The United Nations 26th annual Conference of Parties, better known as COP26, starts at the end of this month in Glasgow, Scotland. While all COPs have been instrumental in bringing about measures to fight climate change — the Paris Agreement was born out of COP21 in 2015 — this year’s conference comes with a special urgency: Many experts believe this is the world’s last chance to bring runaway climate change under control and avert the worst of climate disasters.
The battle for the planet is massive, involving our plants, oceans, societies, and even our daily habits. To get a sense of the full breadth of the issues at stake — and, more importantly, to understand the solutions that are still possible — Green Queen has put together this list of climate-focused documentaries to watch ahead of COP26. Many of the subjects covered in these films will be at the center of the discussion table this year in Glasgow.
1. Chasing Ice, 2012
Chasing Ice follows National Geographic photographer James Balog as he and his team attempt to capture the impact of climate change on glaciers through time-lapse photography. This Extreme Ice Survey took place over the span of multiple years in Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska.
2. Meltdown, 2021
Another film about melting glaciers, this one follows art photographer Lynn Davis and climate communications expert Anthony as they explore the topic of climate change and how we might address it. The documentary is an intimate conversation between the two shot in the small town of Ilulissat, Greenland, which the film calls “ground zero for climate change.”
3. Thank You for the Rain, 2017
Kenyan farmer Kisilu Musya used his camera to capture the impact of climate change on his family, farm, and village over a five-year period. The resulting collaborative film between Musya and filmmaker Julia Dahr addresses multiple different areas of climate change: climate justice, urbanization, access to water, adaptation, and climate refugees, to name a few.
4. The Condor and the Eagle, 2019
The film documents the stories of four well-known indigenous climate activists as they take a trans-continental journey that stretches from Oklahoma to the Amazonian jungles. The film looks to examine the definition of “climate justice” on a deeper level.
5. Seaspiracy, 2021
Ali Tabrizi’s film about the unsettling realities of the commercial fishing industry caused a stir when it was released earlier this year. Though not without controversy over its claims, the film — which explores everything from overfishing to pollution to the intentional killings of sharks and dolphins — has received validation from many organizations and individuals in the seafood industry.
6. Our Planet, 2019
Featuring historian and broadcaster David Attenborough, the nature documentary series also includes input from conservation charity the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The series addresses climate change’s impact on all living things, with a particular emphasis on human beings’ role in the negative consequences felt by diverse species around the world.
7. Breaking Boundaries, 2021
Released not long ago on Netflix, Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, examines the science behind our planet’s alarming biodiversity collapse. David Attenborough takes viewers on a journey with Professor Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Rockström along with other leading scientists came up with the concept of “tipping points” the world can’t exceed if it is to avoid disaster.
8. The Pollinators, 2019
This film examines the startling rate at which bees — some of the most important pollinators for about three-quarters of the world’s crops — are dying. These deaths pose serious problems for the global food supply, and The Pollinators delves into some potential solutions for stopping this massive population decline.
9. I am Greta, 2020
The biographical film follows teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg throughout her various climate activism initiatives, from going on strike at school in her native Sweden to addressing the world’s leaders at the World Economic Forum.
10. Cowspiracy, 2014
Created by the producers of Seaspiracy, Cowspiracy delves into the devastating environmental impact of animal factory farming on rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, and ocean “dead zones.” Why this factory farming goes practically unchallenged by the food industry and others is a central theme of the film.
11. 2040, 2019
Filmmaker Damon Gameau traverses the world searching for solutions to climate change that are still possible. The film examines the last 20 years of climate change and documents Gameau’s encounters with innovators, experts, and those working on solutions that could still help reverse the effects of climate change.
12. Planet of the Humans, 2019
Executive produced by Michael Moore, Planet of the Humans asks whether green energy solutions such as wind power and biomass energy are actually useful solutions in the fight against climate change or if we’ve been sold a lie by billionaires and corporations. The film has garnered no lack of controversy for both its subject matter and its approach to tackling the subject.
13. Paris to Pittsburgh, 2018
Amidst all of the devastating facts around climate change, a look at some of the work citizens around the world are doing to create solutions is always welcome. Paris to Pittsburgh does just this, uncovering ways Americans across the country are stepping up to fight climate change.
14. This Changes Everything, 2015
Directed by Avi Lewis and based on Naomi Klein’s book of the same name, This Changes Everything examines communities on the front lines of climate change, including Montana’s Powder River Basin, the Alberta Tar Sands, the coast of South India, Beijing, and more.
