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10 Environmental Documentaries to Binge-Watch Now

Binge without the guilt – eco-education is important for all of us

Climate change, deforestation and extinction are the biggest stories of our time, and many of the world’s best storytellers are bringing these issues to life on film. While binge-watching movies and TV shows isn’t an active, outdoorsy pursuit, a well-crafted environmental documentary can actually bring us closer to nature and inspire us to protect it. We’ve found this to be true in sharing our own work at Global Wildlife Conservation. Our work to protect biodiversity takes us to remote places that most people will never see. But through the power of photos and video, over 1 billion people recently fell in love with Romeo and Juliet, two endangered Sehuencas Water Frogs our partners found in Bolivia’s remote cloud forests.

Searching for credible yet compelling content can be overwhelming, so we’ve rounded up 10 of the best environmental documentaries available to stream today. We’ve strived to provide a well-rounded eco education, from the causes of climate change, to the industries driving it, to the everyday actions we can take to effect change. These documentaries are real-life thrillers where we humans are both the heroes and villains, with the power to ensure there’s a sequel.

(Note: These selections may not be available to users in every country, and streaming services may remove titles from their lineup at any time.)

Virunga follows a brave group of park rangers in their fight to preserve the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the world’s most biodiverse places and home to the Earth’s remaining mountain gorillas. It is also the most dangerous places to work in conservation. The park and its inhabitants are under constant threat from poachers, armed militia and companies exploiting its natural resources. Tension turns to violence when the rebel group M23 overtakes much of the park. The good news is that gorilla populations have increased since 2014 and conservationists are working with villagers to build new industries and alternatives to war.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Actor and Earth Alliance co-founder Leonardo DiCaprio teams up with National Geographic to sound the alarm on climate change, with moving accounts of the rising sea levels, deforestation and other destruction that humans have wrought. The film arms viewers with solutions, from reducing meat consumption to voting for leaders who will fight for our future. This essential primer is a great pick to educate kids or to sway skeptical friends and family members.

Where to Watch: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube

In this Emmy-winning series, hailed as “the most important television series ever made,” journalists and celebrities such as Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle, Jessica Alba and Thomas Friedman travel the world to interview experts on the climate crisis as well as the everyday people affected by it. This well-researched show channels its star power wisely, using celebrities to draw viewers in but then shining the spotlight on scientists. Producers include director James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and veteran producers from 60 Minutes.

Where to Watch: Amazon, Disney+ iTunes, Vudu

Some environmental documentaries are heavy on problems and light on solutions, but not Tomorrow. With its upbeat, globetrotting search for everyday sustainability innovators, this French film is a refreshingly hopeful watch. Filmmakers Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent introduce us to urban gardeners, renewable energy enthusiasts and even reinventors of democracy.

Where to Watch: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube

Sir David Attenborough’s signature, soothing narration takes on a new tone of urgency in Our Planet. Each episode of this eight-part nature docuseries delivers awe-inspiring scenes of an interconnected ecosystem, underscored by the clear message that humans are ruining its balance. As Attenborough warns: “What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on Earth.” It’s groundbreaking both in its boldness and its videography, using new techniques to capture the calving of a glacier. (For more of the 93-year-old Attenborough’s legendary work, watch Blue Planet II or Planet Earth II on Amazon or YouTube.)

Where to Watch: Netflix

Pioneering environmental photographer James Balog captures how the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire are being transformed by a fifth element – the human element. He visits Americans on the frontlines of climate change, whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by extreme weather events, pollution, and rampant disrespect for natural resources. (For more of Balog’s stunning work, watch Chasing Ice, his multiyear record of the world’s melting glaciers).

Where to Watch: Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube

Director Louie Psihoyos and his team of eco-activists explore the man-made causes of a sixth mass extinction, which biologists predict could eradicate half of all Earth’s living species within this century. They go undercover to show the horrors of the black market animal trade, and use a specially designed FLIR (forward looking infra-red) camera to make carbon and methane emissions visible to the human eye for the first time. These missions are fast-paced and exciting, yet the moments of connection between people and endangered animals are its most moving.  (Watch The Cove, winner of the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, to see Psihoyos and team take on dolphin hunters.)

Where to Watch: Amazon, Google Play, Hulu, iTunes, YouTube

This is a must-watch if you want to make more environmentally conscious eating choices. As documentary filmmaker Robert Kenner illustrates with the help of Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), most of American food is grown by just a few multinational corporations. Learn how this model is degrading the health of people and our planet, and which foods are better for our future.

Where to Watch: Amazon, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube

In this movie adaptation of the classic children’s book The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, the prose and animation are whimsical but the message is serious: We must protect our environment against the effects of mindless consumerism. The mustachioed Lorax’s battle to save his ecosystem from the Once-ler’s exploitation teaches kids that, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not."

Where to Watch: YouTube

Colin Beavan decides to radically reduce his carbon footprint for a year, foregoing packaging, non-local foods, gas-powered transportation, disposable diapers for his daughter and even electricity. His wife, Michelle Conlin, is reluctant to give up her modern consumer comforts. Colin and Michelle’s debates are what make this documentary interesting, as they invite us to question our own habits and choices. Their publicity stunt provides a light but still thought-provoking palate cleanser to some of the heavier movies on this list.

Where to Watch: Amazon, Google Play, YouTube