Seven Documentaries About Environmental Issues

Translation: Julie Summers

Do you want nothing more than to curl up under a pile of blankets and watch a movie, but your conscience won’t allow you that sort of indulgence when important projects have piled up? Maybe you just can’t bring yourself to study but also don’t want to waste time on a bunch of nonsense? In that moment, what you need is a documentary, the perfect compromise between laziness and conscientiousness. Documentaries combine entertainment and education and give you the chance to learn about everything under the sun without expending too much effort. Although the vast majority of documentaries are trustworthy, it’s always good to take the information they present with a grain of salt. The Student Paper has compiled a diverse selection of documentaries all related to environmental issues. Documentaries can be extremely powerful, and these seven films are no exception, each one speaking to audiences in its own way.

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The True Cost

Clothing is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about environmental issues, but The True Cost shows that the clothes we wear (or that we buy, but never actually end up wearing) greatly affect the world around us. The film examines the clothing industry, looking at how the clothes we buy have a ripple effect all across the globe. Fast fashion doesn’t just harm the environment in multiple ways; it also affects quality of life for people around the world. This film is a good reminder that our daily consumption habits have more of an effect than we realize.

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Cowspiracy follows environmentalist Kip Andersen as he researches the connection between animal agriculture and the environment. He reveals the sinister environmental effects of animal agriculture and discovers why environmental organizations are reluctant to discuss the destructive power of this industry. This is a particularly thought-provoking film that illuminates an almost unbelievable conspiracy. Although the follow-up What the Health, which explores the health effects of consuming animal products, has been criticized, it contains a great deal of interesting information and it’s also well worth watching as long as you approach it with a critical eye.

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Before the Flood

For many years, actor and filmmaker Leonardo DiCaprio has fought for environmental protections, and since 2014 he has served as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, working tirelessly to direct the world’s attention to the impending environmental disaster facing our planet. In this 2016 National Geographic documentary, DiCaprio travels around the world exploring the grim effects climate change has already brought about, speaking with scientists, politicians, and other experts about the situation, and trying to determine what’s really going on and whether we have any real hope of turning it around.

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Blue Planet II

David Attenborough is a favorite of many. His documentary series about the diversity of natural life the world over have been widely viewed and are extremely popular. Environmentalists were thrilled when Attenborough raised awareness of the dangers facing marine life with his series Blue Planet II (2017). Blue Planet II shows the diversity and beauty of nature and is a great reminder for the public, which doesn’t necessarily have the opportunity to marvel at the wonders of nature in their daily lives, of how much is at stake when it comes to environmental issues. Attenborough’s other productions also reveal nature’s nooks and crannies in all their glory.

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Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

We live in a world in which we’re constantly told that we’ll be happier if we just buy this or that, assured that more consumption equals greater quality of life. In Minimalism, friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus introduce a new way of approaching life: minimalism. Their ideology is rooted in the idea that getting rid of all the junk in our lives allows us to focus on the things that really matter. The excessive consumption of unnecessary things that characterizes life in the Western world has a tremendous impact on the environment, so it’s good to see that owning less can have a positive effect on people’s happiness.


Although Blackfish isn’t exactly about environmental issues, it centers on the equally important topic of animal protection, and it’s easy to make the argument that it belongs on this list. The film explores the entertainment industry’s criminal treatment of killer whales and shows how mankind’s meddling with nature can have serious consequences. As it turns out, killer whales are giant, intelligent predators, and humans will pay the price for mistreating them. It’s enough to make you question what effect we as humans have on other creatures at our mercy. Blackfish is a moving film about magnificent social creatures suffering from the greed of mankind.

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Chasing Coral

Chasing Coral explores the effects of global warming by focusing on the tragic fate of coral reefs. Coral reefs are clear proof that rising temperatures are already affecting marine life. Because they absorb the vast majority of atmospheric heat, the earth’s oceans are warming rapidly. It’s difficult to recognize the gravity of the situation, given that the depths of the ocean are so far away from our everyday lives. But since water is the source of all life on earth, we must consider the health of our oceans. Chasing Coral is a good reminder of that.