15. Generation Green New Deal, 2021
This film documents the work of a youth-led movement currently tackling climate change and proposing massive social and economic reforms. In the filmmakers’ own words, they are “a diverse group of award-winning filmmakers & storytellers with unparalleled behind-the-scenes access to the driving forces behind the greatest political movement in a generation.”
16. Cooked: Survival By Zip Code, 2018
Here, filmmakers tell the story of Chicago’s tragic 1995 heatwave that took more than 700 lives, most of them poor, elderly, and African American. Zeroing in on the realities of social isolation, racism, and economics that are baked into climate change, the film asks the question, Was this a one-time tragedy, or an appalling trend?
17. Ice on Fire, 2019
Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, this film is another look at the solutions still available to us in the fight against climate change. Specifically, it looks at the research behind today’s climate science and the innovations aimed at reducing carbon in the atmosphere.
18. Climate Refugees, 2010
The consequences of climate change are not equally distributed around the world. This film, directed by Michael P. Nash and with contributions from John Kerry, Newt Gingrich, Al Gore, Wangari Maathai and others examines the human consequences of climate change, from overpopulation to a lack of resources.
19. Disobedience, 2016
Disobedience documents what the filmmakers call “a new phase of the climate movement”: the actions being taken by ordinary people around the world as they battle pollution, the fossil fuel industry, and many other facets of environmental devastation.
20. A Plastic Ocean, 2016
Shot in 20 different locations over the course of four years, this film follows explorers Craig Leeson and Tanya Streeter along with a team of international scientists as they try to uncover the causes of plastic pollution in our oceans. Alongside the consequences of plastic waste, the film also examines possible solutions to the problem.
21. Extinction: The Facts, 2020
Sir David Attenborough warns the world about the crisis our planet is in during this film, which examines mass biodiversity loss and the consequences that the world will face as a result. Eventually, he says, biodiversity loss will impact all species on the planet, including humans.
22. The Magnitude of All Things, 2020
Canadian documentary filmmaker Jennifer Abbott connects the death of her sister from cancer to her reactions to climate change, linking them to explore the concept of “environmental grief.”
23. An Inconvenient Sequel, 2017
A follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth, this film follows former Vice President Al Gore as he travels around the world to try and influence international policy on climate change. The film culminates in the signing of the Paris Agreement.
24. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, 2018
The film follows the Anthropocene Working Group, an international body of scientists who argue that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the 20th century. The results, from the closed city of Norilsk to the devastated Great Barrier Reef in Australia are an unsettling look at humans’ impact on the planet.
25. Takeout, 2020
Takeout highlights the disastrous impact of our food choices on the Amazonian rainforests. The film also sheds light on how our 21st-century obsession with convenience, such as immediate delivery, is becoming not just a planetary health issue but a public health one, too.
26. The Age of Stupid, 2009
The docu-drama is set in the year 2055 in a world ravaged by the consequences of climate change. A man watches archival footage from the year 2008 and wonders why we did not stop climate change when we had the chance.
27. Racing Extinction, 2015
This documentary deals with the theme of Anthropocene Extinction, or the idea that human activity is causing a mass extinction on par with the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The film, which received an Emmy nomination, cites overpopulation, globalization, and animal agriculture as the major contributors to this current extinction.
28. Mission Blue, 2014
The film follows Dr. Sylvia Earle, a renowned oceanographer, marine biologist, environmentalist, and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, as she tries protect the ocean from pollution, overfishing and climate change. The film won the 2015 News & Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Editing – Documentary and Long Form.
29. Chasing Coral, 2017
Directed by Jeff Orlowski, who also directed Chasing Ice (see above), this film follows a team of divers, photographers, and scientists as they delve into the reasons the world’s coral reefs are rapidly vanishing. The Netflix-original film was designed to bolster conversation around how to improve efforts around better conserving the world’s disappearing reefs.
30. Before the Flood, 2016
This National Geographic documentary follows actor and climate advocate Leonardo DiCaprio around the world to document the impacts of climate change over a three-year period. The film discusses things like the carbon tax as well as climate change denial by politicians and corporate lobbyists. Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Pope Francis, and John Kelly a few of the films many guest appearances.
31. An Inconvenient Truth, 2006
Former Vice President Al Gore debuted this film more than 15 years ago. Much of its subject matter is as relevant as ever today, from the importance of lowering greenhouse gas emissions to the impacts of climate change on various animal species. The film has been a longtime favorite among climate advocates and has been included in school curriculums around the world.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.