5 Must-Watch Documentaries About Climate Change and Sustainability

1. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)

By Susanna, Ambassador

As I was scrolling through Netflix one night recently, looking for the next binge-worthy series to watch, this unassuming documentary caught my eye. The description merely stated ‘Learn how factory farming is decimating the planet’s natural resources — and why this crisis has been largely ignored by major environmental groups.’ As a student studying climate change and a keen advocate of sustainability, I was naturally intrigued. But I was not prepared for the hard-hitting truths that this documentary shed light on.

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, the film follows an American man’s journey from discovering the devastating impacts that the agricultural industry is having on the planet’s climate and natural resources, to him chasing up various environmental organisation leaders including Greenpeace and Amazon Watch to question them over why they have very little, if any, information regarding the environmental impacts of animal agriculture on their websites.

I was already aware of the large negative contribution the agricultural industry was having on the climate change issue, however many of the facts and information included in the documentary were incredibly shocking, upsetting, and quite frankly, depressing. To name but a few, livestock and their by-products account for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions per year, animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation and pollution, and is the primary driver of species extinction and habitat loss. Yet, as quite clearly shown in the documentary, not only are the majority of climate policies ignoring this key driver, but environmental organisations themselves refuse to acknowledge it.

It’s a bizarre injustice that this issue is swept under the carpet due to the power of the agricultural industry; the more this is spoken about and the more awareness raised the better. This documentary is an engaging, informative and eye-opening watch, and an excellent way to get the message out there.

2. The True Cost (2015)

There are a number of films about fashion — McQueen, Dior and I, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Had to Travel, Coco Before Chanel — but these tend to focus on the icons behind brands and the glamour of the fashion world. The True Cost, on the other hand, is a fashion documentary which reveals the grim reality behind fast fashion and the shocking environmental and social consequences of it, particularly in the developing world.

This film makes you realise that anytime you’re buying an item of clothing and think the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Fast fashion has led to a global supply chain which is responsible for exploitation of labour, exposure to toxic chemicals and unsafe working conditions, and fashion is now the most polluting industry in the world after the oil industry.

The True Cost is fashion’s answer to exposé documentaries like Super Size Me, which actually had an impact on the fast-food industry — let’s hope that this documentary encourages individual consumers and the fashion industry itself to finally deal with the ugly side of fashion.

3. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

By Karen, Ambassador

There are certain things in life that will terrify you to your very core, and often times the way we cope with such is denial or ignorance. It’s easier not to know or after knowing to pretend it isn’t true than to accept the truth and make any effort to change it. Global warming is one such thing, climate change another.

It’s easier to believe that we are not the problem, or that the world — our home- is perfectly fine and we are not in any danger, because anything to the contrary (such as the idea that we are contributing to rising global temperatures by living recklessly, or that our planet is well on the way to destruction and in a few decades we may have a planet no more) is much harder to swallow — never mind that it is the truth, it isn’t what we want to hear, climate change is by all measures ‘an inconvenient truth’.

Al Gore in his 2006 documentary sits us down to present his travelling power point presentation on global warming, the reality of the situation, the threats it poses to our planet, and above all, the need to act NOW! Yes, this film is more than a decade old, but every point raised is possibly even more relevant today and that is all the more reason to watch it today. Firstly, to remind ourselves that global warming and climate change are not new issues, and we have been presented with compelling scientific evidence to prompt us to make changes, and yet looking back today we still have ardent deniers of climate change who mock scientists and doctor their research.

Secondly, the documentary was hailed as an eye opener by several who viewed it upon its release and what’s scariest about it is how high those global warming figures were ten years ago and how much higher they are now. Scarier still is the fact that a lot of what Al Gore said could happen if we didn’t change has happened in the past decade. He predicted that rising sea levels and global warming would see the World Trade Centre memorial affected by the sea and sure enough it was — this and more was covered in the more recent sequel, An Inconvenient Truth: Truth to Power.

What I loved about this documentary is that it gives you a basic understanding of global warming, then prompts you to go out and do more research because it explains it with facts and science, leaving little place for denial. This movie inspires an awakening and one I feel is especially necessary today and so I prompt you all to watch this thrilling, informative, terrifying, brilliant documentary, and if you’ve watched it before, watch it again and let it push you toward change, because we could use more Greta Thunberg’s in the world, and it is down to every single one of us to do our part to save our planet.

4. In Our Hands: Seeding Change (2017)

By Charlotte, Ambassador

In Our Hands, created by the Landworkers’ Alliance and Black Bark Films, is a powerful, topical film on how some British farmers are using Brexit as an opportunity to outgrow the often-damaging industrial food system. Whilst many environmental documentaries leave you feeling depressed and hopeless, ‘In our Hands’ leaves you enlightened and hopeful that change is possible.

The film beautifully illustrates several short stories to show how local food producers are seeking better ways of growing food sustainably, without having negative impacts on the environment. The stories cover a wide variety of ventures, from rediscovering ancient grains and grazing livestock extensively to urban community projects (check out Street Goat!).

The ultimate moral of this film is that although our environment is on the brink of collapse and our wildlife is severely degraded, the future of British land remains in our hands (for now!)

Visit the official website here.

5. Before The Flood (2016)

In Before the Flood, actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio travels the world, documenting the impact of climate change and talking to some of the most intelligent and powerful individuals in the world. He speaks with a variety of people, from energy experts and President Obama to Elon Musk and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about science, politics and possible solutions.

Before the Flood is as ambitious as An Inconvenient Truth in scale, and having reached 60 million people worldwide, it has had a similar level of attention. DiCaprio actually talks about the first time he spoke with Al Gore about climate change in the documentary, saying ‘Everyone was focused on small individual actions [back then]. Boiled down to simple solutions such as changing a light bulb. It’s pretty clear that we are way beyond that now. Things have taken a massive turn for the worse.’

This is a substantial, heartfelt and informative documentary — and a must-watch for anyone trying to understand the urgent global threat which climate change presents.

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