is another film by Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart. Filmed in over four years in 15 countries, Revolution looks beyond just sharks as a species in jeopardy, and looks into the life and post revolutions of animals in order to uncover the secrets ne

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2 Comments

  • Reply Rosie October 16, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    I’ve seen about half the films on this list so I’m definitely going to check out the rest. They’re so hard to watch; I recently watched Chasing Coral and it was hard to see the coral bleach but almost harder to see how the people who worked on the project felt. As tough as they are to watch, we need to educate ourselves – I’m actually quite surprised that in the UK the only one I’ve seen on TV off this list is Planet Earth. I wonder why?

    • Reply Airplanes & Avocados October 18, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      I hope you can see them all through the links provided! And certainly share them around. I think it’s so important that people are educated about this issues and I know it’s easier to educate people on this through fun media platforms like film.

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