10 movies about climate change, global warming, and renewable energy

March 23, 2016

Thanks to Hollywood we got used to movies about catastrophic events, distant futures and environmental disasters. Some are pure science fiction, but others tell important stories that make us think about what might actually happen. Roland Emmerich’s “The Day After Tomorrow” or even Pixar’s “Wall-E” come to mind.

But beyond fiction, what does the future hold for both the environment and for the human race? Based on studies and stats many scientists and environmentalists have tried to answer the best way possible. The result inspired several documentaries about climate change, global warming and renewable energy.

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that the abusive human use of natural resources has jeopardized Earth’s balance, speeding up phenomena such as global warming and climate change.

To invert the situation we need not only to adjust policies, but to create the level of awareness that will lead us to change our daily behaviour (simple things, like saving water or recycling waste). And that is precisely why movies about climate change, global warming and renewable energy are so important.

By presenting what is currently happening to the environment, these documentaries show us the dire consequences of our way of life. In addition, they establish the relationship between the cause and the consequence as a starting point to the solution. Keep reading and find out our top 10 documentaries about climate change, global warming and renewable energy. Each of them has an important message that deserves to be heard.

10 Movies About Climate Change

inconvenient-truth1st: “An Inconvenient Truth” by Davis Guggenheim

The documentary was directed by Davis Guggenheim, but Al Gore was the main figure behind it. The movie is probably one of the most well known ones on this list and is currently exhibited in schools worldwide.

During one hour and a half, we are presented with numbers, charts and images of what happened thanks to human behaviour. To give an example, it is possible to see how the scenarios in regions like Patagonia and the Kilimanjaro have changed in the last years. Together with the facts, Al Gore uses some references to the pop culture, keeping people’s attention.

An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006 and is the result of Al Gore’s long crusade to raise awareness for subjects like pollution and climate change. Before reaching the theatres, the presentation had already been given thousands of times. His work as an environmentalist earned Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, an award shared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).



josh-tickell2nd: “Fuel” by Josh Tickel

We could reach our current level of wealth thanks to the availability of cheap fossil fuels, such as oil and coal. That usage was not in question until around the end of the 20th century, when it became clear that pollution and over-exploitation of world resources were causing some serious problems.

During Josh Tickell’s “Fuel, we can follow this evolution, understanding how oil became so important and still so dangerous. The documentary took 11 years of filming, reaching the theatres in 2008. Alongside with the director’s personal story, we can watch interviews with well known educators, environmentalist and politicians. Woody Harrelson, Sheryl Crow, Neil Young and Willie Nelson make appearances in the movie.

But, what is the personal story behind the movie? At the beginning of Fuel, Josh Tickell tells us how he lived in a town where oil companies set up shop. When he was a child his mother died of lung cancer due to the high levels of air pollution. That fact led him to search for clean alternatives of living (and was the motivation to shoot the documentary).



documentary-about-energy3rd: “Switch” by Harry Lynch

Innovation is like a switch button: it only takes one second to ignite. The documentary took 3 years of filming and was made by Harry Lynch (director and writer) and Scott Tinker (writer and actor). The film aims to report the energy transition from non renewable resources to clean energy. The movie was praised for its unbiased perspective: a “scrupulously neutral track between extremes” was the expression used by The Washington Post.

One of the biggest advantages of Switch is the combination of two experts: Scott Tinker is a renowned geologist with experience as the director of the Bureau of Economic Geology; Harry Lynch is an award winning director and producer.

In fact, Switch is part of a bigger project, with the objective of raising awareness, using educational initiatives. The movie is considered to be a reference among scholars worldwide.



go-further4th: “Go Further” by Ron Mann

Go Further is a documentary released in 2003, but started filming 2001. Together with Woody Harrelson and other friends, the director Ron Mann went from Seattle to Santa Barbara in a bio-fuelled bus. During the trip, he encountered people that decided to go further and live according to green principles.

A yoga teacher, a raw food chef, a hemp-activist a junk-food addict and a college student are the other protagonists of the movie. Along with them, there are also a tree-friendly paper producer, an activist training camp, an organic farmer and his “worm tea” and a noodling jazz band. The philosophies behind the movie takes us back in time to the 60’s and make us remember the hippie movement.

The bus itself is painted with rainbows and unicorns. Go Further was well received and was nominated for the Gennie Award and for a Gold Hugo, both as best documentary.



wind-energy5th: “Windfall” by Laura Israel

Renewable resources are undoubtedly a major investment for the future. But what about the disadvantages that comes with them? In this documentary the focus is on wind power, specifically on onshore wind farms that were installed in Meredith, New York. The documentary is called “Windfall” and was released in 2005 by Laura Israel.

