Summer seemed like the glimmer at the end of the very, very long tunnel that was finals. But, if you can believe it, we can now all cast aside our essays, study guides and problem sets and instead turn our focus toward catching up on sleep, time with hometown friends and that ever-growing Letterboxd watchlist.
As we take our much deserved rest and recovery, further edification is probably low on the summer bucket list. But, disappointingly, climate change doesn’t take a break to go to the beach. So while you may not be focusing on the research project that will prevent coral bleaching, you do have time to learn more about how the climate crisis manifests throughout the world and ways you can mitigate these impacts, all from your TV screen.
Without further ado, as no one wants to read more than their pages of notes or essay requirements right now, here are my top four movies about environmentalism spanning a range of topics and genres.
Woman at War
“Woman at War” is hilarious and one of my favorite movies of all time. Halla, the main character, is a middle-aged Icelandic woman who leads a seemingly boring life — yet under the facade is an eco activist who physically takes down the power lines electrifying a polluted aluminum plant near her community. This movie shows what happens when we act on our fears of climate change, and Halla demonstrates how, negating our exterior appearances, we all can and should be environmental activists.
180º South: Conquerors of the Useless
Combining a granola aesthetic and high seas adventuring, “180º South” follows the journey of Jeff Johnson as he retraces the 1968 trip of Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, and Doug Tompkins, the founder of The North Face, from Ventura, California to Patagonia, Chile. The documentary filmmaking includes footage of Johnson and his travel companions sailing, surfing and hiking, as well as old shots of Chouinard and Tompkins. The natural beauty of these spectacular places is stunningly highlighted, and Johnson’s trip gives viewers insight into how these landscapes have changed and degraded since his predecessor’s trip. The soundtrack, featuring Jack Johnson and Mason Jennings, is incredible — just listening to it inclines me to reach for my backpack and tent and run towards the mountains.
All the Time in the World
Although not explicitly about environmentalism, “All the Time in the World” models the possibilities of a lifestyle completely removed from the capitalist structures that perpetuate and benefit from climate change. This documentary was created by Suzanne Crocker, a director who chose to move away from her bustling city existence and spend nine months living a self-sufficient, sustainable lifestyle in the Canadian wilderness. The story is heartwarming and funny as the antics of a family with two young children and no electricity or heat play out, and also demonstrates the joy that comes with an existence outside of capitalism.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline
In all honesty, I haven’t seen this movie yet, but it’s on the top of my summer watchlist. Based on the titular book, the film fictionalizes author Andreas Malm’s arguments that destruction is an acceptable and necessary form of environmental activism. The plot centers on a group of young activists as they plan to — you guessed it — blow up an oil pipeline in West Texas. As a believer in direct action against, I believe, the corporations that are holding us hostage to the climate crisis, I’m excited to see this portrayal of environmentalism on the screen.
The changing climate influences our lives implicitly and explicitly at all times. It drives the way we dress, what resources are accessible and how we interact with each other. The environment also plays a large role in the media we consume. Whether that be the news, social media, a book or a movie, the implications of the planet are brought up again and again. You don’t have to look further than “Bambi” or “Free Willy” to see how the degradation of our natural systems arises on screen all around us. What matters now is if you’re paying attention to the messages these forms of entertainment are conveying, or simply letting the impacts of climate change pass over you, desensitizing yourself to the inevitable detrimental developments that are looming in our future.
Aspirational as I am, I hope that these films inspire you to take up direct environmental action as your next summer hobby. Happy watching!