With so many incredible documentaries available over a number of platforms, narrowing them down to the exact ones you want (and need) to watch can be a challenge.
After hearing about the recent IPCC report, you may be wondering what you can do to help — perhaps you’re keen to educate yourself on the particulars, to know the exact global climate situation, and what regeneration projects are available to take part in. Perhaps you just want to make your home or life a more sustainable engine.
We’re past the point where we can wilfully ignore what we’re doing to the planet so it’s time to turn climate anxiety into climate action by understanding what sustainability options are available to us, getting to know what emerging tech is becoming available, how to approach your local leaders, and the worldwide regeneration projects which we’ll all need to take part in one way or another.
As with most local sustainability movements, many of these solutions are directed towards people who can afford to make these changes, have the time to approach leaders and take part in activism, and people who most benefit from the mass consumerism and consumer culture which is destroying the planet.
But if you’re interested in learning more, here are our favourites climate change and sustainability documentaries.
Climate Change and Sustainability Documentaries
Here are the must-watch documentaries on climate change and sustainability that will inspire and educate. These documentaries — available across popular streaming services — discuss everything from fast fashion and the importance of minimalism to the situation facing our oceans and what we can do to help, as well as how we can regenerate our soil and protect our forests.
Table of Contents
- Climate Change Documentaries
- Sustainability and Mass Consumerism Documentaries
- Food Sustainability Documentaries
- Ocean Climate Change and Sustainability Documentaries
Climate Change Documentaries
1) A Life on Our Planet – David Attenborough
This poignant and hard-hitting hour and a half film starts and ends in Chernobyl, a man-mad disaster making a place unlivable and later how nature has reclaimed it.
This is used to bookend what Attenborough calls his ‘witness statement’ as he takes us through the nineties to today, what he has seen and what he has seen disappear including species and entire ecosystems.
He pulls no punches with the fact that humans have caused the destruction of the natural world but also lays out a framework of hope showing us how to be part of nature rather than apart from it.
This is encouraged by urgently switching to a sustainable lifestyle, with the focus being on a predominantly plant-based diet.
Like any of Attanboourgh’s documents, the cinematography is nothing short of stunning.
2) Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet
This is one to watch if you aren’t feeling too fragile. Led by David Attenborough, in conversation with climate scientists across the world, it discusses the nine boundaries that we shouldn’t cross to keep an eco-system in which we and other species can survive.
Unfortunately, we’ve already crossed many of them, and the harsh truth of the situation we’re in is laid out as well as the consequences we’re already seeing. It’ll move you to tears, but does show the steps we would need to take to bring things back to a safe level and regenerate despite the situation we’re in and it makes it clear, that in many instances, this is possible.
While it doesn’t leave you with much hope, it is an incredibly educational documentary that spells out the exact stages, what we can expect from the future, and what we as individuals can do.
3) Before the Flood
Presented by National Geographic, and featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, this film takes us across five continents, visiting Greenland, China, India, Indonesia and beyond with a group of scientists to see the effects of climate change on different communities around the world.
Leo also meets with political leaders such as Barack Obama to question them on their inaction and delves into a misinformation campaign designed to steer people away from finding out the true urgency of the climate crisis.
Aside from discussing the necessary regeneration strategies ahead of us, this documentary also shows the importance of pressuring our local political leaders and representatives, something we can all do if we have a base we consider home. If not, there are also grassroots organizations we can support.
This documentary stresses the point that we are all in this together and only together can we make a difference.
4) Our Planet
A beloved series hosted by David Attenborough and in collaboration with WWF. This multi-Emmy award-winning series, at first glance, seems like any other nature documentary in the same vein — that is sweeping shots of animals in their natural habitat and lush landscapes but the goal of this documentary is absolutely to educate the viewers on what’s at stake and how much we stand to lose if we carry on on the same trajectory.
We’re treated to sights of animals we could never dream of seeing and joyful moments like seeing the Philippines eagle take its first flight which makes the message even more impactful.
A plan for the future and a worldwide regeneration project, 2040 takes a hopeful look at what our world could look like in 2040 if we apply certain strategies and embrace new technology that’s already available.
Distressed by the world his daughter will inherit, Damon embarks on a global journey to meet innovators and changemakers across the areas of economics, technology, civil society, agriculture, education and sustainability.
6) Islands of Faith
A special documentary viewed through a non-western lens, which is particularly important as sustainability, as a movement, is very much dominated by white-western narratives and solutions.
Here we’re taken to seven different communities in Indonesia to find out how they are managing climate change and appreciate their approach to the natural world through faith and belief.
Permeating the short film is the true love for nature everyone involved has and how we should all be one with nature and not against it.
It’s a positive and calming experience that allows us a rare insight into these provinces and a much-needed shift in perspective.
