There are lots of ways to communicate urgency and inspire people to start taking action and driving new ways of living. When it comes to the effect of climate change and the urgent need to adopt sustainable practices, a documentary film can be one of the most effective ways to get the message across. So in honor of Earth Day, we’ve curated a list of must-see compelling and inspiring climate change documentaries – these are what to watch at the movies or at home to help drive action and change.
what movies can we watch to help inspire action on climate change this Earth Day?
Earth Day is one of our favorite days of the year, and we can’t wait to celebrate on Saturday, April 22nd. We love our planet, and we love getting to take some time each year to remember how special it is – whether that means hiking, strolling through our neighborhood park, or sowing seeds in the backyard.
And on this upcoming Earth Day, we also want to challenge ourselves to think about the elephant in the room: climate change. We love our planet so much that it can be scary to think about its precipitous future – but if we want to keep being able to enjoy its splendors, that’s exactly what we need to do.
This Earth Day, why not set aside some time to learn more about the climate crisis? It doesn’t have to be strenuous, or stressful work; at least, not when you’re watching one of these ten excellent documentaries.
These ten films will teach you everything you need to know about climate change – where we are now, where we’re heading, and what we need to do; not just on Earth Day, but every day of the year. It can be an overwhelming topic of conversation, but these films are here to make it a little bit more manageable. And best of all, watching one will take only an hour or two of your time. Won’t you watch them with us this April?
10 best documentaries about climate change to inspire action this Earth Day
1. An Inconvenient Truth
There is no place to start but with An Inconvenient Truth. The Academy Award-winning documentary was released in 2006 – a full fifteen years before most of the films on this list – but unfortunately, it is no less relevant today. Written by former Vice President Al Gore and directed by David Guggenheim, An Inconvenient Truth is known for the new levels of awareness to the climate crisis. And if you’re trying to raise your own awareness this Earth Day, this is a great place to start. The film contains a presentation from Gore, in which he lays out the science of global warming, as well as counterpoints to any potential refutations. If we were to build a “canon” of films about climate change, this would be where we begin.
2. Food Inc.
This is another older film – but one that is still as important in 2023 as it was in 2008, when Robert Kenner wrote and directed it. With narration by Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, Food Inc. works to brilliantly elucidate the food industry as it stands in the twenty-first century. It cautions viewers on the dangers of today’s meat production, as well as some of our current agricultural practices. As we all know, the food we eat is intimately connected to the environment we live in, and we should all strive for greater awareness on the hazardous ties between the two. More than a decade later, this is still requisite viewing.
3. I Am Greta
We all know the name Greta Thurnberg. The young climate activist has drawn the world’s attention over these past several years, and now there’s a chance for us to learn a bit more about her. The film is inspiring – despite her young age, Greta is a role model for all of us in our own fights for environmental justice. If you’re looking for a piece of media to galvanize you as you too help to save the planet, I Am Greta – which first premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in 2020 – will have you leaping to your feet.
4. David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet
When it comes to learning more about our beautiful earth, there’s no better guide than David Attenborough. Attenborough has famously hosted an entire cinematic universe of films about our planet, and they alone could comprise their own Earth Day list; it was hard to choose only one to recommend, but we’re going to suggest the 2020 film A Life On Our Planet. Directed by Jonnie Hughes, the film is Attenborough’s own statement – his own plea – to the audience; he expresses his concern for the world’s future, and also makes some suggestions for how we might stop the doomsday clock. Less than ninety minutes, a film that is as hopeful as it is solemn.
5. Climate Refugees
When we talk about the environment, we are often having an abstract conversation. It can be difficult to remember that there are real people impacted by every shift in the planet’s atmosphere. The 2010 film Climate Refugees, directed by Michael P. Nash, is here to remind us of one of the climate crisis’ most terrifying consequences: those who it will leave without a home.
Directed by Sanjay Rawal, the 2020 documentary spotlights the growing movement towards food sovereignty by Indigenous Americans. Less than ninety minutes long, the film operates on both a small and large scale – following individual people and their efforts to reclaim their ancestral foodways, as well as looking at the larger systemic impact of colonialism. An important piece of the puzzle of climate change, and one we should all be learning more about.
7. Fire in Paradise
We should warn you, Fire in Paradise is a frightening watch – but a worthwhile one, and at 39 minutes, it won’t even take up too much of your time. Directed by Zackery Canepari and Drea Cooper, the film uses a mixture of interviews and first-hand footage to tell the story of the fire that erupted in California’s Paradise. It was California’s deadliest wildfire in more than a hundred years, and it should serve as a warning to us all – we don’t want any of the catastrophes that come with climate change.
8. The Great Green Wall
Directed by Jared P. Scott, The Great Green Wall is led by the singer Inna Modja, who takes the audience on a tour of the Sahel region of Africa. In Sahel, something revolutionary is happening – a green wall of trees and vegetation is being built in an effort to fight climate change. It is exciting to be able to visit the frontlines of this project while it is still in progress, and this special film should not be missed.
9. Ice on Fire
We all know that CO2 emissions are dangerous, but we may not know the how and the why – or what can be done about them. Leonardo DiCaprio narrates this documentary from Leila Connors, which is all about carbon: its impact on our planet, and the various ways we may reverse its apocalyptic effect. But don’t despair, because the 2019 film offers plenty of hope – ways we can act now, to ensure the future safety of our earth.
Directed by, written by, and starring Damon Gameau, the 2019 film 2040 may feel the most optimistic of any on this list. Why? Because it addresses practical solutions to the reality of climate change, and attempts to imagine a realistic future – one where we’ve made the necessary changes so that we can continue to thrive. The film is framed as a letter to Gameau’s young daughter, who will be 21 in the year 2040; watch now, so you too can begin to imagine the future. One where we are all still standing tall.
Best documentaries about climate change to drive action this Earth Day
Those are our picks for the most compelling and inspiring climate change documentaries for those who are wondering what to watch this Earth Day at the movies to drive action and change. Which one of these is at the top of your list, dear reader? Did we miss any that should definitely be here?