Humans and wildlife need healthy forests to survive, and anyone who’s spent time in them knows how wonderful they can make us feel. Camping in the woods as a child instilled an awe for nature in me that I have never lost. And because of this, I know all-too-well how easy it is to feel overwhelmed by the rate at which we our losing the world’s forests. From clear-cutting for agriculture, ranching, and urban development, we have already lost nearly half of the Earth's original forest cover. Seeing trees cut down, in a once-wooded-area where I am from in Tennessee, making way for some fast-food restaurant, strip-mall, or parking lot, brings tears to my eyes on the regular. Is there no way around this feeling of despair and hopelessness for our forests, and our planet as a whole? Well, by visiting one, small FSC-certified tree farm in Arkansas, my hope for the future was fueled in a much-needed way.Read More
Ranging from climate change and environmental issues; diets and health; social justice and inequality; and spirituality; I hope you enjoy my selection of the top documentaries to watch in 2017.
"An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality."
"The film begins with the idea that 25 percent of the people in the world who are incarcerated are incarcerated in the U.S. Although the U.S. has just 5% of the world's population. "13th" charts the explosive growth in America's prison population; in 1970, there were about 200,000 prisoners; today, the prison population is more than 2 million. The documentary touches on chattel slavery; D. W. Griffith's film "The Birth of a Nation"; Emmett Till; the civil rights movement; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Richard M. Nixon; and Ronald Reagan's declaration of the war on drugs and much more." - Ulf Kjell Gür
BEFORE THE FLOOD
"If you could know the truth about the threat of climate change — would you want to know? Before the Flood, features Leonardo DiCaprio on a journey as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, traveling to five continents and the Arctic to witness climate change firsthand.
Before the Flood presents a riveting account of the dramatic changes now occurring around the world due to climate change, as well as the actions we as individuals and as a society can take to prevent the disruption of life on our planet. Beyond the steps we can take as individuals, the film urges viewers to push their elected officials in supporting the use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power." -Before the Flood
“This documentary shows how interconnected the fate of all humanity is — but also the power we all possess as individuals to build a better future for our planet.” -Leonardo DiCaprio
An eyeopening look at the devastation that climate change is having on our oceans due to ocean acidification. "Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world."- Chasing Coral.com
"Whether you have spent vacation time snorkeling, watched the National Geographic channel, or even paid a bit of attention during high school science class, you likely have some level of understanding of what a vital ecosystem coral reefs are to Ocean life. Director Jeff Orlowski has a track record of important environmental documentaries with his 2012 Chasing Ice. The film does an excellent job of defining and explaining the importance of coral, and once Zach Rago is introduced, the energy and passion jump significantly. " -Imbd.com
A PLASTIC OCEAN
"A Plastic Ocean begins when journalist Craig Leeson, searching for the elusive blue whale, discovers plastic waste in what should be a pristine ocean. In this adventure documentary, Craig teams up with free diver Tanya Streeter and an international team of scientists and researchers, and they travel to twenty locations around the world over the next four years to explore the fragile state of our oceans, uncover alarming truths about plastic pollution, and reveal working solutions that can be put into immediate effect." -Imbd.com
REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM
"Requiem For The American Dream is the definitive discourse with Noam Chomsky, on the defining characteristic of our time - the deliberate concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a select few. Through interviews filmed over four years, Chomsky unpacks the principles that have brought us to the crossroads of historically unprecedented inequality - tracing a half century of policies designed to favor the most wealthy at the expense of the majority - while also looking back on his own life of activism and political participation.
Profoundly personal and thought provoking, Chomsky provides penetrating insight into what may well be the lasting legacy of our time - the death of the middle class, and swan song of functioning democracy. A potent reminder that power ultimately rests in the hands of the governed, REQUIEM is required viewing for all who maintain hope in a shared stake in the future." -Imbd.com
"Following international river conservationist, Mark Angelo, River Blue spans the globe to infiltrate one of the world’s most pollutive industries, fashion. Narrated by clean water supporter Jason Priestley, this groundbreaking documentary examines the destruction of our rivers, its effect on humanity, and the solutions that inspire hope for a sustainable future.
