best documentaries netflix 2020 sustainability

André Gonçalves - Editor & Head Of English Market

After studying and working in HR, André studied sustainability management at Lisbon's School Of Economics & Management. He is responsible for the English speaking market of Youmatter since 2018.

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If you want to learn more about the bigger picture causing the climate crisis, get inspired to take action or find ideas to start environmental protection projects, there are 3 documentaries released in 2020 you should not miss. In this piece we’ll share a brief overview of what you can find in each one – available either at Netflix or Youtube.

New Documentaries In 2020: the Complexity Behind Sustainability and Climate Change

We’re turning the decade. But the overall environmental and social tides aren’t really turning. If everything remains the same, make no mistake because the science is clear: we’re heading towards a series of ecological collapses followed by societal collapses.

No one know exactly when: some predict points of no return have or are about to the breached when it comes to ice melting or the macroclimate. One thing is for sure, extreme weather events and natural disasters have nearly double in the past 20 years, a recent report from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction says. And it won’t get better, only worse.

The more and faster we domesticate the wild world – by overfishing, cutting down forests (deforestation) to plant monocultures or raise cattle, or depleting the soil with industrial agriculture, to name only a few – the faster we lose the biodiversity that makes up the ecosystems that keep the planet at balance. But the odds are you already know this. Or at least, you know part(s) of the story. So here’s what you can specifically learn from what we consider to be the top 3 documentary released in 2020.

A Life On Our Planet by David Attenborough (Netflix, 2020): Review

A Life On Our Planet, available on Netflix, provides an overview of how our planet changed during the last 93 years – the lifetime of the inspiring English broadcaster and natural historian David Attenborough. This is a powerful fear and tear-inducing documentary which is much more succinct when compared to the 2019’s series Our Planet.

During 83 minutes, Attenborough guides us through his career’s history while showing how in a such short period of time the population grew exponentially, wild spaces were domesticated and greenhouse gas concentrations grew. And of course: how biodiversity has been dwindling and increasingly jeopardizing humanity’s future prospects.

Attenborough and the team behind the scenes present, in a very simple way accompanied with incredible pictures, why there were 5 mass extinctions and what allowed Life on Earth to prosper for millenia and our species to develop. At the same time, they show how ugly the world is becoming as it dies before our eyes. Fish stocks that disappear due to overfishing. Coral reefs that turn skeletal white. Or orangutangs that lose their wild spaces to palm oil plantations and are facing extinction.

The message is clear: if humans continue using the finite natural world to their exclusive benefit and ignoring the ecosystemic consequences, we’ll be facing environmental, social and economic chaos over the coming decades. But we can and must have hope and start ASAP following the examples of countries that have already started rewilding lands, betting on renewable energy or using greener agriculture techniques.

If you are looking for a brief overview on everything humans have been doing wrong in the recent past and few examples on what we should do differently – A Life On Our is a fantastic choice. But be careful: you most likely won’t be able to hold your tears.

Kiss the Ground: Regenerative Agriculture (Netflix, 2020) – Review

Got an extra minute? Same platform (Netflix) and one more minute (84) and you can learn from Kiss the Ground that the solution to humanity’s greatest challenges (the title itself is already a spoiler so here it goes): the soil! The message is clearly and consistently repeated throughout the whole documentary: we need healthy soils to balance the climate, replenish water supplies and decrease biodiversity loses.

Unfortunatly, unhealthy, eroded and nutrient-deplenished soils are the ones we’ve been developing over the last decades. Especially since the 2nd world war and the growth of industrial farming thanks to the Haber-Bosh process of synthesizing amonia. Enriching the land with nitrogen allowed crops to grow larger, but made modern farmers/owners forget about ancestral principles used for millenia in which agriculture was more tuned with the natural cycles and taking care of the dirty. Today, according to the documentary, 95% of farms have poorly managed soils with little vegetation and therefore a reduced ability to sequester and store carbon from the atmosphere – which happens naturally as plants grow.

Narrated by Woody Harrelson, this powerful documentary shows there are small things we can do as individuals like eating a more plant-based diet or composting. But the big sell is regenerative agriculture, with a top-down support, and based on principles such as:

Regenerative Agriculture Principles:

  1. Promoting cover crops, diverse crops and rotation crops;
  2. Eliminating or decreasing tillage;
  3. Reducing the use of chemical fertilizers;
  4. Using regenerative grazing management for livestock.

Public Trust by Patagonia Films (Youtube, 2020) – Review

Some could say the Public Trust documentary is mostly for Americans to watch. I tend to disagree. Climate change threatens everyone – despiting affecting some countries harder than others. So even if a country gets 100% carbon-neutral, or even carbon-negative, its efforts won’t make a difference if every other one keeps polluting and damaging the environment.

The United States is among the world’s top economic forces (meaning it pollutes a lot and has great impacts on the environment) and the countries with the largest population numbers. It’s the third country using more land used for agriculture in the world too. If we are to succeed at improving Life on our planet, everyone and every country must succeed. In our (like it or not) globalized world, that means paying attention not just to our home countries, but to others too – especially to the ones with such relevance and impact as the US.

America’s 640 million acres of public lands support biodiversity and carbon sequestration and they are essential wild areas that must be protected. No other nation on Earth has this much property belonging to its people and is intended to be managed by the government for the benefit and uplift of all. However, the Trump administration seems particularly focused on rolling back protections to usher in more drilling and mining.

In 94 minutes, the Public Trust shows how important it is (people and planet-wise) that the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are protected. It exposes how the Trump administration slashed Obama’s law to protect the Bears Ears National Monument by reducing the protect area by around 80% and how local people are leading the movement to protect this and other public lands. A task everyone should actively engage in by holding the American government responsible for excessive privatization, the movie suggests.

[Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash]

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