Issues of climate change and global warming have never been more urgent. Every year humans have been breaking the worst possible environmental records.
These problems have been ongoing – the past decade was recorded as the hottest period for the planet ever – but we nonetheless saw an unprecedented number of natural disasters during the COVID-19 pandemic that was caused by our mistreatment of the planet.
Last year, we saw devastating weather anomalies like the bushfires in Australia and forest fires in the Western US; flooding in Vietnam and the Philippines; and 12-year highs for deforestation in places like the Amazon rainforest.
All of these problems can seem overwhelming, but many are trying to solve these issues piece by piece and make Earth a better, healthier place to live.
One of the best ways to learn about the specifics of climate change problems and the potential answers to fix them is through films. Hollywood hasn’t always had the best track record with films about climate change considering dystopian visions like The Day After Tomorrow or The Core.
Other filmmakers have examined these subjects thoughtfully and with hard science to back up their stories. And outside of Hollywood, documentaries about activist luminaries like Greta Thunberg or an excess of CO2 emissions show why learning about these subjects is critical.
One of the go-to climate change documentaries for good reason, Jeff Orlowski’s 2012 film observes the melting of Arctic glaciers through the eyes of nature photographer, James Balog. Balog is a charismatic and impassioned guide to the issues of global warming as they relate to Greenland, Alaska, and Iceland.
Orlowski deftly harnesses the footage from Balog’s unique time-lapse photography method known as Extreme Ice Survey to create a compelling and beautifully sad narrative about global warming.
The polar opposite companion to Chasing Ice, Jeff Orlowski returns to climate change activism with 2017’s Chasing Coral. The documentary is a heartbreaking look at coral reef bleaching and the ways this issue intersects with human’s treatment of the reef’s natural ecosystems.
Following a group of divers, photographers, and marine biologists, Orlowski captures how these once gorgeous reefs have become shadows of their former self with paler colors and deteriorating wildlife.
Christopher Nolan’s movie about traveling through the galaxy for a new home isn’t explicitly about climate change, but the themes couldn’t be more relevant to issues of global warming and staking out a better world.
Starring major movie stars like Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Michael Caine, these characters look for a place that isn’t facing catastrophically changing weather patterns and global film shortages.
Nolan’s story is fiction, but its view of Earth is frighteningly close to where our world is going if we don’t look for solutions to questions like geographic sustainability and renewable resources.
The Hottest August
A mosaic of humanity set during August 2017, Brett Story’s essay film surveys a small subsection of New Yorkers and asks them, “what does the future look like?”
It’s a broad question, and the answer understandably ranges for all of these people. But in the process, it’s an insightful look at how people view the state of the planet and what are the largest issues. Maybe it’s enough for us to all unite in our worry for the future to build something better.
Bong Joon-Ho’s futuristic class warfare thriller about a train that circles the globe after an Ice Age kills everything but the passengers of that vessel aren’t for those with weak stomachs. It’s a grisly (and very entertaining) cautionary tale about what our future could look like if we don’t tackle climate change as a planet and try to upend the damage that’s been done to this planet. If you’re still looking to watch more from Bong, two of his other films, Okja and The Host, wrestle with the effects of ethical growth and pollution – subjects undeniably connected with issues of climate change.
An Inconvenient Truth
Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about former US vice president Al Gore’s efforts to educate the public about climate change isn’t the most entertaining entry on this list. It often feels like you’re being explained an incredibly important slide show.
But it’s also the most galvanizing film on this list, showing many of the scientific basis and scope of global warming. Gore’s explanations aren’t flashy, but he makes complex ideas like The Keeling Curve palpable for almost any audience who’s willing to listen.
This Changes Everything
Based on the non-fiction bestseller of the same name, Avi Lewis’ film revolves around the radical notion that reverting climate change can also provide an opportunity to transform our failed economic systems.
Lewis’s film focuses on seven places around the world where people are spearheading initiatives to spark these changes.
Ranging from post-Hurricane Sandy New York to anti-gold mine protests in Greece and First Nations tribes picketing against Oil Sands in Alberta, it’s a stirring reminder of humans’ ability to enact change.
Anthropocene: The Human Epoch
The third in a trilogy about how the Earth entered a new geographical age in the mid-twentieth century, this is a humbling, expansive experience. One that travels the world to document the devastating effects of human imperialism.
Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, and Edward Burtynsky’s film is even more compelling evidence that we need to pull back from our current methods and rethink how we interact with our home.
Created by the team behind the Oscar-winning The Cove, this documentary looks at humanity’s role in the loss of nearly half the species of the world.
Louie Psihoyos examines this accelerating rate of disappearing species through engaging lab experiments, location photography, and image comparisons. And in doing so, he shines a light on evidence of plights like ocean acidification, rising temperatures, and CO2 emissions.
I Am Greta
The newest movie featured on this list, I Am Greta follows the inspirational life story of 18-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who’s made headlines for years for challenging world leaders to step up in responding to climate change issues. Nathan Grossman’s documentary follows her whirlwind daily life as she stages school protests, balances being a teenager, and treacherously journeys from Plymouth, England to a US Climate Summit in New York on a small boat. It’s a hopeful but sobering look at one of the figures who’s currently leading the conversation. A true role model in how she’s trying to bring everyone together to do something rather than just talk about it.
Are you feeling inspired to be a part of the change? These movies will help you to feel more engaged with the issues.
There are many things you can do to help, but you can start with your bank. Aspiration knows the importance of investing with ethical, environmentally sustainable, and fossil-fuel-free companies. Do your part to not be part of the problem.