World Destruction in High Definition: A Guide to Climate Change Documentaries

By Tobias Hudson

Climate change can sometimes feel like an intangible force that exists outside of our collective consciousness. This is largely because, living in the UK, the climate crisis has yet to fully scorch our surroundings. Observed through the lens of the media, the effects of the impending crisis can take a back seat as we view them through the tint of the digital screen. We must expand our understanding, and see the effects that are already ravaging the world to fully appreciate the brevity of the situation. 

Modern film-making techniques have enabled documentaries to take us to places we’d never normally be able to explore. They allow the climate crisis to be contextualised in new and visceral ways. This doesn’t always make for easy watching, but this first-world discomfort is nothing compared to the damage that has already affected so many lives around the world. Documentaries are necessary evils we have to endure to ensure that we know the best ways to help our planet. A lot of the time, simple changes like becoming vegetarian or cycling to work only happen when there’s a change in the fundamental processes of thought. Actions themselves are usually not difficult to undertake, but it’s only once the paradigm has shifted that they start to become apparent. 

Here at Rising Clyde, we’ve compiled a short list of some of the most eye-opening and varied climate crisis documentaries. Instead of turning on some light entertainment, we recommend that you give these a go. We believe that they can truly alter the ways that we view and interact with our planet Earth. 

Chasing Ice

This National Geographic exclusive was filmed over a span of multiple years, as photographer James Balog began his Extreme Ice Survey. The film contains the longest-ever recorded scenes of an ice glacier breaking apart, known as a calving effect. The sheer magnitude of the walls of ice on-screen put into perspective just how incomprehensible the threat is that we face. To see such impressive structures crumble apart like chalk though eerie time-lapse footage offers a glimpse at the true structural impact changing beneath our feet. Ancient glaciers that tower over the small figures dip beneath the surface of the rising waters and are lost to the vast expanse of the ocean. 

The whole film is imbued with a rising sense of intensity that has only grown in the ten years since its release. While many scenes focus on the technical difficulties and personal health problems of the team for dramatic effect, these don’t detract from the main message. Instead, they perhaps help to highlight why it’s difficult for so many to grasp the seriousness of the issue. Daily life and individual struggles do get in the way, and even for a driven team, it takes them considerable time to get their project underway. It demonstrates just how much willpower and tireless work is needed to even capture the climate crisis on film. Chasing the Ice not only shows the truly shifting surroundings of some of our most remote areas, but documents a human struggle to balance daily life and a desire to make a difference. 

James Balog filming an intense scene in Chasing Ice. © Tad Pfeffer/Submarine Entertainment. 

This Changes Everything

Both a book and a film were released under the same title by revolutionary social activist Naomi Klein. The book itself is a 700-page span of the fundamental inequalities between solutions to the climate crisis, and the structures that govern organisations and their endless drive to create profit. She argues that the two schools of thought are so far removed from one another, there needs to be a new marketplace for organisations to live in that is completely independent from the climate crisis. Only then can we fully capitalise on the innovative ideas that already exist out there. This new way of thinking kick-started Beautiful Solutions, an online platform that allows users to contribute fascinating ways to help third-world countries. The truly out-of-the-box thinking on display is wild, and a hopeful look at what future generations will be able to achieve. 

The film expands out from these ideas, and shows how societies in rural communities are reacting to their changing scenery. In India, Jyothi is a matriarch who forms a battle protest with her village to stop a power plant that is set to destroy her wetlands. The story catches fire and we follow as it spreads around the world and becomes a catalyst for inspiration in unlikely places. Elsewhere, Crystal is an indigenous woman who fights her way into a restricted military base that is responsible for the damage to her habitats and wetlands that sustain her people. These stories are genuine battles that are being fought daily across the globe, and Klein’s vision brings them to life with invigorating detail. 

The fight for a green planet continues. © Waste Land Production Co.

Waste Land

In this Brazilian film, artist Vik Muniz travels to the world’s largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro. He meets a group of waste pickers known as catadores. This leads to a surprising journey that sees them transform waste into contemporary art that makes its way down to London to be auctioned off. All the proceeds made from the film and the art was given back to the Association of Pickers of Jardim Gramacho (the ACAMJG) who used it to drastically improve the lives of those in the neighbouring villages. 

This film really shines a light on the innovative solutions that peoples across the globe are finding in a valiant attempt to hold back the tide of the climate crisis. Materials once destined for the tip are given a new lease of life, showing us all the value of the things that we consider waste. This documentary offers us a tale of hope, told against a truly dystopian back-drop, which we’ve had our hand in creating. 

An example of some of the auctioned artwork. © Grist. 


This 1992 film is perhaps the most intriguing on the list, as it underpins the important spiritual connection between organism and environment. There is so much to be lost if our planet dies, not just cities and invention but a deep-rooted connection to our home. Baraka loses all narrative structure to showcase this, and many have made a compelling case as to why it is one of the greatest films of all time. Perhaps the less said about this documentary the better, as it must be watched to be fully understood. 

A native of planet Earth. © Spirituality and Practice


Our final picture sees film-maker Damon Gameau tour the world to explore innovative solutions to climate change that are either already happening, or can be achieved by 2040. He meets a range of fascinating characters, whose ideas will no doubt inspire the next generation of climate activists. Gameau takes us on a whistle-stop tour of natural solutions to urban problems, such as solar panel grids in Bangladesh that can create jobs for entire towns. His journey is led by a desire to make the world a better place for his daughter, and the picture he paints across a multitude of landscapes is one of hopeful optimism. 

2040 finishes with a look at societal values, and how a shift in perspective is needed to help women empower themselves in a male-dominated world. He examines how the education system can do more to help empower women, and let their fascinating new ideas flourish. The film is interspersed with stop-motion and animated sequences. This makes for a charming and home-grown touch, and offers a climate crisis film ‘for the whole family’. His focus on smaller, practical steps to changing life, and not misguided attempts at full-flung activism, is a practical framework to live daily life by. 

Damon offers his daughter a glimpse of the future. © Visit Peak District. 

Even with films like these, something is missing in the world of climate change documentaries. The silence around the most egregious perpetrators of climate change has been deafening. The major companies and factories responsible for releasing over 6000 million tonnes of CO2 per year have yet to feel the true wrath of the documentary makers. While some docs like “The New Corporation” have depicted the evils of these huge conglomerates, there has yet to be a deeper dive into exactly what they need to be doing to pull their weight in this battle.

So while there is no doubt that documentaries can never show the full picture, we can be content in knowing that there are some small ways to see the world from a new angle, and to know that we are doing our part. Media is just one way that we can really appreciate the seriousness of the situation we now all find ourselves in, and to help us to empathise with those who already feel the burning heat of the climate crisis. It’s now down to all of us to take these ideas on board and move towards a future that will hopefully allow us to continue to thrive, at one with this planet that we call home. 

All documentaries are available to watch now on Amazon Prime. 


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