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Philosophy and Politics of Global Ecology: Useful Documentaries

Useful Documentaries

The 11th Hour

Featuring actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, “The 11th Hour” looks at the ways in which we have impacted the planet through global warming, deforestation, species extinction and the depletion of the oceans’ habitats. The documentary features former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and physicist Stephen Hawking, among many other politicians, scientists, and environmental activists.

 

Meat the Truth

Meat the Truth” explores the relationship between livestock production and global climate change, using powerful comparisons to the greenhouse gas emissions caused by cars, trains and planes.

 

GASLAND

When Josh Fox was offered $100,000 from a gas company to drill on his land, he decided to investigate the impact drilling and fracking has on the environment. His research leads viewers through intriguing and horrifying scenes when it comes to contaminated water.

 

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Documentarian Marshall Curry takes a unique look at the fight activists take on for the environment. The film’s main character, Daniel McGowan, is a former Earth Liberation Front (ELF) member who faced life in prison after firebombing timber companies and being found guilty of environmental terrorism.

 

Chasing Ice

This film beautifully captures the problem of the planet’s melting glaciers over multiple years with National Geographic photographer James Balog. The scenes are extremely powerful and they leave little to the imagination when it comes to the melting ice caps.

 

More than Honey

Bees have been dying at an alarming rate around the world. In “More Than Honey”, Markus Imhoof searches for the answers as to why the little creatures are suddenly dying, looking from industrial agricultural practices to crop pesticides.

 

After the Spill

A follow-up to ‘SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories,’ this film looks at the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill as part of the bigger picture of Louisiana's oil and gas industry and its relation to coastal erosion.

 

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Former US Vice President Al Gore is back with “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” The film comes out on July 28 and its trailer sets an intriguing tone. Opening with Donald Trump’s remarks, “It’s supposed to be 70 degrees today, it’s freezing here. Speaking of global warming, we need some global warming.” The trailer draws you into Al Gore’s world and his efforts to reveal the inconvenient truth, more than 10 years after the original film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

 

Before the Flood

Leonardo DiCaprio released this feature-length documentary in 2016. DiCaprio acts as a guide for the audience as he meets with various world leaders to ask questions about global warming.

 

2040

What would the world look like in 20 years if we implemented existing technological solutions to tackle climate change right now? Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau wanted to find out in order to write a visual letter to his 4-year-old daughter, Velvet. Rather than sitting in the grim reality of the present, Gameau travelled the globe to chat with people who are developing ways to reduce our emissions, sequester excess carbon from the system, and disrupt the economic system — in renewable energy, regenerative farming, marine permaculture, and electric, shared transportation. With knowledge of these projects in hand and a kickass animation team, Gameau presents optimistic, hypothetical landscapes of what our world could look like if we used them. He calls it "an exercise in fact-based dreaming,” and it is truly wondrous and hopeful to behold.

 

Our Planet

Sir David Attenborough’s absolutely stunning 2019 Netflix series, Our Planet, explores Earth’s important habitats and the life they support, and shows how they’re being affected by rising temperatures and sea levels, ocean acidification, and subsequent wildlife population decline. Over eight episodes, you’ll wander through frozen landscapes, jungles, forests, coastal areas and reefs, deserts, grasslands, and down into the dark depths of the ocean to see the devastatingly real impact climate change is having on the animals and plants who live in these places. Directed by Adam Chapman, Our Planet channels classic Attenborough, artfully and thoughtfully communicating a spectacular sense of how everything is connected, from food chains to weather patterns — and how climate change is affecting it all. “All across our planet, crucial connections are being disrupted,” Attenborough narrates. “The stability that we and all life relies upon is being lost. What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on Earth.” 

 

The Story of Plastic

When people think about plastic as a problem, they often think just about its end state: as waste carelessly strewn into the ocean, killing off seabirds and other creatures tragically having mistaken the inedible trash for food. But The Story of Plastic makes a strong case for rethinking that narrative. With global reporting, archival footage, and simple storyboard animation, this Yuby-winning film presents plastic as a primary contributor to climate change throughout its lifecycle, as a carefully orchestrated byproduct industry of oil and gas production. To lay out the global impact of plastic production, the film carries viewers across the U.S. South, to Belgium, Indonesia, India and China, exposing in each place the human and climate impacts of rapidly escalating plastic production and use. Films about real-world people struggling with the effects of climate change may not be easy to watch. But as one filmmaker said in response to the comment that her film was sad, “I personally find these stories incredibly inspiring – there are a ton of people around the world working together to address these issues – and that gives me a lot of hope.”

