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Sustainability Toolkit - Documentaries Worth Watching

By MatildeRLA 28 May 2021

In this article, we will be looking at five documentaries to watch in order to gain a greater understanding of the different ways in which the planet and people are impacted by the climate crisis. These documentaries explore different facets of the climate crisis, from who is responsible for fuelling it, to how people are rising up to tackle it. Most of the recommendations, with the exception of 'Disobedience', which is on YouTube, can all be found on Netflix. 

Also, I would like to state that all these recommendations are based on my own personal views and not expressed on the behalf of the Residence Life Team. 

This documentary, which is only over an hour long and is currently available on Netflix, explores the legacy of colonialism in Nova Scotia, Canada, as highlighted through the environmental racism experienced by the Indigenous and black communities there. 

It delves into how embedded racism is within social structures yet is hardly acknowledged by the government. The documentary explores this through the story of the communities that are most disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation, namely the South Shelburne community, which has high rates of cancer linked to a garbage dump that was placed and burnt in their town in the 1940s. 

Moreover, it looks at how these communities have mobilised in response to this systemic degradation, namely the Grassroots Grandmothers from the Mi'kmaq community of Nova Scotia who are fighting back against the company Alton Gas, whose project plans to dump brine into their local river, having severely negative impacts on its fish. Overall, it is a great documentary to understand the extent to which environmental racism is pervasive at large and how communities are mobilising to defend their rights and the environment.  

This 2015 documentary looks at the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry. It examines the shift to a fast fashion model over time, which has seen the mass production of clothing outsourced to countries that can produce these for low costs by incurring low pay and poor working conditions. In it, we hear the experience of several garment workers, including the story of Shima around what she was faced with when establishing a trade union in her factory, as well as her experience of having to leave her child with family to be able to make a living working in the city. It also looks to the production of clothing textiles: at how intensive agriculture is being utilised for cotton production and having severe ecological impacts while trapping farmers, namely in India, in debt, while also having serious health impacts. 

It also investigates how perceptions around clothing came to change through advertising that incentivised consumerism, and how this has now led to the issue that is textile waste with clothing being considered disposable. Overall, this documentary is definitely worth watching to understand the extent of the impact that fast fashion and the lack of action against this.  

3. A Plastic Ocean 

Exploring the impact of plastic production on our oceans and how much it is impacting wildlife and in turn humans, A Plastic Ocean is a great place to start if you want to understand the scale of the problem we face with plastic. Available on Netflix, it is around an hour and a half long and includes interviews with several experts on the subject. 

It highlights how insidious plastic pollution is, with microplastics all across the ocean creating a sort of 'plastic smog' due to plastic breaking down into smaller pieces. It can be a hard watch at times when looking at how wildlife is confusing this plastic for food, thus ingesting it and dying from this blocking their digestive systems, but in general, it is eye-opening to catastrophic impacts that such a widely used material has.  

4. Disobedience 

This documentary focuses on how the fossil fuel industry and its expansion has degraded our environment and how this impacts communities all around the world. It recounts the stories of different struggles and movements of communities from Canada, the Philippines, the US, Turkey and Germany in on the environmental impacts of industry (water, air and land degradation) as well as the impacts this has had on human lives, causing displacement and poor health. 

It is available on YouTube for free, and is just under an hour-long and is a great one to understand the importance of people coming together and organising against polluting industries! 

5. Chasing Coral 

Also on Netflix, Chasing Coral delves into coral bleaching as a result of rising ocean temperatures from global warming. It follows a team of scientists and photographers through the ups and downs of capturing photographs of mass coral bleaching in Hawaii, Bermuda and the Bahamas. 

It is a great film to understand the gravity of the matter at hand and the urgency with which the climate crisis should be responded to, given the increased occurrence of global-scale mass coral bleaching events that have taken place in the last twenty years or so. The documentary effectively highlights this through shots of corals before and after bleaching, showing the juxtaposition in the vivid colours of healthy corals in contrast to the paler dead corals. Overall, a great show to grasp the importance of corals to the health of the planet!

There you have it! 5 documentaries worth watching to better understand our urgent need to tackle the climate crisis! Even if only 1 or 2 piqued your interest, I hope these documentaries allow you to explore how the climate crisis is impacting the planet and people, and who is fuelling the crisis, but also how people are standing up to this and demanding that their human rights are respected. Again, I wanted to mention that these are just my personal recommendations, so definitely explore this further as there are many other great documentaries around the topic that are worth watching.  




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