Documentaries can leave a huge impact on us, making us see events or people from a different point of view. The most moving documentaries can even inspire us to make a difference in our communities.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of some of the most impactful environmental documentaries. From pieces like 8 Billion Angels, David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, Kiss the Ground, Seaspiracy, and Blackfish, to more reflective films like I am Greta, My Octopus Teacher, 2040, and Honeyland, these must-see environmental documentaries will inspire and challenge us to take bold action in saving our planet.
We know that it can seem overwhelming to think about climate change and the many environmental issues our planet is facing, but these documentaries can help us understand the state of our planet and serve as a reminder that we cannot stop the fight against climate change.
“Do we want a world of more people with less or less people with more?” That is the question director Victor Velle asks in this 2019 documentary about overpopulation around the world.
Since the amount of people on our planet increases by 80 million each year, the documentary explores how our population’s demand for resources outweighs nature’s ability to provide them. In do this, 8 Billion Angels uncovers the connection between our environmental catastrophes, over consumption, and unsustainable population. It also offers solutions such as global education for woman and girls, in effort to create a sustainable and equitable planet.
Described as his “witness statement” on the environment, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet lays out humanities’ impact on Earth and what actions we need to take to reverse it.
In the documentary, Sir David Attenborough lists his predictions on what the future holds for Earth after observing the planet throughout his 60 year career. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t look pretty. He shares that our planet is dying. In fact, we are reaching a tipping point where climate change will rapidly increase.
It’s not entirely hopeless. Attenborough outlines what we can do to save our planet. This includes stabilizing the global population, shifting to renewable energy, and ending deforestation. Attenborough also shows how certain nations have already started moving in the right direction to stop the climate crisis, such as Costa Rica’s deforestation intervention, Palau’s fishing regulations, and Netherlands improved use of land.
In this documentary narrated by Woody Harrelson, filmmakers Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell share how soil can counteract the climate crisis.
Soil is capable of storing carbon, reducing the effects of greenhouse gases. By regenerating and improving the quality of Earth’s soil, Kiss the Ground shares that we can fully stabalize Earth’s climate, restore ecosystems, and create sustainable food systems (how food is produced, distributed, and consumed).
Featuring environmental activists, scientists, and celebrities, this documentary aims to mobilize a movement with the purposes of saving our planet once and for all.
In this 2014 documentary, filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn shine a light on the agricultural industry. They reveal startling statistics, proving that livestock agriculture is one of the most environmentally destructive industries. And a major contributor to issues like greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, rising sea levels, and species extinction.
This documentary showcases the factual, if grim, reality. Without a change in animal consumption and in the animal agrobusiness industry, individual efforts to curb climate change won’t move the needle.
Released in 2020, this documentary’s focus is not scientific research or climate solutions. Instead, it shows the beautifully entwined relationship between humanity and nature.
The Academy Award winning documentary from directors Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed displays the intimate relationship between filmmaker Craig Foster and an octopus in a South African kelp forest. Foster learns so much about life from this unlikely bond, including vulnerability and the beauty in endings. My Octopus Teacher shows that we can learn and grow by getting closer with nature.
Seaspiracy explains how the fishing industry’s practices (e.g. overfishing, bycatching, and bottom trawling) are damaging marine life. It also reveals how the industry is responsible for countless social injustices revolving around poor labour conditions and safety violations.
This 2021 documentary is a shocking and revealing exploration of how the fishing industry is harming our planet.
Released in 2013, this film showcases the saddening and shocking treatment of marine life in captivity, through the story of killer whale Tikikum at Seaworld.
Through emotional testimonials and grim archival footage, we see how captivity is harming these beautiful creatures, as well as leaving inexperienced trainers in the dangerous crosshairs of these abused animals.
Director Gabriella Cowperthwaite creates a film that shows both the majesty of these creatures and the tragedy of their containment. While science and statistics are not the main focus, Blackfish effectively demonstrates how these creatures are mentally and physically affected when they are kept in captivity.
I Am Greta is a 2020 documentary directed by Nathan Grossman which follows Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg’s rise from high schooler to global climate activist.
The documentary begins by showing how her calls for change were initially ignored by students and faculty. It then follows her rise to notoriety thanks in part to her blunt and poignant speeches about climate change. Through this film, we witness Greta stressing how badly our planet needs our help and why we should be paying attention to climate scientists.
I Am Greta summarizes Greta’s immaculate display of young activism and persistence that sparked the global movement we know today.
In 2040, director Damon Gameau takes a unique approach in highlighting different environmental issues. He discusses climate change as a father who is worried about the Earth’s sustainability for his daughter.
In the year 2040, Gameau’s daughter will turn 21, making Gameau wonder if the world will still be livable by that point. Throughout the documentary, Gameau takes viewers on a journey as he searches for climate change solutions. Along the way we meet innovators and changemakers who explain a sustainable world is possible if we make drastic changes.
This Oscar-nominated documentary released in 2019, explores the life of Hatidze, an isolated beekeeper in Macedonia who uses ancient beekeeping traditions to cultivate honey. Hatidze treats her bees with love and respect, often repeating her mantra “half for you, half for me.” It is a principle seen throughout the film, where Hatidze lives equally with nature – and her bees. She only takes what is needed, leaving more for tomorrow and the future.
But as new neighbours arrive and begin to invest in commercial beekeeping, we realize how commercialization can harm nature. We witness how traditional beekeeping practices and Hatidze teachings are ignored, disrupting the delicate balance between nature and human activity.
Filmmakers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov perfectly illustrate how commercialization and big business can demolish our relationship with nature, and use Hatidze’s personal story to demonstrate this environmental impact.
After going through the list and even watching a few of these documentaries, you may be asking yourself: What can I do to help?
A great place to start is by supporting the Protect the Environment Fund. This fund includes over 530 different charities who aim to nurture the health, diversity, and sustainability of our planet. A donation to this fund will support multiple programs like park conservation and preservation, forest conservancies, wildlife societies, and much more.
Also, learn more about the Land and Food Justice Fund. As we’ve read, the agriculture industry is partially responsible for the increase in climate change. In Canada, it contributes 30 to 40 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The Land and Food Justice Fund helps programs that support ecological food production, invest in sustainable farming, and increase access to locally sourced foods in eco-friendly ways. Donate today!