David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet Plus Other Documentaries to Motivate you for Climate Action

Inspired by the recent release of a feature documentary, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet we’ve put together a list of great educational films that look at different aspects of climate change and consequences it brings to the world - from dying coral reefs and rising sea levels through decreasing biodiversity and desertification to climate refugees. Impacting every aspect of our life and every species including us, humans, climate change requires multifaceted approach in order to be tackled. Suggested documentaries describe the devastating state of our planet caused by human activities but have a simple message - there is still hope if we start acting now.


#1. DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: A LIFE ON OUR PLANET, 2020 (available on NETFLIX):

About: A Life On Our Planet is a a truly remarkable story of global decline in a single lifetime. In this moving documentary a famed naturalist Sir David Attenborough offers his witness statement on how the world changed during his own lifetime - lost biodiversity and habitats, melting ice caps in the Arctic, dying coral reefs and cleared rainforests to name just a few of the devastating impacts of climate change and human activities. The documentary offers not just an overview of the changes that took place in the last century but a sneak peak into the nearest future that awaits all of the humanity if we continue to treat our planet as if it’s an infinite resource.

Key highlights:

“We’ve cut down three trillion trees. Half of the world’s rainforests have already been cleared.”

“If we do things that are unsustainable the damage accumulate ultimately to a point where the whole ecosystem collapses. No ecosystem, no matter how big, is secure.”

“Summer sea ice in the Arctic has reduced by 40% in 40 years…Without the white ice cap, less of the sun’s energy is reflected back out to space. And the speed of global warming increases.”

“We have over-fished 30% of fish stocks to critical levels.”

“We cut down over 15 billion trees each year.”

“We account for over one-third of the weight of mammals on earth. A further 60% are the animals we raise to eat. The rest, from mice to whales, make up just 4%.”

Overview for 2030 if business as usual continues: “The Amazon Rainforest, cut down until it can no longer produce enough moisture, degrades into a dry savannah, bringing catastrophic species loss and altering the global water cycle. At the same time, the Arctic becomes ice-free in the summer.”

Overview for 2040 if business as usual continues: “Throughout the north, frozen soils thaw, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide, accelerating the rate of climate change dramatically.”

Overview for 2050 if business as usual continues: “As the ocean continues to heat and becomes more acidic, coral reefs around the world die. Fish populations crash.”

Overview for 2080 if business as usual continues: “Global food production enters a crisis as soils become exhausted by overuse. Pollinating insects disappear. And the weather is more and more unpredictable.”

Overview for 2100 if business as usual continues: “Our planet becomes 4 degrees Celsius warmer. Large parts of the earth are uninhabitable. Millions of people rendered homeless. A sixth mass extinction is well underway.”

#2. KISS THE GROUND, 2020 (available on NETFLIX):

About: Recently released Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground, narrated by Woody Harrelson and featuring such celebrities as Jason Mraz, Gisele Bündchen, Tom Brady and Patricia Arquette is an optimistic outlook on how soil could reverse climate change, recover lost ecosystems and resolve world’s food insecurity problem. Kiss the Ground offers an action plan for both individuals and an industry. Things that can be done on an individual level include composting food scraps and eating a more plant-based diet. But in order to succeed there needs to be a massive scale switch from the current agricultural industry standards with its additives, pesticides and tilling practices to regenerative agriculture that would heal soil, plants, water and air.

Key highlights:

About two-thirds of the world is desertifying.”

“By 2050, it is estimated that 1 billion people will be refugees of soil desertification.”

“According to the United Nations the world’s remaining topsoil will be gone within 60 years.”

“All our soils that are under conventional agriculture are almost completely devoid of microorganisms. Spraying microbes with toxic chemicals kills the very microbes we need to give us health, and pull carbon from the atmosphere. The more tilling is done, the weaker the soil gets, and the more farmers feel compelled to use chemical sprays.”

“The solution I am talking about is right under our feet. Soil. Due to its vast scale, and its ability to sequester immense quantities of greenhouse gas, it could just be the one thing that can balance our climate, replenish our fresh water supplies, and feed the world.”

#3. CHASING CORAL, 2017 (available on NETFLIX)

About: This award-winning documentary is a must see if you are trying to understand the connections between coral reefs and climate change. The film was brought to life by a dedicated team of divers, marine scientists and photographers with a support of volunteers from 30 countries reporting on coral bleaching events.

Key highlights:

“We have half a billion to a billion people that rely on coral reefs as their main source of food.”

“In the last 30 years, we have lost 50% of the world’s corals.”

“25% of all marine life relies on coral reefs.”

“Many of the new drugs that are coming to help humans come from the sea. There is a drug called prostaglandin that comes from sea fans and that fights cancer, there is another one called bryostatin that comes from coral rhizomes, and it fights cancer, too.”

“Coral reefs produce breakwater that is protecting us from big waves, cyclones.”

“93% of heat trapped is going into the ocean.”

“Based on current trends, within the next 30 years annual bleaching will kill most of the world’s corals.”

#4. MISSION BLUE, 2014 (available on NETFLIX)

About: Mission Blue is a documentary featuring legendary marine biologist, environmentalist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle, and her campaign to protect the ocean. During her narrative Dr. Earle reveals all the reasons why our oceans are slowly dying including dumping waste such as plastic directly into oceans, nuclear test blasts, oil spills and development projects on a massive scale. As a solution to save the ocean Sylvia Earle suggests establishing a global network of marine protected areas. Mission Blue won 2015 News & Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Editing - Documentary and Long Form.

