6 of the Best Nature Documentaries To Watch for Earth Day 2022 & Beyond
These won't make you feel cozy after, but will instill enough hope that can turn to action.
April 22 is Earth Day, meaning it’s a day to reflect on how we can be better stewards of this shared space rock and push politicians to move their behinds on meaningful climate change initiatives. One of the best ways to approach this is by looking at how humans interact with other elements of the natural world. When we talk about nature, this is usually regarding plants, animals, and the landscape (including the atmosphere and ocean floor). That’s going to be the focus of this list.
While reading a book, official report, or article may work for some, many of us are visual and auditory learners. We need to see the discoloration of water sources and hear from those (when possible) who are at the front lines of environmental justice. That makes documentaries a great way to tackle the difficult (and somehow still polarizing) topic. Here are six documentaries released in the last few years that you should check on this Earth Day and beyond.
The Year Earth Changed (2021)
The Year Earth Changed looks at the way the natural world reacted during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. From cities at a standstill to less shipping traffic, just because we didn’t move doesn’t mean the world stopped turning. This plague was the closest we can get to a global imagining of “What if we all left?” as pondered by many speculative fiction writers. Narrated by naturalist David Attenborough, The Year Earth Changed is one of many environmental documentaries he’s participated in. Since he is a part of so many, I’ve kept him limited to two spots on this list.
You can watch this one on Apple TV+.
Public Trust: The Fight for America’s Public Lands (2020)
While not the most innovative of formats (following a very similar structure to half of these), this documentary can serve as a good primer on the fight for public lands. Before you skip this one just because you may not be interested in public lands, know that all lands can become public by eminent domain power. (Yes, they talk about mineral rights.) Also, like the fight against climate change, the battle for public lands is heavily intertwined with class and racial justice issues.
This documentary is free on the Patagonia YouTube channel, or you can rent it online.
There’s Something in the Water (2019)
Many of these documentaries look at climate change more globally. While an inhospitable Earth will affect everyone eventually, those most marginalized (including those in developing countries) have always been and will continue to be the first to face the effects of poor environmental stewardship and extreme weather. Directed by Elliot Page and Ian Daniel, There’s Something in the Water looks at how environmental racism has affected Black and Indigenous women in Nova Scotia, Canada.
You can watch this on Netflix or rent it online.
Ice on Fire (2019)
Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, George DiCaprio, and Mathew Schmid and directed by Lelia Connors, this documentary looks at some of the possible solutions for addressing climate change. Ice on Fire serves as an excellent climate change 101 documentary if you don’t know where to start and have never watched anything past Al Gore’s 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth.
You can watch this on HBO Max or rent it online.
Cooked: Survival by Zip Code (2019)
Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand (with the help of PBS’s Independent Lens) looks at the politics after climate disaster by following the events leading up to and after the deadly 1995 Chicago heat wave that killed over 700 (mostly Black, poor, and elderly) residents. Cooked is very different from the others because it looks at who the public values and deems worthy of saving and help. Think about the response and coverage of Hurricane Katrina versus Hurricane Harvey. This aspect of climate change inquiry is essential to learn to deconstruct the ways news will be presented in the upcoming, more frequent disasters.
You can watch this on OVID or rent it online.
Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet (2020)
David Attenborough and scientist John Rockström look at the effects of climate change on Earth’s biodiversity and explore how this current crisis could be slowed, if not outright stopped. Like Ice on Fire, this documentary is a good entry point, but features more important conversations than excellent 4K footage. That sounds like shade, but they both made this list for a reason and can help activate more people into seeing this issue as the existential threat it is.
You can watch this on Netflix. There’s also a 10-minute preview on the Still Watching Netflix YouTube channel.
(image: Disney Studios)
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