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5 Great Documentaries About Sustainability You Can Watch Now

Documentaries about sustainable practices are really terrific. They can provide a compelling insight into the current issues that hinder sustainability, and opportunities to address them. They do so in an easy to digest format that every person – whether a rookie or veteran when it comes to sustainable practices – can watch, find entertaining, and informative.

Once upon a time, a brilliant documentary may make a splash in its country of origin only to find its release elsewhere – if it indeed gets a release elsewhere – would only occur months (or even years!) later, and be underwhelming in terms of its overall cultural impact as a result. Now it’s a totally different playing field. It’s held as of 2021 Netflix alone had over 200 million subscribers globally. Today there’s the potential for streaming services like Netflix and others to release content all across the globe simultaneously, and accordingly initiate a truly global conversation.

So let’s look now at 5 great docos about sustainability you can watch today. 

1. Catching the Sun


Where to watch: Vimeo

Catching the Sun from Shalini Kantayya on Vimeo.

There’s no better place to begin a binge of sustainability documentaries than with this one on solar power. It makes the case that going green doesn’t just have benefits for the environment – though important those benefits of course are! – but also for our communities as a whole. This documentary argues when it’s done right the shift to renewable energy can help grow jobs, drive down poverty, and provide an array of other benefits.

For any solar enthusiast, the transformative power and potential of the industry are likely to be well-known already. But the nifty thing about this doco is how it packages this powerful but multi-layered message into just 75 minutes all up. While given its release in 2015 it’s a few years old now, it nonetheless very much remains a do-watch for its insight into how we can build a better future across many areas of the community with solar as a cornerstone.

2. A Life on Our Planet


Where to watch: Netflix

As the reigning king of the nature documentary genre, any time David Attenborough releases another contribution to his catalogue people sit up and take notice. And A Life on Our Planet is most certainly one worth paying attention to. Particularly as it serves in part as a biography of Attenborough’s incredible life, as well as a “witness statement” on the negative ecological changes he’s seen across Earth during his lifetime. 

In looking ahead, this film also provides a confronting forecast of the consequences that await in the remaining decades of the 21st century if human beings don’t make a decisive shift to more sustainable living. But far from being an exercise in defeatism, this documentary also offers hope. Showing how positive actions taken today – such as the adoption of solar and other sustainable practices – can help change our course, and get us on the right track.

3. The Year the Earth Changed


Where to Watch: AppleTV+

This next Attenborough-led documentary is an insightful illustration of the human-made challenges for our environment today. It may become the most impactful production the 95-year-old Briton has ever made. For many years some sceptics who cast doubt on the science showing modern human activity was a driver of climate change were able to argue we didn’t have a sample of how the modern world would function if human activity was reduced, and so it was (according to this line of thinking) impossible to contrast and compare the environmental impact properly. Then the pandemic hit, and modern life was put on pause.

People of course have a right to their own view. But the old adage ‘you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts’ rings true here. This production illustrates powerfully how lockdowns saw a reduction in polluting activity by humans, and this resulted in profoundly beneficial results for the environment. And as a very user-friendly film that’s beautifully put together, it’s sure to be enjoyed by all while getting the message across that by adopting more sustainable practices going forward, we can create a brighter future for the environment around us.

4. The Long Way Up


Where to watch: AppleTV+

Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman are two actors who adore being on motorbikes every chance they get. In the third edition of their Long Way series, they set about embarking on a two-wheeled ride from the bottom of South America up to Los Angeles. This time though, they want to do it on electric motorbikes.

This adds an extra challenge to the duo’s – and their support crew’s – journey as they’re forced to wrestle with issues like a lack of adequate charging facilities, extreme cold that hinders charging, and other issues that arise when utilising brand new bike technology on some of the world’s most remote roads. But McGreggor, Boorman and Co evidence the trials and tribulations of the adventure in a clear-cut but fun way, and do so while showcasing the beauty and vibrancy of the Americas.

5. A Plastic Ocean


Where to watch: Netflix

Millions of Australians instinctively feel a special connection with the ocean. Whether it’s childhood memories of summer spent at tranquil bay beaches, a weekend session at the local surf spot, or even an interstate road trip to an iconic strip of sand like Bells, Bondi, or Cottesloe Beach. That’s part of what makes this documentary by Australian journalist Craig Leeson in partnership with Cayman-born freediver Tanya Streeter so compelling.

It details in a direct and evocative way the harm being caused in oceans daily as a result of pollution. But this film is not simply an exercise in lament. Instead, while it does indeed call out the issues plainly, it also offers solutions. A terrific doco that evidences powerfully the harm of unsustainable practices in the ocean that most of us may not see every day, but all of us have a stake in addressing. 

One Small Step and Show at a Time

Driving positive change and growing sustainability isn’t easy – but by many measures, it’s not that hard either. When considering the issue initially, many people imagine combating climate change and adopting more eco-friendly practices will require grand changes. There’s no question some big moves are necessary in this space – and key stakeholders like governments should be challenged and held accountable in doing (or not doing) their part – but small steps by everyday people and groups really add up too.

For this reason, sitting down on the couch tonight for a watch of one of these shows can be a great move. Even better if you do so with others in your home, or share a link with family and friends elsewhere. Yes, resolving to install a solar system in the months ahead or getting an electric ride for your next motorbike won’t change the whole world overnight, but it’ll mean you’re taking a small but significant step in making the world more sustainable. That’s all the more reason to grab some popcorn and get stuck into watching one of the fantastic documentaries.

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