Through harsh chemical manufacturing processes and the irresponsible disposal of toxic chemical waste, one of our favorite iconic products has destroyed rivers and impacted the lives of people who count on these waterways for their survival. River Blue brings awareness to the destruction of a some of the world’s most vital rivers through the manufacturing of our clothing, but will also act as a demand for significant change in the textile industry from the top fashion brands that can make a difference. " - RiverBlue.com
THE SPACE IN BETWEEN
"Marina Abramovic travels through Brazil, in search of personal healing and artistic inspiration, experiencing sacred rituals and revealing, for the first time, her creative process. The route is comprised of poignant encounters with healers and sages from the Brazilian countryside, exploring the limits between art, immateriality and consciousness.
This external trip triggers in Marina a profound introspective journey through memories, pains and past experiences. A mixture between road movie, direct cinema, recorded performances and spiritual thriller, the documentary brings an unprecedented approach of the intimate creative process of one of the most important artists of our time." - Casa Redonda
Terra is a thought provoking and visually stunning documentary about Earth. It is "an ode to humanity" and a spectacular portrayal of the beauty of life. It also brings to light the struggles that we face as we stray further and further from the natural. Watching it evokes a visceral sense awe and gives pause for reflection on the interconnectedness of us all.
"Over barely 10,000 years, life on Earth has been profoundly affected by the incredible development of humanity. But mankind is now increasingly isolated. How have our relations with other living beings changed so much? What do we still see, or notice, of the living world around us? Terra is a journey through the history of life forms, a quest for true humanity. By proposing that we once again treat wildlife with the respect it deserves, Terra shows its credentials as a humanist and deliberately positive film, openly advocating that humanity is still capable of 'getting back to basics'.” -Terra.com
UNLOCKING THE CAGE
"Unlocking the Cage follows animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. After thirty years of struggling with ineffective animal welfare laws, Steve and his legal team are making history by filing the first lawsuits that seek to transform an animal from a thing with no rights to a person with legal protections.
Supported by affidavits from primatologists around the world, Steve maintains that, based on scientific evidence, cognitively complex animals such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins, and elephants have the capacity for limited personhood rights (such as bodily liberty) that would protect them from physical abuse. Using writs of habeas corpus (historically used to free humans from unlawful imprisonment), Wise argues on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State.
Unlocking the Cage captures a monumental shift in our culture, as the public and judicial system show increasing receptiveness to Steve’s impassioned arguments. It is an intimate look at a lawsuit that could forever transform our legal system, and one man’s lifelong quest to protect 'nonhuman' animals." -UnlockingTheCage.com
WHAT THE HEALTH
"What the Health is the groundbreaking follow-up film from the creators of the award winning documentary Cowspiracy. The film follows intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the secret to preventing and even reversing chronic diseases – and investigates why the nation’s leading health organizations don’t want us to know about it. With heart disease and cancer the leading causes of death in America, and diabetes at an all-time high, the film reveals possibly the largest health cover-up of our time. With the help of medical doctors, researchers, and consumer advocates, What the Health exposes the collusion and corruption in government and big business that is costing us trillions of healthcare dollars, and keeping us sick.
What The Health is a surprising, and at times hilarious, investigative documentary that will be an eye-opener for everyone concerned about our nation’s health and how big business influences it." -WTHFILM.com
I hope you are as moved by these documentaries as I have been. Do you have a recent documentary favorite that you think should be added to the list? Let me know in the comments below, and as always thanks for reading.
I became vegan 3 years ago, after 4 years as a vegetarian, because I care deeply for the environment and wildlife. The decision arose from a startling awareness of the need for a drastic change in my consumption habits and society’s as a whole. I realized, in the beginning, that I could make a positive impact by changing the way I consumed each day. I no longer use plastic bags, stopped purchasing products with biologically harmful chemicals, boycott products with palm oil, and gave up fast, unethical fashion. The most important change I made, however, was with food. I realized that, by giving up animal products for good, I could make a positive change, 3 times a day, 365 days a year.
Despite these personal lifestyle choices, the motivation for environmental progress on a broader scale lags sorrily behind. The little things that we, as individuals, have been doing to help mitigate global warming are simply not enough. Meatless Monday, an international campaign that encourages people to not eat meat on Mondays (1), while commendable for participants, is not enough to neutralize the massive scale of environmental damage already done. According to the UNDP, “The planet's surface temperature has increased an average of 0.85 °C from 1880-2012, and during the past year, measurements taken across the globe during various periods have reported abnormally high temperatures.” July 2016 for example, was the hottest month on record – ever (2).”
Carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that usually comes to mind with regard to climate change, is not the greatest gaseous emission causing rising temperatures. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Methane is even worse for global warming than carbon dioxide is. “For example, over a 100-year time horizon, one metric ton of methane and 21 metric tons of carbon dioxide trap an equal amount of heat in the atmosphere (3).” If methane has 21 times more global warming potential (GWP) than carbon dioxide, we need much stricter regulations on animal agricultural industries and innovative approaches, such as permaculture, to make the industry cleaner (4). Industry responds to the demands of the people, therefore, society as a whole must insist on greater change. Giving up meat once a week is not enough. To safely limit the increase in global mean temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we must commit to eating less meat every day.
Well intended agricultural practices of the past century were designed to enrich people’s lives by ensuring adequate nutrition, warmth, and a dignified living space. Such practices were expanded and widely adopted by developing countries who gladly subsidized their establishment in the name of progress. In the second half of the 20th century, however, scientists concluded that many of these same industries are major contributors to environmental destruction and contamination (5), and not the saving grace once hoped for. Industrialized animal agriculture is a prime example. “Domestic livestock such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels produce large amounts of methane as part of their normal digestive process. Also, when animals' manure is stored or managed in lagoons or holding tanks, methane is produced. Globally, the Agriculture sector is the primary source of methane emissions (6).”
Methane output, however, is not the only contributor of animal agriculture to climate change. The practice has negative impacts on our planet in many ways. Producing animal products for human consumption provides fewer calories than if we ate the feed crops ourselves [see table (7)]. Corn and soy production necessary to feed cattle, chicken, and pigs require tremendous input from fossil fuels, as well as substantial quantities of fresh water – itself a scarce commodity in drought stricken areas. “In 2011, 41 countries experienced water stress – 10 of which are close to depleting their supply of renewable freshwater and must now rely on alternative sources. By 2050, it is projected that at least one in four people will be affected by recurring water shortages (2).” Deforestation is happening on a global scale as oxygen producing, CO2 scouring trees are eradicated from the landscape to make room for crops and pasture land (8).
Sewage runoff from industrialized animal agriculture is another problem for our environment and global temperature. Leakage from Manure lagoons and holding tanks can enter fresh water systems, creating dead zones around the world, and increase acidification of our oceans. Despite being landlocked they indirectly contribute to the bleaching of our coral reefs and are making our oceans uninhabitable for marine life (9). Oceans are already over-fished. According to the WWF Living Planet Report, “Factory fishing has emptied the seas of 40 percent of sea life, and nine out of 10 fisheries in the world are either overfished or full-fished today (10). The last thing we need to is eat more fish in place of pork or beef.
The underlying cause of global warming is complex to say the least. The way our consumption choices affect the ecological balance in one part of the world, they can also affect natural systems across the globe [e.g. Greenland’s Ice Sheets (11)]. Global Warming is the largest threat to humanity and our entire planet, and we created it ourselves by doing too little or nothing at all. Of course, we were not alone. The opportunistic enthusiasm and financial backing of giant corporations operating worldwide are leading us to a future Earth that is uninhabitable for wildlife and humans alike. Our individual decisions do make a difference, and every effort to affect change counts, but we cannot tackle this battle without more far-reaching changes in our daily lives.
Meatless Monday, albeit a step in the right direction, is no longer enough. We can move beyond excessive animal product consumption with balanced diets that do not include meat at all. But we also need fast, global action from those in power to support these changes. Global Industry and agriculture must move beyond meat as the source of their profits. Individuals, once educated and driven to demand change, can only do that: demand change. Governments, united to save life as we know it, are the crucial force behind meaningful progress. Together with action from those in power we can stop this planetary disaster.
1. “Why Meatless? - Meatless Monday.” Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://www.meatlessmonday.com/about-us/why-meatless/
2. UNDP (2016). “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://www.by.undp.org/content/belarus/en/home/post-2015/sdg-overview/goal-13.html
3. IPCC/WMO/UNEP. "Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptation, and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses." Prepared by IPCC Working Group II. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
4. Holmgren, David (1997). "Weeds or Wild Nature" (PDF). Permaculture International Journal. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
5. Contaminants in the Environment. Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/observations/contam/
6. EPA (2010). Methane and Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Natural Sources. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA.
