On the hunt for the best climate change documentaries to watch? We’ve got you covered.
People are becoming more aware of global warming’s effects on the planet. As the world steadily warms and natural disasters caused by climate change become more frequent, everyone could benefit from a more robust education on these critical issues.
Nature documentaries have become a valuable source of information about wildlife, the natural world, and global environmental issues. Over the last few years, an increasing number of documentaries have provided insight on what’s causing climate change—and how to mitigate its effects.
The new Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy—the follow-up to Kip Andersen’s 2014 Cowspiracy—is arguably one of the most polarizing environmental documentaries of the year. It focuses on the challenges facing the world’s oceans. The film delves into ways in which the commercial fishing industry is destroying the ocean. The documentary also touches on how fishing nets are polluting the ocean.
The oceans are absorbing heat at an alarming rate, impacting marine species and ecosystems. In fact, global warming and increasingly erratic weather events—from storms to fierce wildfires—are impacting communities worldwide. But it is overwhelmingly young people who will have to deal with the most severe effects of climate change. In 2019, the Future of Humanity survey spoke with more than 10,000 18 to 25-year-olds from 22 countries. Over 41 percent of respondents cited global warming as the most important issue facing the world.
17 Climate Change Documentaries To Stream Now
As global awareness of climate change grows, continuing education is essential. Both to emphasize the severity of the situation, but also to promote achievable and actionable change to mitigate the climate crisis. Many of these documentary films are a combination of cautionary reminders, inspirational motivators, and educational resources.
Cowspiracy (2014) explores the impact of livestock farming on the environment. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change. It’s a major contributor to deforestation, water consumption, resource depletion, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale meat production and factory farming have a significant impact on the planet and Cowspiracy advocates for a plant-based or vegan diet as a sustainable alternative. According to The Economist, going vegan for just two-thirds of all meals could reduce food-related carbon emissions by 60 percent.
Down to Earth
Zac Efron’s new Netflix series Down to Earth discusses various solutions to the climate crisis. In the series, the former “High School Musical” star, joined by wellness expert Darin Olien, travels far and wide to learn about how different cultures partake in sustainability.
A Plastic Ocean
The 2016 film documents the impact of waste plastics on the marine environment. The documentary features scientific analysis of ocean gyres—large systems of circulating currents—where much of the plastic in the water ends up. At the center of the Pacific Ocean, researchers found more plastic than plankton.
Microplastics, in particular, are difficult to quantify and contain. In May 2020, an analysis led by the University of Manchester found up to 1.9 million plastic pieces per square meter on the bottom of the Mediterranean.
And We Go Green
The Leonardo DiCaprio-produced 2019 motorsports documentary, And We Go Green, takes viewers on a drive of Formula E—the sustainable, all-electric auto-racing circuit. The film is directed by Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville, and features the 2017-2018 season of the sustainable racing circuit.
Racing Extinction (2013) documents and explains several examples of Anthropocene extinction—the theory that humans have caused a mass extinction event comparable with the destruction of the dinosaurs and other species 66 million years ago.
The film highlights climate change and poaching, in particular, as key contributors to the ongoing extinction event. It also cites animal agriculture as a leading contributor to species and biodiversity loss and notes its causal relationship with climate change. Racing Extinction features notable appearances from anthropology and industry experts such as primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
This 2020 environmental documentary features musician Moby and several leading scientists. It was written and directed by Sofia Pineda Ochoa, MD and urges viewers up to the real state of our environment.
I am Greta
The biographical documentary about teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg began streaming on Hulu in 2020. From her first one-person climate strike in 2018 to her global movement, the film allows viewers to see previously unseen footage from Thunberg’s climate activism efforts.
Before the Flood
National Geographic-presented documentary Before the Flood (2016) follows Academy Award-winning actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio as a United Nations Messenger of Peace. It was shot over the course of three years and shows DiCaprio’s journey around the world to document the devastating impact of climate change.
The film also features appearances from notable figures such as former president Barack Obama and was executive produced by director Martin Scorcese, a long time colleague of DiCaprio. It highlights the concept of a carbon tax along with the need for more decisive action on global warming—particularly in the U.S.
Chasing Coral (2017) is a Netflix Original documentary that follows a team of divers, photographers, and scientists as they explore and document disappearing coral reefs. Production took over three years and featured more than 500 hours of underwater footage from 30 countries.
Coral reefs are dying around the world, due to a combination of mining, pollution, fishing, and climate change. Rising ocean temperatures can bleach and kill coral, depending on the severity of localized warming. The film is directed by Jeff Orlowski, who also made Chasing Ice (2012)—another documentary exploring the catastrophic impact of climate change on the planet.
Kiss the Ground
The new Netflix documentary Kiss The Ground, which is narrated by Woody Harrelson, imotivates viewers to tackle climate change. The actor says in the trailer, “the solution is right under our feet and it’s as old as dirt.”
Food Inc. (2008) focuses on the industrial production of food, highlighting the lack of sustainability and its impact on the environment. The first part of the film focuses on animal agriculture and factory farming, which is a significant contributor to climate change, in addition to pollution and environmental destruction.
The second half of the film highlights the industrial production of plant foods such as grains and vegetables, which the film argues is also unsustainable. In the third section of the film, the food industry at large is examined, including labeling regulations, economic factors, and the industry’s effect on American consumer health.
The Gigantic Change
You may recognize the voice in this film. Whoopi Goldberg teamed up with environmental activism group Extinction Rebellion to make this short film about the climate crisis. Although it’s only three minutes long, the animated short film shows the plight of a grandmother, voiced by Goldberg, and her granddaughter, voiced by Livia Nelson—who join forces in 2050 to tackle the climate crisis.
One Strange Rock
One Strange Rock (2018) was produced by National Geographic and is hosted by Grammy Award-winning actor and musician Will Smith. The documentary series shows how life survives and thrives on Earth, from the perspective of eight astronauts who have been in space for 1000 days.
The documentary series was produced in conjunction with award-winning director and environmental advocate Darron Aronofsky. It emphasizes the uniqueness of the earth, focusing on stunning areas such as the volcanic landscape of the Danakil Depression. Aronofsky has said that he chose to highlight the impact of human-caused climate change by focusing on the beauty and fragility of the planet, rather than addressing the issue head-on.
Released in February, the 2021 documentary features climate communications expert Anthony Leiserowitz and art photographer Lynn Davis as they explore Greenland’s melting glaciers. The film allows viewers to witness the reality of global warming through two perspective: art and science.
An Inconvenient Truth
Despite being more than 15 years old, An Inconvenient Truth (2006) eerily remains as timely as ever. It follows former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s educational campaign on global warming. The Academy Award-winning documentary helped to raise international awareness of climate change at the beginning of the 21st century. It has since been included in school curricula around the world.
Our Planet (2019) is a recent nature documentary series produced for Netflix and featuring national historian and presenter David Attenborough. The show focuses on global conservation. It received praise for its increased emphasis on human-caused climate change and its impact on the changing natural world. It also addresses mass-species extinction and environmental degradation more than preceding Attenborough documentaries such as Planet Earth (2006).
The Magnitude of All Things
In her latest film, The Magnitude of All Things, award-winning director Jennifer Abbott discusses the psychological and emotional impacts of climate change. The documentary, which premiered in the U.S. at the 2021 Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival from March 20 through 30, depicts various regions around the world and impacts that global warming is wreaking on them.