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29 must-see ecological documentaries to watch this Earth Month 2024

Watch these powerful ecological documentaries to help educate yourself on our current climate change emergency

It’s vitally important to keep climate change at the top of our agenda and eco documentaries go a long way in doing this. From explorations below sea level to deep dives into the shady industries supplying our food, these climate, nature and eco films promise to educate you on some of the biggest issues facing our planet. Plus, with some big names narrating them, such as Barack Obama and Michael Keaton, there’s plenty of inspiration on hand to help you make that positive change. Here, we round up the best to stream on Earth Day 2024 and beyond.

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Ecological documentaries to watch

Six Inches of Soil

The recently released Six Inches of Soil puts industrial farming under scrutiny, making it one of the most thought-provoking eco documentaries to see right now. It tells the story of three young British farmers who are challenging the norm. Instead of artificial pesticides and fertilisers, giant fields of monoculture crops, intensive use of machinery and fossil fuels (which lead to soil degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change) the trio focus on agroecology – an approach to farming which works in harmony with nature rather than against it. We meet Anna Jackson, a Lincolnshire 11th generation arable and sheep farmer; Adrienne Gordon, a Cambridgeshire small-scale vegetable farmer; and Ben Thomas, who rears pasture fed beef cattle in Cornwall. The documentary follows them as they try to navigate a broken food system and adopt regenerative practices within their farming practices whilst also creating viable businesses.

Available to watch on sixinchesofsoil.org

Food, Inc 2

The eye-opening, Oscar-nominated Food, Inc 2, a sequel to the 2008 film of the same name, takes another deep-dive into the American food industry. It shines a light on the giant, profiteering (often unregulated) corporations who are taking over at an enormous cost to farmers, animals, the workforce, the planet and our health. The eco documentary focuses on ultra-processed food, tackling everything from mistreatment of migrant workers in the food industry to climate change and obesity. We learn about lab-grown meat which, albeit better for the environment in some ways, might not be as healthy as we’d like to believe, and consider whether additives are rewiring consumers’ metabolisms. Just a few of the issues this film, directed by Robert Kenner and Melissa Robledo, seeks to address.

Available on Amazon

The Biggest Little Farm

In The Biggest Little Farm, filmmaker John Chester and his wife Molly leave behind their busy lives in Los Angeles to revitalise a 200-acre barren plot of land, 40 miles north of the city, and turn it into a self-sustaining farm. This environmental documentary follows their eight-year journey as they establish Apricot Lane Farms, a traditional food farm, seeking to “harvest in harmony with nature”. We follow the ups and the downs as the couple establish Biodynamic Certified avocado and lemon orchards, a vegetable garden, pastures and over 75 varieties of stone fruits, as well as as look after their pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, guinea hens, horses, highland cattle, and one brown Swiss dairy cow named Maggie. All the while trying to create a well-balanced ecosystem, and treating the environment and the animals with the respect they deserve. 

Available on Amazon

Wings Over Water

The rivers, lakes and wetlands of North America aren’t just majestic in their beauty, they’re also a vital lifeline for wildlife, from the herds of bison roaming the Great Plains to the bees that pollinate crops. Wings Over Water, which has won multiple awards, gives a bird’s eye view of the millions of magnificent birds that migrate along these “flyways”. It follows the epic journeys of three bird families in particular – the Sandhill Crane, the Yellow Warbler and the Mallard Duck. Narrated by actor Michael Keaton, who is an avid outdoorsman and passionate about wetlands conservation, and beautifully filmed in 3D high definition by Andrew Young, this is one of the most stunning eco documentaries you’re likely to see. But it also has a serious message, underlining the environmental dangers to the continued existence of the Prairie Pothole region that is so crucial to the future of migratory birds in North America. 

wingsoverwaterfilm.com

Fashion Reimagined

Amy Powney – creative director of luxury London-based sustainable womenswear label Mother of Pearl – has forever been passionate about the future of our planet. This Becky Hutner-directed documentary charts Amy’s remarkable story as she sets about creating a sustainable fashion collection from field and farm to finished garment. The film begins in 2017, with Amy winning the BFC/Vogue award for Best Young Designer and the cash prize that comes with it. She decides to use the money to make an organic, traceable No Frills line of clothing that is socially and environmentally responsible. As we follow her three-year journey to create and launch the collection, along with her sidekick and brand manager Chloe, we’re taken from the MOP studio in Mile End to Uruguay, Peru, Turkey, Austria and Paris, meeting sheep farmers, cotton pickers, factory owners and fashion buyers along the way. A beautifully put together insight into sustainability in fashion. 