7. ASN, J. S. (2014). Sustainability of plant-based diets: Back to the future. Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/100/Supplement_1/476S.full
8. Mongabay. (2016). Amazon Destruction: direct drivers of deforestation in Amazon countries. Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon_destruction.html
9. Garling, B. (2015, February 12). What’s the role of factory farming in ocean degradation? Retrieved November 01, 2016, from https://www.mission-blue.org/2015/02/whats-the-role-of-mass-animal-agriculture-in-ocean-degradation/
10. 60 percent of global wildlife species wiped out. (2016, October 28). Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/60-percent-global-wildlife-species-wiped-161027151043413.html
11. Milman, O. (2016, March 04). Greenland's ice melt accelerating as surface darkens, raising sea levels. Retrieved November 01, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/03/greenland-ice-sheet-melting-global-warming-feedback-loop
Terra is a thought provoking and visually stunning documentary about Earth. It is "an ode to humanity" and a spectacular portrayal of the beauty of life. It also brings to light the struggles that we face as we stray further and further from the natural. Watching it evokes a visceral sense awe and gives pause for reflection on the interconnectedness of us all. Available on Netflix now.
Terra is not a wildlife documentary. Nor is it a militant investigative documentary. Terra is an essay, in the literary sense, on the human species and its relationship with other living beings.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.
Living sustainably and eating a healthy vegan diet were not inherent parts of my life growing up. As a child of America in the 90s, I was first and foremost a consumer. A consumer of fast fashion, fast food, and meat... lots of meat. The journey to where I am now has been a long one: A journey filled with personal change and progress... a journey of ups and downs... But ultimately a journey to a healthier, happier, and "more sustainable" me.
The person who I am today has been fueled not only by my travels and the people I have met, but also in large part by my constant seeking of knowledge. I started at first by reading books such as The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan; Eating Animals by Johnathan Safran Foer; Eat Right For Your Type by Dr. Peter D'Adamo; The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell; and many more. These books made references to documentaries, peaking my interest to explore further. I have since watched hundreds of documentary films on a wide array of subjects surrounding sustainable living.
Ranging from diet and health; environmental protection and sustainability; living with less; the fast fashion industry; the way we interact with one another; to the awe and beauty of the world we live in.
Forks Over Knives
A film explaining why a plant-based diet, free of processed foods is necessary for optimal health. It focuses on the ethical principles of veganism, but more so on the scientific proof that plant-based diets work best for our bodies. "Examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods." - Brian L. Wendel
That Sugar Film
"One man's journey to discover the bitter truth about sugar. Damon Gameau embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as 'healthy'. Through this entertaining and informative journey, Damon highlights some of the issues that plague the sugar industry, and where sugar lurks on supermarket shelves"- Madman Entertainmen
Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret
"The World's largest environmental organizations are failing to address the single most destructive force facing the planet today. Follow the shocking, yet humorous, journey of an aspiring environmentalist, as he daringly seeks to find the real solution to the most pressing environmental issues and true path to sustainability." -Imbd.com
"Utilizing state-of-the-art equipment, Oscar-winner Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) assembles a team of artists and activists intent on showing the world never-before-seen images that expose issues of endangered species and mass extinction. Whether infiltrating notorious black markets with guerrilla-style tactics or exploring the scientific causes affecting changes to the environment, RACING EXTINCTION will change the way we see the world and our role within it." -Imbd.com
Dirt! The Movie
"DIRT! The Movie brings to life the environmental, economic, social, and political impact that the soil has. It shares the stories of experts from all over the world who study and harness the beauty and power of a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with soil. ...DIRT! The Movie is a call to action. 'The only remedy for disconnecting people from the natural world is connecting them to it again.' What we've destroyed, we can heal." - Common Ground Media, Inc.
