6 Must-See Climate Change Documentaries - Public Goods

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6 Must-See Climate Change Documentaries

Climate scientists warn us that humanity is at a crossroads. This potentially perilous future has been dissected in several riveting climate change documentaries.

If we continue emitting greenhouse gases at our current rate, we will see a number of dangerous changes to the planet: sea levels will rise, melting glaciers will continue to raise sea levels, the oceans will undergo dangerous acidification, and deserts will spread where forests once thrived. All species on Earth will be affected, including our own.

trees on television screen, plants, tv stand

The Best Climate Change Documentaries

If we’re going to be part of the change that reverses the fatal course of climate change, we must be educated and informed about environmental issues. With that attitude in mind, we’ve compiled 6 of the best climate change documentaries out there. These excellent documentary films have the potential to make a positive impact on the natural world by communicating to people how dire our planet’s situation is and giving them the tools, resources, and inspiration they need to make a difference and refute false claims made by climate change deniers.

1. “Home”

planet earth from outer space, home, documentary

If you consider yourself a visual learner, or if you just want to see some jaw-droppingly beautiful images of our world, “Home” is the documentary for you. Composed almost entirely of aerial footage, the film takes you on a journey that shows you what’s at stake in the fight against climate change. The video was taken while flying over 54 different countries, and the diversity of natural habitats shown is simply astonishing. You’ll see vast savannahs, glowing volcanos, frozen tundras, and lush rainforests, with dramatic shots of all kinds of wildlife throughout.

The narration, by acclaimed actress Glenn Close, gives the viewer a serious perspective: she reminds us that Homo sapiens have only been around for 200,000 years, a blip of time when compared to the four billion years since life on Earth first arose. In an even shorter blip of time, we’ve managed to alter the planet dramatically due to our greed and lack of foresight. This beautiful film widens our perspective, both literally with its dramatic aerial footage and figuratively with its reminder of how we fit into the history of Earth.

2. “Normal is Over: The Movie 1.1”

palm trees during sunset, normal is over, documentary

This documentary is fascinating because it doesn’t just present the science; it shows you how so many other things, such as the global economic system, are connected to the destruction of our planet. Maybe you’re thinking that a discussion of economics sounds like a total snoozefest, but director Renée Scheltema breaks down complicated facts in a way that’s engaging and easy to understand. The main theme of the film is how everything is interconnected — even things that seem completely unrelated — and how that means we can’t be narrow-minded when we tackle the problems our world faces.

Unlike other climate documentaries, “Normal is Over: The Movie 1.1” doesn’t only focus on the doom and gloom. The narrative also shows many examples of people fighting back, from changing their daily consumption habits to fighting the system that’s devastating the environment. You’ll come away from this film inspired to tackle climate change while understanding how the problems we’re fighting against are all intertwined.

3. “Before The Flood”

tree in flood waters, before the flood, documentary

If you had to guess who hosts the most political documentary on our list, your mind probably wouldn’t go to Leonardo DiCaprio, but that’s exactly who it is! He’s come a long way from his days as a teenage heartthrob, and in this documentary, he proves that he’s adept at interviewing world leaders and asking probing questions about politics, economics, and the state of our environment.

Want to watch a climate change documentary with a star-studded cast including celebrities, political icons, and philanthropists? DiCaprio interviews major figures like Barack Obama, John Kerry, Pope Francis, and Elon Musk, getting their unique perspectives on the problems facing our planet.

He doesn’t restrict himself to mega-famous subjects, however. He also finds time to interview a scientist who monitors Arctic ice sheets, as well as a policy analyst in India who is helping lead her country toward sustainable development. Unafraid to tackle hot-button political issues, DiCaprio proves himself to be a serious activist and a persuasive communicator.

4. “Are We Changing Planet Earth?”

planet earth, are we changing planet earth, documentary

In his warm yet distinguished British accent, David Attenborough has been inviting us to beautiful wild habitats for over a half-century. While he used to be more disengaged on the subject of climate change — preferring to just show people the beauty of nature — Attenborough decided he had to take an active role in preserving that beauty once he saw the overwhelming evidence of how serious climate change really was. That’s why he decided to narrate the two-part series, “Are We Changing Planet Earth?”

If you really want to understand the science behind climate change and global warming, “Are We Changing Planet Earth?” is the perfect introduction. Don’t worry about the 2006 release date. While of course, new research has come out since then, the general scientific principles are very much up to date.

Attenborough explains, with his signature clarity and grace, how greenhouse emissions create a warming “blanket” around the Earth and how that effect disrupts climate systems, leading to such disasters as Hurricane Katrina. He also looks to the future, warning what might occur if we continue emitting the same amount of greenhouse gases.

As always, listening to Attenborough narrate is a pleasure, and he comes across like the best science teacher you never had.

5. The Reluctant Radical

rusty pliers, reluctant radical, documentary

Directors sacrifice a lot for their art, but how many are willing to get arrested for it? That’s exactly what happened to Lindsey Grayzel in the course of filming “The Reluctant Radical.”

In this riveting climate change documentary, she profiles Ken Ward, a climate activist who seriously lives by his principles. Grayzel wrote that Ward changed the way she saw environmentalism, saying that before meeting him, “I did what I could personally — have a little electric car, try and ride my bike and give a little money to Sierra Club or whatever — and then it was kind of out of my mind.” She never considered breaking the law to save the planet.

This documentary will have you at the edge of your seat as you watch Ward commit acts of civil disobedience, culminating in him shutting off the emergency valve of the Trans Mountain pipeline, something which resulted in him and Grayzel getting arrested. Whether or not you agree with his approach, you will be challenged by watching Ward’s story and see climate activism in a whole new light.

6. “An Inconvenient Truth”

  • IMDb Score: 7.4 out of 10 (78,398 votes cast)
  • Year of Release: 2006
  • Director: Davis Guggenheim

smokestack at power plant, inconvenient truth, documentary

Released back in 2006, “An Inconvenient Truth,” written by former presidential candidate and climate change activist Al Gore, may seem a bit outdated. Nonetheless, this documentary film deserves mention as one of the first mainstream films to showcase the stark reality of the ongoing climate crisis.

This climate change documentary opens with Al Gore greeting an audience and going into a slide show presentation on global warming. He shows off a variety of comprehensive graphs, charts and visual representations detailing how the world is changing before our very eyes. The former presidential candidate talks about climate science regarding global warming, delving into the impact the mounting environmental crisis is having on both the present and future.

Refuting those who claim global warming is a partisan issue, Gore makes a sobering statement that it “is really not a political issue, so much as a moral one.” In the crux of the documentary, he shares bleak predictions about what will happen if human-caused greenhouse gases are not reduced, introducing catastrophic scenarios such as rising global sea levels that would flood coastal cities and create a major refugee crisis as we’ve never seen before.

Although the original film was released over a decade ago, it still offers a salient introduction to the reality of climate change and serves as a reminder of when the extreme changes in our ecosystem were finally brought to the mainstream’s attention. In 2017, Gore was once again featured in “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” where filmmakers Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen followed him around as he continues to push for better international climate policy and inspires activists across the world.

Join Our Film Club

Are there any documentaries you recommend? If so, shoot us an email or message on social media. When it comes to learning about how to save the planet, watching too much TV is a good thing.

And, if you’re looking for more inspiration on your journey to environmental activism, be sure to check out our list of climate change quotes and the best books about climate change!

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