If COP26 has got you thinking about the environment and your role in saving the planet, you wouldn’t be alone. Over the last few days we’ve all been thinking about what governments across the globe will be doing to take action and tackle climate change, but many individuals have too been thinking of ways they can help do their bit at home. 

For those not sure where to start or want to know more about the wider issues going on in the world, we’ve rounded up the eight best environmental documentaries that are vital to watch today, tomorrow and beyond.

Cowspiracy 

Have you started swapping your dairy milk for an oat or almond alternative? How about ditching your dairy chocolate habit? Or, dare we mention your infatuation with mozzarella slathered pizza and creamy burrata salads? Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn’s 2014 documentary film, Cowspiracy, reveals to its audiences the ‘most destructive industry facing the planet today’. 

Throughout 1hour and 30 minute film, the documentary broaches the complicated (and touchy) topic that animal agriculture is the determining factor to many of the environmental issues we as humanity are facing today. From deforestation to water consumption and pollution, it’s filled with hard hitting facts and questions the need of animal agriculture to the extent that it is at right now.

Seaspiracy

Netflix’s documentary film, Seaspiracy helped to shed light on the environmental impact of the fishing industry, while viewers were forced to stare red-faced at the truth behind their seafood dining habits.

Directed and starring British filmmaker, Ali Tabrizi, the film hoped to raise awareness of the impact humans are having on the environment below water level. With graphic shots and outright statements, the film proved a point that there is a deeper issue lying within the fishing industry and that’s a direct result of mankind’s addiction to indulging in seafood. 

The documentary came from the team behind the plant-based documentaries Cowspiracy and What the Health, and raised awareness of the importance of a plant-based diet in order to keep the fish population alive. The documentary outrightly claimed that if we keep up with how we are fishing right now, the oceans will be empty by 2048 – which is just 27 years away. And it’s not just fish we need to worry about, it’s the dissemination of the ocean floor and slavery in the fishing industry, alongside other factors.

For those looking to cut out fish from their diet, follow our guide to the best vegan fish alternatives here.

Gunda

Gunda steers away from the hard hitting facts and simply portrays the daily life of a pig, two cows and a one-legged chicken. The new American-Norwegian documentary is a silent film but manages to create a compelling argument for why it’s important to act now. 

The documentary follows the daily life of a group of farmyard animals. There’s a mother sow, Gunda, who we see trot along, going about her day with her little piglets. We see the litter of piglets grow, feeding off the sow and playing with one another. Alongside the pigs, we also meet two cows and a one-legged chicken. Shots of them running in slow motion greet audiences, while frames of sprawling farmland echo in the background. 

We’re never shown the farmers or any humans at all. It’s solely a story surrounding the animals and their livelihoods, which is refreshing as it offers animals a voice for a change, rather than centering their story around human life. It’s no secret what happens on a farm. Animals are bred to be slaughtered, for the profit of humans. And without giving too much away, as you can imagine, this narrative doesn’t have a happy ending. Gunda makes you empathise with the animals and see life through their eyes, all while with the subtle message of veganism and why we should be rethinking our diets.

Directed by Viktor Kossakovsky and with Joaquin Phoenix as executive producer, Gunda is a vital viewing.

I Am Greta

You know her name, you know her message and now you’ve got a front row seat to learn all about her story.

Greta Thunberg has taken the world by storm with her politically charged environmental activism, and now you can watch all of her dedication and inspiring work come to life in the film, I Am Greta. 

I Am Greta follows the Swedish environmental figure on her global movement on the climate crisis. Directed by Nathan Grossman, it’s our chance to become a fly on the wall in her process, and understand how she became such a powerful political figure of change overnight. 

Throughout watching the documentary film, you’ll see just how dedicated, determined and passionate Thunberg is about environmental issues. Grossman began filming from the instant, before she was famous and instantly recognisable so it’s really interesting to see how much she’s grown and evolved, and a glimpse into her backstory too.

Before the Flood

Before the Flood sees everyone’s favourite celebrity vegan, Leonardo DiCaprio, set out on a journey to uncover the colossal changes occurring around the world due to climate change.  The documentary film, by National Geographic, sees DiCaprio travel to five continents and the Arctic as he speaks with scientists, world leaders, activists and local residents to deepen understanding, as well as educate audiences on the complex issues surrounding the environmental changes taking place right now. 

Produced and directed by Fisher Stevens, alongside DiCaprio also as producer, the film is extremely educational and opens up audiences eyes to the real life problems going on in the time right now, from exploring the world’s largest emitter of carbon (China) to the rapid melting ice in the Arctic Circle.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

For more than six decade David Attenborough has dedicated his career to showing audiences around the world the beauty of the natural world, from following families of penguins in Antarctica to understanding the inner workings of the deep blue sea. 

All of Attenborough’s documentaries can change the way each and everyone one of us sees and treats nature, but no more are as important as the statement expressed in David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet. It acts as a letter to humanity – to the future generation – about the impact our lives have had on the planet and a hope for a longer future.

My Octopus Teacher

Having snatched multiple awards, including the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Documentary, Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher certainly won over the hearts of audiences around the globe. 

The documentary follows filmmaker Craig Foster as he sparks a rather out of the ordinary friendship with an octopus… Documenting his time as a diver in False Bay, South Africa, the feature length documentary journeys through Foster’s experience and the harvesting of this unusual kinship.

Heartwarming and beautiful, it allows audiences to see a closer look into the underworld – and the magical stories that follow.

The Year Earth Changed

The natural world is a wonderful thing but humanity and climate change is harming its beauty. But if there’s one good thing that came from the recent Covid-19 pandemic, it’s the change in mankind’s behaviour. We all slowed down and reduced what we were doing – and as a result, nature thrived. 

Apple TV’s The Year Earth Changed explores the impact of the global lockdown and the stories that came from it, from birdsongs in deserted cities to meeting capybara in the suburbs of South America. It shows these beautiful natural occurrences and paints a picture of what natural life would look like if we continued to make small changes, by reducing cruise traffic, closing beaches a few times a year and learning to live with wildlife more harmoniously.


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