6 Must-See Movies About Climate Change
Truly great films about the climate crisis are tough to come by. Allusions to environmental destruction are very familiar in the futuristic dystopias Hollywood churns out like clockwork, but they rarely get the science right—or they abandon it entirely in favor of skipping straight to some post-apocalyptic CGI extravaganza.
Those of us with a little knowledge of the climate crisis bristle at this kind of doom-and-gloom bombast—because we know better. But that doesn't mean a few thoughtful films haven't been able to cut through the noise.
Below are six of our favorites. We decided to spice it up by mixing narrative films with documentaries—and while our changing climate understandably casts a long, dark shadow over any future that wrestles with its impacts, we did our best to stay on the right side of the fine line between raucous, factually dubious calamity and thought-provoking "what if" explorations or science-centered spectacle.
Director Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is that rarest of Hollywood anomalies—a wildly complicated, lavishly expensive, wholly original mainstream blockbuster. It doesn't exist in the Marvel or DC cinematic universes; instead, it occupies a not-so-distant-future version of our very own—and things aren't exactly going great.
While the words "climate change" are never explicitly said in the film, the impacts of the crisis are writ large, driving a plot about an attempt to flee a near-future Earth reeling from drastically changing weather patterns and global food shortages for the safety of a new habitable planet.
Featuring one of the most stacked casts in recent memory, including Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and Ellen Burstyn and nominees Jessica Chastain, Timothée Chalamet and John Lithgow, Interstellar takes on a very real consequence of climate inaction, though it offers up an untenable solution.
After all, there's still no Planet B.
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Living in a Louisiana bayou community called "the Bathtub," six-year-old Hush Puppy (youngest-ever Best Actress Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis) can't get the prehistoric aurochs her teacher tells her will be released from melting ice caps off her mind—even as the world in front of her crumbles and cowers, the victim of powerful storms, failing levees and familial health problems.
While the film's setting is technically fictional, it was inspired by several very real fishing villages in Southern Louisiana's Terrebonne Parish. These small, isolated wetland communities are threatened by climate-driven erosion, extreme weather and rising sea levels. Most notable among them is the rapidly disappearing Isle de Jean Charles, former home of "the first American climate refugees."
3. Chasing Coral
That coral reefs are existentially threatened by the climate crisis is a truth near-universally acknowledged. But filmmaker Jeff Orlowski doesn't simply telegraph a report on this impending ecological catastrophe.
Instead, Orlowski infuses his film with such empathy and ardor for our world's oceans and their vibrant ecosystems—as well as those working hard to save what's left—that it's impossible to not walk away pumped up and ready to join the fight.
Like we already mentioned, we try to avoid cynical, despondent hot takes on the climate crisis. But we're fans of director Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer for two big reasons: First, it's a very, very good, wildly underseen film, and second, because it confronts head-on the dangers of a "we'll deal with this later" approach to climate action.
The film is set in a future where a failed geoengineering experiment to counteract climate change plunges the planet into a new ice age, killing all life except for those lucky enough (a phrase we're using loosely here) to have boarded the titular train. This train now circles the globe on a constant loop and a tyrannical class system has taken hold onboard.
It's an important cautionary tale: While we should investigate any and all scientific developments to stop the climate crisis, dangerous gambles like geoengineering—or for that matter, fleeing our planet for an imagined oasis somewhere deep in the universe—could come with unintended consequences. So, why risk it when we know for sure that quickly transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables can and will work?
There's even an important philosophical principle – one at work in another great, underappreciated sci-fi film, 1997's Contact—to back this one up. Attributed to fourteenth century logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham, Ockham's Razor states … well, Jodie Foster's Dr. Ellie Arroway put it best: "All things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the right one."
Note: For all its incredible imagination, Snowpiercer definitely has some moments of real violence and isn't one for younger audiences.
5. An Inconvenient Truth / An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Now, of course, the film that started a movement—and the follow-up that propelled it to new heights.
After seeing former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, people worldwide finally understood the reality of the climate crisis devastating our planet. For many, it was the moment they knew they personally had to do something about it. The film's impact continues to be felt more than a decade after it won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary and took its place among the highest-grossing documentaries ever.
Last year's follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, took that story further, showcasing both the amazing progress that's been made as well as how much further we still have to go to solve the climate crisis.
Both documentaries present the science and stakes of the crisis and ask viewers if they're ready to fight like our world depends on it (because it does).
Are You Ready to Fight?
Just like you saw others do in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, you too can work with Vice President Gore himself along with a host of field-leading experts and activists to learn the facts of the climate crisis and how we can solve it together. Apply today to attend our Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Los Angeles, California, from August 28-30, and join an incredible network of dedicated activists devoted to solving the greatest challenge of our time.
You know our climate is changing. You know renewable energy is the answer. And you want to make a difference. We'll show you how.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.