5 Powerful Documentaries To Stream About Climate Change (& 5 TV Shows)

Many stories, especially nonfiction narratives, have the ability to empower and educate. Particularly in the realm of climate change, documentary films and series employ the visual elements of experience to create a more immersive story that makes the environment feel more personal, as the camera captures its simultaneous beauty and ultimate destruction. 

There have been a growing amount of nature documentaries available on streaming platforms, sparking an interest in the climate, especially when many pockets of greenery and wildlife are becoming absent from urban life. These are some of the best.

This 2017 Netflix documentary shows the disturbing truth of the coral reefs that are quietly dying all around the world. The film offers an insightful look at the integral role coral reefs play in the oceanic ecosystem and how a rapidly warming planet has led to a mass bleaching of large amounts of these coral. 

A team of divers and photographers capture on film the bleaching process that has turned healthy coral reefs into colorless skeletons of the sea. This documentary won the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and director Jeff Orlowski previously worked on a documentary with a similar concept called Chasing Ice (2012). The documentary is available to stream on Netflix and on YouTube.

This is a fun, more surface-level look at climate change and policy being undertaken in the international community. The show brings together an unlikely team of actor Zac Efron and wellness author Darin Olien, and over the span of eight episodes, the pair visits places like Sardinia, London, and Puerto Rico, where they learn about a variety of civil projects addressing climate change. 

For instance, in the Paris episode, Efron and Olien learn about the French tap water system and how the city erected vending machines dispensing reusable water bottles to discourage single-use bottles. In Puerto Rico, they talk to locals about the effects of Hurricane Maria and how tropical areas are one of the hardest hit (and first targets) of drastic climate events.

As the name suggests, this 2016 documentary examines the problem of single-use plastics littered into the ocean, killing the wildlife in it. There are searing images in the film of masses of plastic bottles and wrappers floating throughout the oceans, mounds of plastic that will never decompose and will trap fish, and seals that aren’t built to fight these man-made obstacles.

The documentary takes a deep dive into how non-degradable plastics have harmed and killed sea life, as well as how growing piles of plastic garbage have become the norm for coastal habitats to build on top of. The film exhibits the truth of a world made of plastic and ends with a powerful call to action.

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