 

Fire in Paradise

Extreme weather events like California’s raging wildfires are hard to comprehend unless you’re on the ground, like the residents of the small town of Paradise. Directed by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari, Netflix’s Fire in Paradise details the experiences of residents who survived the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, California, which killed 85 people and caused $16.5 billion in damage. The 40-minute documentary recreates this disaster through interviews with unfathomably courageous Cal Fire and volunteer firefighters, 911 fire dispatch operators, and residents who found themselves trapped by walls of flame on all sides. Combining these with news coverage and harrowing phone footage, Fire in Paradise takes you minute-by-minute through the disaster to show just how quickly these fires spread, engulfing houses, businesses, and roads. It also puts them in the context of the increasingly frequent and intensified wildfires California is experiencing due to climate change.

 

Climate Change: The Facts

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than the BBC’s Climate Change: The Facts, but it’s just one hour and it’s presented by Sir David Attenborough, so dig the hell in. If you’re after a comprehensive and wildly concerning rundown of the current situation, this 2019 documentary wields relatively recent data alongside interviews with leading climate scientists like James Hansen and activists like Greta Thunberg. According to the documentary, eight percent of species are at risk of extinction purely due to climate change. Attenborough considers the real impact of global temperature increase on animals struggling to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. The documentary also examines extreme weather events, including wildfires in Australia, Greece, the U.S., even the Arctic, along with superstorms and flooding events, and the displacement of communities in the South Pacific and Louisiana with land being lost to rising sea levels. It’s a lot in one hour. 

 

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

In 2016, an international group of scientists, the Anthropocene Working Group, declared the end of Earth’s Holocene epoch, arguing that we’ve entered what’s known as the Anthropocene epoch, in which human activity has irreversibly changed and now determines the planet’s natural systems. It’s this term that inspires this documentary, created by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, and Edward Burtynsky, and narrated by Alicia Vikander. Self-described as “a cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet,” Anthropocene: The Human Epoch takes a look at how much human activity has permanently impacted the natural world on a colossal scale. 

 

Racing Extinction

The rate of species going extinct is accelerating. The UN attributes this to changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species, in that order, some of which The Discovery Channel's Racing Extinction digs into. The film uses plenty of clever filming techniques to dig into some serious truths about the human impact on wildlife. Using lab experiments and photo comparison, the team examines the effects of ocean acidification and rising temperatures on marine ecosystems, and employs high-definition infra-red cameras to reveal CO2 emissions from transportation and factories. As this is indeed the Cove team, the documentary also deploys undercover cameras and covert techniques to examine the other threat to species across the globe: the illegal wildlife trade. 

 

This Changes Everything

Directed by Avi Lewis and inspired by Naomi Klein’s nonfiction book This Changes Everything, this documentary visits communities on the front lines of climate change. Filmed over 211 shoot days in nine countries and five continents over four years, and narrated by Klein herself, the film visits those demanding change from power: from First Nations communities around the Alberta Tar Sands to post-Hurricane Sandy New York; farmers in Montana’s Powder River Basin to anti-gold mine protesters in Halkidiki, Greece; and communities protesting coal plants in wetlands in Sompeta, Andhra Pradesh, as well as those living through air pollution in China’s cities. This Changes Everything illustrates the effects of government inaction on climate change, examining the false benefits promised to local communities surrounding fossil fuel plants and the growth of only those exploiting natural resources at the top of the economic system. Klein offers some hope, suggesting that we could seize this current climate crisis to tackle our failed economic systems and create something better, and that change happens only through pressure from below.

 

Climate Refugees

Directed and produced by Michael P. Nash in 2010, Climate Refugees is a documentary about the human face of climate change: how people, towns, and even whole countries are moving around the globe due to rising sea levels and following extreme weather events, and how increasing global temperatures affect food supply for populations. It's 10 years old now, and situations have sadly gotten worse for some in the areas Nash visits, but it's still an important film to consult.

 

Disobedience

If you’re feeling hopeless in the face of climate change and aren’t sure whether there’s anything you can do, check out Disobedience. Directed by Kelly Nyks, the film is a convincing presentation of what happens when people get sick of waiting for governments to act and unite to take things into their own hands, like the 50,000-strong human chain formed in Aliağa, Turkey in 1990, to protest the planned coal power plant. Featuring interviews with This Changes Everything author Naomi Klein, activist Lidy Nacpil, co-founder of 350.org Bill McKibben, online activist network Avaaz.org founder Ricken Patel, and other leaders in this realm, the film examines the power of climate activism and using your own resources to change things.