Your cultural Cop26: films, TV shows and podcasts to help you save the planet

From Ted Danson on the oceans to Greta Thunberg on everything else – get armed with the facts and inspired to make a difference

Want to do more for the planet but can’t even motivate yourself to rinse tin cans before recycling? Maybe some great culture can help. Here are inspirational films to get you excited about changing the way you eat, stirring podcasts full of fabulous ideas and, for those of you who need a stark warning, a David Attenborough documentary.

Podcasts

To a Lesser Degree
Is it feasible to suck carbon out of the air? How effective is giving up eating meat? Is lab-grown beef a solution? This eight-part series debates these topics and more, taking an informed, journalistic approach.

Outrage and Optimism
Hosted by two of the UN team who helped forge the Paris agreement, this is an accessible, upbeat wrestle with topics from decarbonising shipping to dealing with the grief of climate change. It has big-name guests, too: John Kerry on criminalising inaction on climate science, Ted Danson on his fight for our oceans and Greta Thunberg on, well, basically everything.

So Hot Right Now
An engaging podcast from environmental journalist Lucy Siegle and wildlife film-maker Tom Mustill, which seeks out ways to get better at communicating the climate crisis, with assistance from David Attenborough. Some episodes feature activists such as Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, who talks about how the organisation moved from waving inflatable turds around to becoming a slick campaigning body that has changed laws on pollution.

Vinisha Umashankar with the solar-powered ironing cart she designed, as featured in Costing the Earth.
Vinisha Umashankar with the solar-powered ironing cart she designed, as featured in Costing the Earth. Photograph: Earthshot Prize/PA

Costing the Earth
Celebrating individuals who are making a difference, this BBC series features a golf course greenskeeper who sows wildflowers across the course and an Indian schoolgirl who invented a solar-powered version of the country’s popular mobile ironing businesses. Other episodes tackle cat ownership and purchasing an air conditioner.

Film

Industrial crop-spraying in Kiss the Ground.
Industrial crop harvesting in Kiss the Ground. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Kiss the Ground
This cinematically shot documentary is a hope-filled, 84-minute dismissal of decades of assumptions, introducing viewers to the radical US farmers who are demonstrating that the more intensively we farm, the less food we produce. Woody Harrelson’s narration has a lovely sparkle, and it’s hard not to be uplifted by the claim that it isn’t just better for the climate but also economically more sensible to adopt regenerative farming systems. Netflix

This Changes Everything
Naomi Klein’s take on the climate crisis – that it’s not humanity to blame but capitalism – is all about forcing a rethink. We hear about villagers in northern Greece repelling an ecologically ruinous mining project, while an Indian community’s resistance to a coal power plant sparks a national uprising. Amazon Prime Video

2040
It’s a simple idea: “What would the world look like in 2040, if we just embraced the best that already exists?” Film-maker Damon Gameau adopts the perspective of a concerned parent trying to see a positive future for his four-year-old daughter, and manages to create a film full of hope (and occasional daftness). It’s jam-packed with world-improving initiatives from solar-powered community micro-grids of electricity to agro-forestry. Amazon Prime Video

Embracing the best of what already exists … a representation of a community-powered electricity grid in the documentary film 2040.
Embracing the best of what already exists … a representation of a community-powered electricity grid in the documentary film 2040. Photograph: Madman Entertainment

Seaspiracy
In the seven months since the release of this documentary by British film-maker Ali Tabrizi about the devastation caused by the fishing industry, it has caused no end of outrage and fact-querying. But it remains an important and terrifying look at how the fishing industry may be driving marine ecosystems to the point of collapse. Lauded by George Monbiot, it’s an emotive and at times difficult watch, which asks questions few others have had the courage to. Netflix

Paris to Pittsburgh
Anyone already disillusioned by Cop26 may find solace in this documentary. Filmed in the period after Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris climate accord, it charts a rise in US citizens’ efforts to make the changes their leaders fail to, from people turning front gardens into farmyards to authorities turning ponds into solar power generators. It also charts how Trump’s claim to “represent the citizens of Pittsburgh not Paris” was the spark. “I started tweeting back,” says the city’s former mayor. “Pittsburgh was going to stay IN the Paris agreement.” Disney+

Industrial fishing in Seaspiracy.
Devastating … industrial fishing in Seaspiracy. Photograph: Netflix

TV

Climate Change: The Facts
David Attenborough presents an hour of statistics-packed testimony from scientists on the existential threat we face. It’s a concise, rousing explanation of the global situation, which also sees scientists ignite some of the pockets of methane that lie beneath arctic permafrost, explaining that these gases could end up in our skies. Attenborough also presents a list of steps you can take to help. BBC iPlayer

Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed the Planet
This insightful documentary on meat production, made by Guardian columnist George Monbiot, is full of eye-opening facts. We meet fishers who have seen the life choked from their rivers by poultry waste, hear how sheep grazing has deforested the Lake District, and learn that 51% of UK land is given over to meat production. Tonally, it’s a gentle, educational look at the topic, shying away from diatribes in favour of visiting projects with hope for the future – such as lab-grown meat, protein created by electricity and vegetables farmed without fertiliser. All 4

Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World
Part eco-travelogue, part likable profile, this three-part BBC series follows Thunberg around the world for a year. There are trips to glaciers melting faster than feared, investigations of pilot carbon capture projects and attempts to engage with Polish miners who see environmentalism as a threat to their livelihoods. It’s packed with inspirational speeches and to-camera appeals to take action. BBC iPlayer

Seat at the Table
“Whole areas of the world where people now live will become uninhabitable,” says David Attenborough at the start of this programme about rising sea levels by YouTuber Jack Harries. “Where do they go?” Harries meets young climate activists and interviews people living in the nations most severely affected. The stories – from the Isles of Scilly activist who galvanised her local council to declare a climate emergency to the Maldives resident whose homeland may soon be reclaimed by the sea – will be presented at Cop26. YouTube

• This article was amended on 27 October 2021. One of the photographs is of crop harvesting, not pesticide spraying as the original agency caption stated.

Contributor

Alexi Duggins

The GuardianTramp

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