best climate change documentaries

Clément Fournier - Editor in Chief

Trained at Sciences Po Bordeaux and at Mines ParisTECH in social, environmental and economic issues, Clément has been editor-in-chief of Youmatter since 2015.

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What are the most interesting documentaries raising awareness on ecological, environmental, climate or biodiversity issues? Here is our non-exhaustive top 10.

At Youmatter our mission is to raise awareness about some of the most important and challenging issues of our time. From the ecological degradation by soil depletion to the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.

Every day at Youmatter we aim to provide our readers articles, reviews of scientific studies, debates and answering questions (only available at youmatter.fr for now). But sometimes reading, reading and reading again can be a little boring, wouldn’t you agree?

So what about learning about these issues via video? There are dozens of documentaries on ecological subjects through which we can educate ourselves, better understand some topics or get inspired to take action and change some behaviors. 

Obviously, the documentary format has its benefits as it is fun, easy to follow through and is visually and sound-wise very stimulating… But it also has its cons: it can be less exhaustive or more easily biased as scientific facts can be misleading if used out of context.

However, documentaries remain an interesting source to get new ideas and to confront different perspectives. So here are the documentaries we advise you to watch regarding climate change and environmental subject:

1 – Our Planet

The Netflix phenomenon documentary series consists of 8 episodes. Each one explores a different global ecosystem: from icebergs to the jungle, ocean, deserts, forests, etc.

At each episode, we discover the dramatic consequences of human activities on natural ecosystems and on biodiversity. Each episode also returns to the ways in which we can individually and collectively combat this permanent degradation of the planet.

2 – Before The Flood

The movie co-produced by the actor Leonardo DiCaprio in association with the National Geographic explores a world in search of the effects of global warming while offering a number of ways to fight its consequences.

From individual actions to the vote through a carbon tax, before the flood focuses on the different phenomena at stake because of climate change and it makes a good synthesis that raises awareness on people that don’t necessarily know the subject very well.

3 – An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore’s documentary on global warming has some years now and is it pretty well known across climate change documentaries’ geeks. Released in 2006, it was one of the triggers raising public awareness on global warming. Nearly 15 years later, many of the film’s observations are still relevant today.

On the role of fossil fuels, the increase in CO2 emissions, scientific mechanisms, this documentary’s information is still very relevant today. In a Hollywood kind of style, the movie often focuses for long period on a catastrophic perspective. A sequel was released in 2016 that notably addresses new information from the Paris Agreement.

4- A Plastic Ocean

Ocean pollution linked to plastic is getting more and more news. There are now talks about a plastic continent (the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), while some studies show the multiplication of plastic residues on our plates, the degradation of marine biodiversity…

This British documentary covers the issues around the causes and consequences of plastic pollution.

5 – Sustainable

With nearly 30% of global CO2 emissions, the vast majority of artificial land in the world and a large amount of inputs used each year, agriculture is at the heart of ecological issues.

Better ways of producing food and getting fed. How to revitalize soils and give farming a new meaning and make it more ethical and less polluting. All these questions are at the heart of Sustainable, an American documentary that goes out to meet the country’s farmers.

If the American context is certainly different from the European, this documentary sheds interesting light on agricultural issues that are actually far from the approximations and stereotypes often disseminated among reports dealing with this subject.

6 – The True Cost

The True Cost tackles the environmental impact of the fashion industry and it aims to illustrate how fast-fashion and its excesses lead to dramatic ecological and human consequences.

Controversial, especially for its sometimes simplifying or exaggerated positions on the subject, The True Cost is still doing a good job of raising awareness on the drifts of the textile industry. And if certain declarations are to be taken with tweezers, or to be replaced or better explained at the light of the complexity of the system, they make it possible to open our eyes to a reality that was little known until a few years ago.

7 – Demain (Tomorrow)

Demain is a quest to find alternatives and “solutions”. This documentary brings a fresh and optimistic perspective on climate change and sustainability. Rather than showing what’s wrong it highlights good examples of projects working to contribute to the transition to a more sustainable world.

Scientifically, everything is not always very reliable, and certain personalities interviewed are also controversial, but the documentary is a good entry point for imagining more sustainable futures. The film was the subject of a sequel, broadcast on television in 2018, with less success with the public.

8 – Chasing Coral

This Netflix documentary covers an underwater campaign that documents and raises awareness about the disappearance of coral reefs and their importance to the balance of marine ecosystems and life on Earth.

9 – One Strange Rock

One strange rock is a 10-episodes series covering the fragility, peculiarity, and wonders of planet Earth. The actor and presenter Will Smith guides spectators on a journey through the period before Earth was created and the complex interconnections that allow the perfect balance of the natural.

Eight astronauts also tell the story of how they felt and cherished our planet as they saw it from space while narrating the smooth variables that play a crucial role between creation and destruction.

10 – 2040

Released in late 2019, 2040 looks very much like an Australian version of the film Tomorrow: it intends to explore alternatives for a more sustainable future, ranging from ecological mobility to new forms of agriculture and animal farming. 

[Image credits to Sarroun on Shutterstock]

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