"Legendary oceanographer and TED prize winner Dr. Sylvia Earle is on a mission to save our oceans. Mission Blue is part action-adventure, part expose of an Eco-disaster. More than 100 scientists, philanthropists and activists gather in the Galapagos Islands to help fulfill Dr. Earle's lifelong wish: build a global network of marine protected areas, like underwater national parks, to protect the natural systems that keep humans alive. As the expedition ends, Sylvia and an environmental dream team race around the world trying to defend her 'Hope Spots'." -imbd.com
"This is a story about clothing. It's about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?" -Michael Ross
We the Tiny House People
"TV producer and Internet-video personality Kirsten Dirksen invites us on her journey into the tiny homes of people searching for simplicity, self-sufficiency, minimalism and happiness by creating shelter in tiny spaces." -Imbd.com
"Despite the advent of science, literature, technology, philosophy, religion, and so on -- none of these has assuaged humankind from killing one another, the animals, and nature. UNITY is a film about why we can't seem to get along, even after thousands and thousands of years." -Nation Earth
"Filmed over nearly five years in twenty-five countries on five continents, and shot on seventy-millimetre film, Samsara transports us to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders." -Imbd.com
I hope you are as moved by these documentaries as I have been. And as always thanks for reading.
Cora Hilts and her company Rêve En Vert, are such inspirations.
Read my interview with Cora Hilts below:
Please describe Rêv En Vert
In the simplest terms, Rêve En Vert is the sustainable version of Net a Porter. We wanted to create the premiere online retailer of luxury sustainable fashion.
What does “Sustainable Fashion" mean to you?
Our motto is sustainable luxury fashion, which to us means quality fashion made from a place of consciousness. We use three main tenants -ethical, local and independent - to define how we look at our designers, and they all have to check two of those boxes.
Why is the Paris Climate Conference of 2015 so important to Rêve En Vert?
Between the 30th of November and the 11th of December, all eyes will be on Paris as the United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place for the twenty-first time. This year sees the conference take place at perhaps its most critical conjuncture as far as the global conversation over climate change is concerned. The focus this year rests specifically on the discussion of cutting global CO2 emissions. The goal for Paris in December is pretty clear-cut: to achieve a legally binding agreement, with universal participation among all nations, to keep global warming below what most scientists say is the critical threshold of 2 degrees Celsius of warming.This is really pivotal moment for not only the climate, but the time to change the way humankind is going to deal with the environment and the way we treat our planet moving forward. What the delegates to this Summit decide to do at this time will conceivably change industry, create different sorts of innovation and resource, and set the tone for what we all have to do to preserve the planet. We really wanted to help create awareness so people would lend a voice to their support of proactive steps.
Do you think more sustainable, on-trend/ contemporary fashion is possible?
Definitely I believe that or I wouldn’t have started Rêve En Vert! I think now you see a definite rise in a more conscious consumer-we want to eat organic food, we think of organic beauty products, we go on wellness retreats to re-collect with nature, etc., yet this woman still has no place to shop for high-end fashion that is sustainably and ethically produced. I think if that were an easy and luxurious option for her, she would always choose to purchase fashion that is produced with respect.
...Is it able to reach everyday consumers who may shop in "fast fashion"? Many people don't have the extra income required to pay the "true cost" of their clothing, and seem to believe that more sustainable options are too expensive/ simply unavailable?
I think that is always a factor because we have come to expect our fashion to be so cheaply produced and so quickly-it’s a really bad expectation to have but we think they way to fight this is through education. We have an editorial section at revenvert.com that we curate to provide people information about where their clothes come from, why it’s better to shop sustainably and to have them understand the process of considered production. I know this won’t change everyone’s shopping habits over night but I do think it creates a good start-we want people even if they can’t afford to shop all sustainably to start making the decision to buy one well-made sweater that perhaps costs a bit more but will last for years to come rather than 6 or 7 badly made ones that they will throw away at the end of the season.
What does "green living" mean to you? How do you live green?
Green living means making the most conscious decisions possible and to maintaining a real connection with nature. I eat as locally and seasonably as possible, I always am trying to reduce my plastic usage (getting rid of those plastic bottles or bags!), and most definitely consuming less but of more quality. When I was younger I used to consider going to the mall a treat, now I think of going to a yoga class the same way. I think that being more mindful automatically leads to a greater awareness of our surroundings and wanting to protect them, and I hope we are able to do that more widely though our work with Rêve En Vert.