Available on Sky Documentaries and NOW

Plastic Earth

Single-use plastic is a disaster for the environment on multiple levels – plastic production from fossil-based sources contributes to climate change, pollution and, of course, threatens so many of the planet’s species (marine life alone are harmed through entanglement and injury to ingestion and toxic contamination). However, this 100-minute documentary – written and directed by Janice Overbeck and Jack Winch, and presented by Rob Riggle – doesn’t just shine a light on the plastic crisis that our precious world is facing. It’s an intelligent, thought-provoking insight into the solutions and technologies currently being developed to combat – and hopefully solve – the disaster. Through interviews with scientists, engineers, researchers and pioneers, we meet the heroes trying to solve the planet’s plastic problem and learn all about the measures being taken to get this gargantuan issue under control.

Available on Apple TV

Polar Bear

This is the 16th nature documentary to be released under the Disneynature label. Narrated by Oscar nominee Catherine Keener and directed by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, the family-friendly film tells the story of a mother polar bear and her two cubs as they try to navigate the increasingly challenging world that polar bears face today. It flashes between when she was a cub travelling with her mother to being a mother herself, accentuating the multiple changes brought on by the climate crisis. And so you see their struggle to find food (at one point they’re forced to eat seaweed to quell their hunger), the melting ice, the desolation… Beautifully filmed and produced, it’s a poignant environmental lesson.

Available on Disney+

Our Great National Parks

Former U.S. president Barack Obama provides the narration for this incredible five-part docuseries spotlighting some of the world’s most iconic national parks, including Monterey Bay in California, Tsavo National Park in Kenya and Chilean Patagonia. Each episode tells the story of a different park through its wild residents, and explores our changing relationship with the landscape in question to help us better understand how to preserve it for future generations. While in office, Obama protected more public lands and waters than any other president in American history, so his smooth tones make for an apt accompaniment to this visually arresting series.

Available on Netflix

Seaspiracy

Kip Anderson, the maker of the hit documentary Cowspiracy that inspired a generation of vegans, returns with his examination of the dark secrets of the fishing industry. Joined by co-directors Ali and Lucy Tabrizi, the trio sets out to investigate and document the harm that humans are inflicting on marine life. In the process, they uncover a shocking level of corruption through the fishing industry and even some environmental groups, which is resulting in the alarming destructions of oceans around the world. The documentary is sure to inspire a number of viewers to rethink their seafood consumption.

Available on Netflix

I am Greta

Internationally acclaimed climate change activist Greta Thunberg is in the spotlight in this impressive documentary from director Nathan Grossman. Chronicling the life of the teenage activist, the documentary provides a behind-the-scenes look at the life of the dedicated campaigner, exploring how she became the voice of her generation. Tracing her journey from protesting outside the Swedish Parliament to giving her groundbreaking speech at the United Nations in 2019, following her transatlantic carbon-neutral boat crossing from Europe, it’s a timely reminder of her contributions to the climate change movement.

Available on BBC iPlayer

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

The beloved natural historian and documentary narrator returns with this moving and important work that Attenborough describes as his ‘witness statement,’  through which he shares his concern for the current state of the planet and his hopes for the future. The series weaves in Attenborough’s extensive career in nature conservation and observation, through which he is able to demonstrate how much he has observed the planet change due to human-inflicted damage. The documentary shares alarming predictions for the future of the planet if humans refuse to change their behaviour, but also offers inspiring and urgent solutions to save our future.

Available on Netflix

Kiss The Ground

This powerful documentary explores the important issue of soil regeneration and its place as a compelling and effective strategy to manage our planet’s climate crisis. Exploring what it describes as ‘the first viable solution to the problem’, Kiss The Ground looks at how to turn deserts back into lush ecosystems while reversing climate change. Featuring scientists and celebrity activists, such as Ian Somerhalder, Gisele Bündchen and Patricia and David Arquette, the end result is a playbook for the urgent restoration of Planet Earth.