7) I am Greta
At this point, I’m sure we are all familiar with climate activist Greta Thunberg and her school strike for the climate campaign which catapulted her into the media and galvanized young people the world over. This documentary is very much focused on Greta’s life and the extraordinary situations she’s found herself in since that initial strike.
We, of course, hear her thoughts on climate change and the actions we need to take globally. It’s an intimate film that allows us insight into the world of Greta.
8) An Inconvenient Truth/ The Inconvenient True – The Sequel
This Oscar-winning documentary hosted by Al Gore was one of the first climate change documentaries to enter the mainstream, to mixed reactions, and get people seriously talking about the current state of the world and what we need to do about it.
The more recent sequel, ten years later, gives an update on where we are today in much the same vein. It’s persuasive, scary, and simply goes through the facts in a clear and concise way.
These films are a very good starting point for anyone who doesn’t know anything about climate change as it stands right now and what we can expect from the future.
Sustainability and Mass Consumerism Documentaries
This documentary is by The Minimalists, two men who came from challenging backgrounds who climbed the corporate ladder and realises they were living their life in the way many people are – for stuff.
Focusing less on their minimalism journey, which is well-documented on their website and interviews, this focuses more on people across the US who have undertaken a minimalist life in whatever way that means to them interjected with their experiences and insight from psychologists.
We’re living our life depending on the space we’ve got rather than making that space ideal for our lifestyle, this documentary shows us blueprints for a simpler lifestyle that many of us will ultimately be happier in.
While this is more focused on personal lifestyle and happiness than the impact that a minimalist lifestyle has on the planet (though not entirely), it’s no secret that mass consumerism is a huge contributor to global warming.
Ultimately, Minimalism is teaching you how to live a life that’s more deliberate and intentional.
10) The True Cost
Most of us are aware at this point that the fast fashion industry and cheap clothing is something that we should be avoiding but this documentary takes it beyond that to relay the actual real harm that’s happening around the world.
It hopes to change the perspective of the average consumer when it comes to supporting clothing companies that only care about profit.
Starting out by discussing the appalling working conditions in the garment factories and the Dhaka garment factory collapse, it then moves on to the cotton farming industry, use of pesticides and high death rate or the farmers and families who live in the villages around these farms.
It also discusses the psychology of consumerism, shows us brands who are doing things differently, and how we can demand better standards from our brands.
When you realise that the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world you can see the problem affects us all even if we can turn a blind eye to the manufacturing industries’ exploitation of human lives.
It’s an eye-opening and moving documentary that will, honestly, leave you raging.
11) Where the Future of Fashion is Headed
Addressing the same problems as The True Cost, this more recent documentary shows how little progress has been made in the years since.
However, it also discusses newer movements such as the Fashion Revolution movement that launched after the Dhaka garment factory disaster and also the many ways that consumers are becoming more aware of the true cost of clothing.
The film also discusses the rise of sustainable fashion movements, including repairing and sharing clothes, as well as the activist designers who embrace new ways of approaching fashion with sustainability in mind. For example using new biodegradable fabrics, salvaged plastics, and simply producing fewer garments.
As they say in the documentary, the consumer is only involved in the final part of the chain, the purchase but the industry has to change across the entire chain. While there’s still a lot to be done, this documentary is a great choice if you’re interested in seeing what changes are being made and how you can help with that as a consumer.
An investigative series, by the same production team as Rotten (discussed below), which delves into the world of fake and dangerous consumer goods and highlights some of the disturbing organizations that are behind some of the items we buy.
It discusses vaping and the mass marketing to teenagers by tobacco companies and discusses the regulations and laws surrounding consumer goods and what they actually mean.
This is certainly one to make you think twice about where you buy your goods from and perhaps to do a little investigating of your own.
Best Books on Minimalism and Sustainability
Here are some recommendations of books on minimalism and sustainable living that we’ve personally enjoyed and learned so much from.
Food Sustainability Documentaries
13) Kiss the Ground
An immensely inspiring look at how we can tackle the climate crisis and regenerate the earth’s soil by changing the way we farm and, as individuals, grow our own food and make better choices.
Healthy soil, using sustainable regenerative farming techniques can draw in carbon, absorb water, and grow food which is the focus of this documentary hosted by Woody Harrelson (a long time vegan and advocate).
Kiss The Ground allows us insight into the farmers who have already adopted these techniques and the results they’ve seen, allowing us to fully understand how the process works.
If you’re feeling depressed about the climate change news, this uplifting documentary offers a path that we can all be part of in some way whether that’s supporting the brands that support regenerative farms or planting our own trees and food.