During the film, we are confronted with the story of people who decided to sell their land and let companies put windmills on their yards. At the time, they didn’t expect that the installation would impact their general well-being. The acceptance of the agreement caused confrontations among neighbours, who blame each other for selling land.

The story was discovered online by the video and commercial editor, Laura Israel, who decided to investigate it. “These are not the 50 feet windmills of Don Quixote. These are 400 feet high”, she stated. In short, “Windfall” is not against wind energy itself; it is against development that disregards people’s quality of life.



gas-hole6th “Gas Hole” by Scott Roberts and Jeremy Wagener

Launched in 2008, “Gas Hole” is a documentary about oil and its influence on the American and global economy. The film starts with two sentences from two Presidents of the United States (Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush), which during their mandate stressed the country’s dependence on oil.

Establishing relationships between the past and the present, “Gas Hole” explains why the USA became the number 1 importer of oil. During more than one hour and a half, the documentary gives us numbers, charts, but above all it gives us solutions. Renewable sources of energy are presented as a solution for a sustainable growth path of the economy.

Besides Scott Roberts and Jeremy Wagener, “Gas Hole” has the participation of Peter Gallagher, the narrator that gives voice to the film. The movie received the Spirit of the Independent Award and is also recognizable by its slogan: “What the oil companies don’t want you to know”.



effects-of-climate-change7th: “Disruption” by Kelly Nyks and Jared P. Scott

“Disruption’s” major feat is its originality. The documentary was released in 2014, after a lot of other movies have already been published on he topics of climate change and sustainability. To shake the audiences up, the directors decided to bet on a new kind of promotion. Instead of a traditional launch, Disruption debuted online and called on people to participate in a political march organized all around the world.

In other words, the documentary jumped out of the screen and was used as a tool to mobilize people. Behind the initiative were several environmental, labour and social justice groups, which decided to participate. The main event occurred in Manhattan, during a climate summit at the United Stations. The objective was to catch the attention of global leaders.

During around 52 minutes, Disruption gives us the key story behind the climate crisis, interviewing different specialists, authors and community organizers. The film questions whether money can really be more important than health or sustainability. The directors appear at the end of the movie appealing for a behavioural change and a larger awareness.



leonardo-dicaprio8th: “The 11th Hour” by Leila Conners

The 11th Houris a documentary about the environmentalist movement. The ecological philosophy (to which many have adhered) has pillars such as sustainable growth, social responsibility and biodiversity protection. The film is mostly known for the participation of Leonardo DiCaprio, who also worked as producer.

Besides the Hollywood star, other well known people participated, including the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbatchev, the physicist Stephen Hawking, and the first African woman awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai. Deforestation, greenhouse effects and lack of infrastructures are some of the problems presented by The 11th Hour.

Reminding us that the clock is ticking, the documentary has a strong sense of urgency. Above all, it explains that, if we continue with this rhythm of unsustainable growth, we will end up creating problems, which will not be easy to solve. The solution is to change the way we think and create a greener economy, with renewable sources of power and better technology. Like every other area, it all starts in schools and universities.



9th: “Ethos” by Pete McGrain

The 2011 documentary, Ethos approaches subjects like the environment and war, by analysing the flaws of our systems. More than a movie about climate change and renewable energy, Ethos is able to create bridges between concepts such as democracy, welfare and economy. The arguments are presented by the (twice) Oscar nominee, Woody Harrelson.

The documentary aims to explain how money and individual richness became more important than values like equality. Another central point is the assumption that politicians deceive the public opinion and support interest of the media and enterprises.

More important than the answers, the movie raises several questions and makes us think about subjects that apparently weren’t related. Are we relying on a flawed democracy and trust in an unjust system?



james-cameron10th: Years of Living Dangerously” by James Cameron

From the Oscar winner James Cameron, “Years of Living Dangerously is a documentary split into 9 episodes. Each episode has the participation of an actor or celebrity, who decides to show how global warming affected a certain region.Thomas Friedman, Chris Hayes, Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jessica Alba were among the guests.

The main objective of the documentary was to call people’s attention to the real implications of global warming. Instead of showing an abstract concept, “Years of Living Dangerouslylistens to people who lost their houses due to a hurricane or risk their lives to fight as firemen.

One of the most interesting things about the documentary is its ability to show a wide range of effects. For instance, Michael C. Hall investigates rising sea levels, while Don Cheadle speaks about the effects of the dry season in Texas. The documentary aired on Showtime and received a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.


By Gayrajan Kohli,  a staunch solar promoter, serial entrepreneur & management consultant. He has a decade of experience in solar PV, disruptive technologies and political consultancy in USA and India. He believes that development of solar and other renewable technologies is critical to India’s energy security. Gayrajan holds a Masters and a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from USA.