Available on Netflix

Before The Flood

In this sincere documentary, Leonardo DiCaprio proves his commitment to the cause by travelling around the world to witness first hand the environmental degradation that has led to global warming. As well as taking a deep-dive into our fossil fuel addiction, and asking questions around the ethics of forcing growing economies like India to give them up, Before The Flood also offers a helpful look at what can be done to help solve the climate crisis. The concluding walk-and-talk interview with then President Obama is also fascinating.

Available on YouTube

Chasing Coral

This documentary from the director of Chasing Ice is all about our disappearing coral reefs and the devastating impact that will have on our oceans. In it, a team of divers, photographers and scientists document the effects of climate change underwater, where greenhouse gases have been trapped causing a fatal two-degree increase in temperature. Today, much of our seabeds have been turned into an aquatic graveyard, where our vibrantly coloured corals have been bleached into a deathly white. A truly poignant film.

Available on Netflix

This Changes Everything

Inspired by Naomi Klein’s international non-fiction bestseller of the same name, this documentary presents seven portraits of communities on the front line of the climate emergency, from Montana’s Powder River Basic to the south coast of India. These stories are interspersed with narration from Klein herself, who examines the capitalist economic motivations causing these situations. When put together side by side, they beg the question: can confronting the climate crisis can also provide the opportunity to build a better world?

Available on YouTube

Rotten

This investigative series delves into the corruption within the global food industry, revealing the unsavoury truths and environmental impact of what we eat. The latest season focuses on six new topics, from the bottled water industry to the growing demand for cannabis edibles. But the stand out episode from the season is The Avocado War, a look at how millennial demand for the fruit led producers to source it from Michoacán, Mexico, where the trade is tied up with violence from the local cartels.

Available on Netflix

A Plastic Ocean

This documentary started off as mission to film the blue whale, the largest creature on the planet, but soon turned into an investigation into plastic pollution after journalist Craig Leeson discovered thick layer of plastic debris floating in the Indian Ocean. Alongside world record-breaking free driver Tanya Streeter, he travels the globe to report on the havoc caused by humans mass producing plastic since the 1950s. There’s now an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans – but this documentary offers important solutions to help change that.

Available on Netflix

Cowspiracy

The documentary which inspired a legion of vegans, Cowspiracy looks at the impact of animal agriculture and the way it influences environmental destruction through global warming, water wastage and deforestation. It’s a controversial watch, mainly because of the fact that in recent years, some of its assertions have been disproved, (such as its claim that 51% of all greenhouse gases are produced by the industry), but it’s well worth watching for the valid question it raises over whether we really need to be eating so much meat.

Available on Amazon Prime Video

The True Cost

Pulling back the curtain on the fashion industry, The True Cost explores the story of the clothes we wear, the people who make them and the impact they have on our world. As the price of our garments continues to drop year on year, the environmental impact has risen just as steeply. This powerful documentary asks, who pays the price for our clothing? Travelling between the world’s vibrant catwalks to its darkest slums, and punctuated by appearances from environmental influencers such as Stella McCartney, Livia Firth, Vandana Shiva, The True Cost is eye-opening viewing. 

Available on Amazon Prime Video

2040

While most environmental documentaries tend to dwell on the problems climate change causes, 2040 takes a different tact. In it, award-winning director Damon Gameau refreshingly puts the focus on the solutions already available to us to help heal the planet. Structured like a visual letter to his four-year-old daughter, whose interests he aims to protect, Gameau cleverly blends documentary footage about current technological innovations with dramatized sequences of his vision for the future in order to get his message across.

Available on iTunes

Artifishal

While many environmentalists have focussed on the negative consequences the meat industry has on the planet, the impact of following a pescatarian diet has often been overlooked. Artifishal aims to remedy that by investigating the global fisheries industry and how our taste for seafood is devastating wildlife. Focussing on wild salmon’s slide towards extinction, this documentary looks at how humans are on a path to not only endangering these fish but also themselves. Expect a film as much about humanity as conservation.

