Five Documentaries About the Environment You Need to Watch

April 21, 2021

By Claudia Light

Every so often, a documentary on the environment is released that causes a stir. The power of television in changing minds and hearts around the climate and biodiversity crises should never be overlooked. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, aired in 2017, has been dubbed as the driving force behind the war on plastic, raising awareness of plastic pollution across the world. The consumer response was so huge that the Marine Conservation Society, WWF, and Plastic Oceans Foundation all reported a significant spike in web traffic following the airing of the first episode, and a national ban on single-use plastic products was consequently announced by the UK government in 2018.

Whether it’s their ability to show us unparalleled footage of the impact we’re having on our world, or their propensity to translate the climate crisis into digestible, eye-opening facts, there’s no doubt that they grab our attention. We’ve pulled together a list of our top five recent documentaries about the environment that we hope will challenge, inspire and empower you.

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Seaspiracy

There is little doubt that this hotly debated documentary about the impact of the commercial fishing industry has its faults, but no-one can deny that it’s brought an important subject little spoken about to the forefront of our minds. 27-year old British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi shines the spotlight on the destructive impact of fisheries including the mass waste of plastic equipment and nets, bycatch (particularly of dolphins), overfishing and even ‘blood shrimp’ – seafood tainted with slavery and human rights issues.

While endorsed by celebrities and fans across social media, critics have accused Tabrizi of using out-of-context interviews and erroneous statistics. With our mission at Grace & Green being to protect our waterways and oceans around the world by reducing plastic waste, we were also struck by Tabrizi’s claim that plastic waste from consumers is irrelevant beside that of fishing boats. To our minds, if 1.3 billion tampon applicators make their way into UK landfill each year, it is certainly still worth working to stop our use of them.

Tabrizi’s solution that no fishing is sustainable and everyone in the world stops eating fish has also come under fire for being overly simplistic and a disservice to the critical work being done (albeit not nearly extensive enough yet) to protect oceans and marine life. Nevertheless, if the repercussions of the documentary are that a handful of us eat less fish and source it more responsibly, surely it can only be worth a watch.

Available to watch on Netflix.

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David Attenborough, A Life on Our Planet

93-year-old UK darling Sir David Attenborough has had an impressive life. The broadcaster and lifelong naturalist’s ‘witness statement’, A Life on Our Planet explores Attenborough’s concern for the impact our growing population and rising consumption has had on the natural world. Produced by WWF and award-winning wildlife filmmakers Silverback Films, the feature documentary was four years in the making. As with any programme Attenborough lends his voice to, the wildlife footage is monumental.

Our biggest reason for loving this though was Attenborough’s never failing optimism – yes, he asks us to stop and think about the way we live our lives, but also has an encouraging faith in humankind’s ability to resolve the crisis we have created.

Available on Netflix.

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Greta Thunberg – A Year to Change the World

18-year-old Greta Thunberg never ceases to amaze us. Despite having autism, she continuously sticks her neck out and stands strong in the spotlight of a critical public eye – all to fight for what she believes in.

This three part documentary series follows Thunberg from August 2019 to late 2020, when she was aged 16-17. The climate activist takes a year off school to explore the science of global warming and challenge world leaders to act now on climate change. We see her visit melting glaciers, dying forests, and stormy seas, as well as speak to politicians, expert scientists and even the survivors of Californian wildfires.

It’s a touching and powerful insight into the life of a girl who has started a climate movement – despite her plea that she doesn’t want us to listen to her, she just wants us to listen to the science.

Available on BBC iPlayer.

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Kiss the Ground

We’ll forgive you for thinking that a documentary on farming might not sound like the best Sunday evening pastime, but we urge you to give this one a try. Narrated by Woody Harrelson, it sheds light on an ancient approach to farming called ‘regenerative agriculture’ that has the potential to balance our climate, replenish our water supplies, and feed the world.

Ultimately celebrating the healing power of soil, the documentary first explores how conventional practices of mass agriculture such as tilling and use of pesticides are causing alarming damage to our ecology, health and climate. The solution is found in the ground, in restoring and maximising soil’s potential for carbon drawdown. Explored through some eye-opening case studies of regenerative agriculture in action, the argument is compelling and inspiring – leaving us optimistic that solutions to the climate crisis can be found.

Available on Netflix.

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My Octopus Teacher

This Netflix Original covers a year spent by filmmaker Craig Foster after he pledged to free-dive daily to tackle the burn out he was feeling from his work. Exploring the kelp forests outside his home in South Africa’s Cape Town, Foster forges an unusual relationship with a wild common octopus living in the waters. We follow the unlikely pair as their bond develops, in a surprisingly moving documentation of one man’s touching connection with the natural world.

If at times a little bizarre, it’s a thought provoking reminder of nature’s resilience and, more importantly, what humankind should learn from it.

Available on Netflix.