A disturbing, highly dramatized series of one-hour episodes which delve into different big issues within the food industry. Corruption and fraud are rife throughout this series and it’s shocking to see the journey that a lot of our food goes through on the way to our supermarkets.
While there are very few solutions offered for us as consumers, it’s nonetheless a fascinating insight into the global food production chain and certainly encourages us to purchase our food from ethical sources where possible. This series is by the same production team as Broken.
A deep dive into American’s food and agriculture system and its current instability with regards to soil loss, mas use of pesticides, and water depletion.
But centring the story around a seventh-generation farmer in Illinois as he transforms his degraded farm, ruined by modern agricultural systems into a profitable and lush farm focused on sustainable and regenerative farming methods.
With fascinating insight from forward-thinking farm and community leaders, there’s a lot to learn from this fascinating documentary.
16) Biggest Little Farm
A stunning and cinematic documentary about a couple (and their dog Todd) who buy a farm that has been completely destroyed by modern agricultural practices. They regenerate the land using traditional farming methods, no pesticides, and guidance from soil experts to restore dead soil to a fertile landscape.
We see seven years of time lapsing from barren to plentiful and it’s beautiful.
Teaching us the benefits of soil regeneration for the planet and the harm of modern agriculture and overfarming, this is a heartwarming documentary above all and certainly inspires you to go out and grow something of your own.
17) Cowspiracy: The Sustainablity Secret
A precursor to the recent Seaspiracy documentary (below), this delves into modern-day agriculture practices to find answers and solutions to the climate crisis.
Agricultural policies are investigated as well as misinformation campaigns, Andersen faces outright hostility and threats as he heads towards the conclusion that the unstainable practices of mass meat farming is one of the leading causes of global warming.
The documentary also discusses how a movement towards a predominantly plant-based diet could provide some of the solutions we need.
18) Fantastic Fungi
A slightly different offering, this fascinating documentary takes us deep into the world of fungus and mycelium networks giving us a sound introduction to the immense role it plays in our ecosystems and our own bodies.
It also demonstrates some of the interesting ways fungi are being used to help with climate change solutions such as fungi that can mop up and break down oil spills and the immense carbon capture and storage qualities of fungus and its role as a network between trees.
Best selling authors and scientists come together to introduce us to a new world and the medicinal, practical, and ecological opportunities available. So inspiring, I immediately picked up some further reading Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake.
Ocean Climate Change and Sustainability Documentaries
19) Brave Blue World: Racing to Solve Our Water Crisis
An incredibly educational and hopeful documentary hosted by Liam Neeson.
Scientists, changemakers, and activists take us through the world’s biggest water crises including access to clean drinking water globally, access to sanitation, and dealing with water contamination and how innovative new technology is combatting these issues.
If you want to marvel at human engineering and see some of the projects which will help us all have a better future with water then this is exactly what you can expect from Brave Blue World.
They also suggest some simple ways that we as individuals can demand better from the brands, banks, and governments when it comes to preserving our clean water.
Touching on being a thriller at times, this documentary (using the same production team as Cowspiracy) directed and presented by Ali Tabrizi takes us into the underbelly of the fishing industry with shocking results.
The documentary reiterates that we, as humans, can’t survive with a dead ocean and starts with something many of us are distressed by — commercial whaling — but moves on to the immense amount of plastic in the ocean where he starts to make some shocking discoveries.
Tabrizi finds that the main plastic destroying the ocean is plastic fishing nets from commercial fishing which is something that many major ocean conservation boards and charities are neglecting to mention.
He starts to follow the money and find out why and this journey leads him to scary situations, including illegal fishing that is massacring the ocean, slave labour, and murder.
He also takes a look at the truth behind farmed fish, the question of whether fishing can ever be sustainable, and the so-called ethical whaling in Greenland. This documentary, though relatively recent has stopped a growing number of people from eating fish and it isn’t hard to see why.
21) A Plastic Ocean
Starring David Attenborough, Sylvia Earle, Ben Fogle (amongst other guests and scientists) this documentary seeks to educate on the damage plastic pollution is doing to our oceans.
Journalist Craig Leeson sets sail with diver Tanya Streeter, also known for her inspiring Ted talks, across twenty remote locations worldwide to assess the situation, its impact on the climate, human health, and ecosystems and where we can go from here.
22) Chasing Coral
A sorrowful love letter to our coral reefs which are disappearing fast due to major coral bleaching events triggered by ocean warming.
Following the work of a team led by ocean conservationist Richard Vevers (who founded The Ocean Agency), as they investigate the state of the reefs around the world and what needs to be in to preserve what’s left.
This documentary uses a gorgeous soundtrack and beautiful cinematography to highlight the beautiful underwater world of coral and the marine life that inhabit them. Have some tissues nearby for this one.
Read More: The Best Films About Nomads and Travellers