Watch it on YouTube

The Ivory Game

Exploring the corrupt global network of ivory trafficking, The Ivory Game sees undercover filmmakers infiltrate this murky world to reveal the unseen truth. Because while many countries have banned its import and trade for conservation reasons, ivory is still seen as a status symbol today in China. This has had a devastating impact on the African elephant population, which has been driven to the verge of extinction by poachers and dealers looking to profit from tusks. Now, conservationists estimate we have just 15 years left to save the species. This heart-breaking documentary is on a mission to help.

Available on Netflix

Our Planet

This multi-million dollar, Emmy award-winning docu-series is Netflix’s first foray into nature programming, but it’s undoubtedly a successful one. Filmed by more than 600 crew members over four years in 50 countries, it’s narrated by none other than David Attenborough – the man we’ve all come to associate with breath-taking BBC shows like Blue Planet. The difference this time is that unlike its BBC counterparts, Our Planet doesn’t shy away from the threats facing the flora and fauna it portrays, but instead chooses to shine a light on the climate emergency.

Available on Netflix

RiverBlue

Setting out on a three-year journey exploring the true level of destruction to our rivers, Canadian conservationist and international river advocate Mark Angel takes a hard look at the impact of pollution from the textile industry in this award-winning documentary. The main issue being explored here is ‘hydrocide’ – the process in which toxic chemical are dumped into our waterways by the fashion sector, killing off its inhabitants and destroying the lives of the people who live around them. Turns out, the blue colour of the affected rivers isn’t natural…

Available on vimeo

Endgame 2050

Moby teams up with environmental experts to imagine what the future might look like if we don’t change our habits in this new feature-length documentary. It offers a fictional look at three decades into the future when we are experiencing the sixth mass extinction – the only one in history to be caused by humans rather than nature. In 2050, our oceans are empty, methane gas explosions are common and our food supplies are running out, causing civil unrest across the planet. The message is simple, without a healthy, happy planet, we can’t have a healthy, happy human race, so something needs to change. Urgently.

Available on YouTube

Virunga

The Oscar and BAFTA-nominated documentary is a gripping tale of a small team of park rangers in the eastern Congo’s Virunga National Park, fighting to protect the UNESCO world heritage site from numerous threats. Made up of an ex-child soldier turned ranger, a caretaker of orphan gorillas and a dedicated conservationist, the park rangers are the only line of defence against armed militia, poachers and those looking to exploit the park’s natural resources. The documentary takes a shocking turn when a rebel group declares war, and the filmmakers and participants are caught in the crossfire of a new conflict. Directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, it’s a powerful investigative piece looking at the challenges of protecting an important ecological site. 

Available on Netflix

My Octopus Teacher

This fascinating documentary follows filmmaker Craig Foster in his pursuit of forging a relationship with a wild common octopus in a South African kelp forest. Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the film traces Foster’s experience meeting the curious octopus and developing a bond over the course of the year. The incredible friendship results in the octopus allowing Foster to follow her around for nearly a year, during which time we see, through Foster’s lens, the octopus defending herself against pyjama sharks, fighting to survive and to produce a new generation of octopuses.

Available on Netflix

An Inconvenient Truth

The original documentary credited with raising public awareness of the very real dangers of climate change, An Inconvenient Truth is an Oscar-winning film about former United States Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate people about global warming. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, the film is based on a talk that Gore was giving around the country at the time on the issue, and even includes the slide show that he used at these presentations, demonstrating the damage caused by greenhouse gases. Rooted in scientific opinion on climate change, the documentary has even been incorporated into science curriculums in schools around the world.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime

Sea of Shadows 

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and created by the makers of The Ivory Game, this cinematic thriller of a documentary sees undercover journalists, environmentalists, scientists and investigators team up with the Mexican navy in a last-ditch attempt to protect the vaquita porpoises – the most elusive and endangered whale species on Earth. Under threat from an international crime syndicate comprising Mexican drug cartels and Chinese traffickers poaching in their native Gulf of California, the vaquitas provide a captivating basis for this suspenseful pursuit of justice.

Available on YouTube

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