Key highlights:

“60 years ago when I began exploring the ocean, no one imagined that we could do anything to harm it. It seemed at that time to be a sea of Eden. But now, we are facing paradise lost.”

“When I was a child living in Florida, there was only one offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Today, there are more than 33,000 drill sites. All of us, we are beneficiaries of having burned through fossil fuels. Coal, gas, oil. But at what cost?”

“No ocean, no life. No ocean, no us.”

#5. SMOKE AND FUMES: THE CLIMATE CHANGE COVER-UP, 2017 (available on AMAZON PRIME)

About: In this investigative documentary you will learn about lies and tactics used by the oil industry since 1957 in their attempts to deny climate change. You will see how fossil fuel giants have been deceiving the public through funding and impacting the results of scientific studies, launching false media reports and using other misleading strategies.

Key highlights:

“The oil companies have been secretly funding research into climate change for 60 years.”

“We are robbing our children, and that’s wrong. We are doing it in the name of money.”

“Oil companies were adapting to climate change while publicly denying its existence.”

“This Alaskan oil rig was built for thinner ice sheets. The Trans Alaska pipeline was designed for permafrost melt. Oil platforms in the Golf of Mexico were reinforced to withstand stronger storms. During the 1990s oil facilities in eastern Canada were designed to sit higher in anticipation of rising sea levels. In 1989, the C Troll platform in Norway was also built 2 meters higher. And a gas pipeline between Germany and Norway was strengthened. These measures cost billions and they are an indication that oil companies were planning ahead for a changing climate at a time when publicly funded research was only just to beginning to understand the causes and effects.”

“Around 1/3 of the members of the US congress are climate change deniers.”

“What makes it the biggest scandal that I can imagine is it didn’t happen only in the U.S. The reason that smoke and fumes points to a scandal of massive scale is because literally everyone on the planet is affected by it and everyone in future generations for a hundred years to come and potentially even more is affected by it. The scale of it in economic costs, in costs to biodiversity, in costs to human lives and human rights is truly incalculable.”

#6. OCEANS: THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING PLASTIC, 2016 (available on AMAZON PRIME)

About: This documentary would be of interest to those who’d like to learn more about the problem of plastic pollution and how it affects our climate, health and environment. Full of shocking facts and stats, it will definitely inspire you to quit single-use plastic - for good.

Key highlights:

“According to recent studies, the number of bits of plastic on the surface could be up to 50,000 billion pieces. They are everywhere, from the Arctic to the Antarctic via the Tropics.”

“Out of the 275 million tons of plastic waste, 32 million tons are not properly managed, namely either buried, burned or recycled. And out of these 32 million tons, 8 million finish in the water. If we do nothing, 10 times more plastic will enter our oceans in 2025.”

“Melting the ice cap would free 1000 billion particles of plastics in the water in the next 10 years, constituting one of the biggest reservoirs of plastic waste on the planet.”

“In 2015, scientists had identified 560 species which had either ingested or been trapped by plastic. The number has doubled in 20 years.”

“It’s not worth throwing away plastic bags, you should just season them well and eat them directly because they are going to end up back on your plate in one way or another.”

#7. CLIMATE REFUGEES, 2010 (available on AMAZON PRIME)

About: Another mind blowing documentary about how climate change affects millions of lives all over the globe in ways that we thought were not possible. The filmmakers of Climate Refugees travelled for three years to different parts of the world - Bangladesh, Tuvalu, China, Fiji, Kenya, Chad, Maldives, Sudan, Europe and the U.S. with one goal - show how climate change driven extreme weather events, rising sea levels, droughts and desertification lead to mass scale climate migration. According to the UN, the current number of climate migrants already exceeds the number of political or religious refugees setting the base for the future climate wars, humanitarian disasters and global political instability. UN forecasts indicate that there could be anything between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050.

Key highlights:

“Bangladesh is ground zero of climate change. For Bangladesh, it’s not whether, it’s not when. It’s happening now.”

“If you have a one meter rise in sea level, which could happen over in a matter of decades now, Bangladesh, a country of 155 million people would lose 40% of its rice land.”

“What will happen to the 10, 20, 30 million people in Bangladesh, for example, who will have to move up countries somewhere else, or indeed outside of the country in order to be able to continue to survive?”

“Climate change is about upheaval. Upheaval is the enemy of security. So we are going to have to rethink climate change as being some remote environmental issue that the scientists will work out over there, because it’s gonna tough upon every aspect of our lives.”

“The president of the Maldives was quoted in the international press a few weeks ago as being willing to explore the idea of looking for new real estate for his country.”

“It is estimated that with the sea level rise that in the coming 20 to 30 years 42 maybe up to 50 small island developing states could fully disappear.”

No one man has seen more of the natural world than Sir David Attenborough. Are you ready to dive into the most important documentary for humanity and get inspired to take action? Watch David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet documentary trailer and let us know what action you plan to take to reverse of climate change. Here at TOMbag, our mission is to rid the world of single-use garbage bags. If you're interested to learn how, click here.

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