Favorite Films for Environmental Science

Many new teachers want to know which APES films or environmental documentaries are the best. We all have different opinions, but here are some of the most commonly shown films by environmental science and AP® Environmental Science teachers.

I have links to Amazon here, but you should check if the film streams online for free first. I don’t support illegal postings of videos, but on occasion, a PBS video streams for free from their site or another site. Or, some teachers can show Netflix at school and many of these stream there.

Please note: No one will show all of these films. They are just suggestions. In fact, over the 12 years of teaching APES, my video and documentary days have greatly declined in favor of more activities that develop higher level thinking skills. Also, kids these days prefer shorter mini-videos (a few minutes) about a topic than a longer video. And, that’s okay.

Intro to APES/Review Topics/Geology

  • NPRs Carbon Videos--These short videos review carbon from chemistry and preview climate change.
  • The original Lorax–Some teachers use as an introduction to environmental science or APES. I like to use the film in my forestry chapter.
  • NOVA: Japan’s Killer Quake–This film discusses the science of earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • The 11th Hour--This series introduces a lot of APES topics, but is rather depressing. I don’t show to kids because I prefer upbeat, hopeful films.
  • Strange Days on Planet Earth–This series is a bit old now, but introduces several APES topics. There’s a segment on wolves in Yellowstone that’s nice.
  • Merchants of Doubt–This film discusses how the media spins many scientific topics.
  • A Fierce Green Fire–A good overview to many topics covered throughout the year. Documents many historical events over the past 50 years in environmental science.

Ecology

  • HHMI Gorongosa: The Guide–This free 34 minute film accompanies many wonderful ecology lessons from HHMI. It features E.O. Wilson (a well-known ecology) and a teenage boy from Africa.
  • PBS Gorongosa–This 6 hour series also in Gorongosa National Park in Africa feature many ecological topics. A good video to have for emergency sub days.
  • Cane Toads (for invasive species)–This film is a “right of passage” for APES.  Its a quirky, cult classic about cane toads in Australia. Can be found streaming on Youtube sometimes.
  • Planet Earth series–Another good one to have for sub days.

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Human Population

  • NOVA World in the Balance–An old, but still relevant film. It is the favorite film for human population in APES.
  • Don’t Panic: Gapminder–I have not previewed this film, but have heard that other APES teachers show it. This is the same video as “Overpopulation by Hans Rosling”

Soil and Agriculture

  • Dirt, the Movie –A good film discusses the benefits and structure of soil. I show only the first half of the film to save time.
  • King Corn–I like this film, because it shows how farming is done with plowing, fertilizers, pesticides, subsidies etc.
  • Food Inc.–This film discusses the problems with modern, industrial farming. It is anti-GMO and there are some rebuttals to the film online. Some social studies, English, and health classes also show this film.
  • Fresh–a “newer” film with an upbeat message about the problems and solutions of food production.
  • Secrets of Plant Genomes, Revealed–Free and made for teens by the NSF. A bit corny, but good info about the science of GMOs. Tell kids that its corny before watching and they will enjoy it even more.
  • More Than Honey–Documents the importance of bees and the devastating loss of bees due to CCD (colony collapse disorder).
  • Symphony of the Soil–a fascinating look at the complexity of soil.

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Freshwater

  • Last Call at the Oasis–A film about water depletion.
  • Hurricane on the Bayou–A favorite film with great jazz music. Originally an IMAX movie that was going to be about wetlands and ended up being about Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  Discusses the science of wetlands preservation and hurricanes.
  • Frontline: Poisoned Waters–A good film about water pollution. You could show all or just parts of the film.
  • Tapped–This film discusses the environmental cost of bottled water along with social justice issues. An inspiring film for kids.
  • Watershed: Exploring a New Water Ethic for the West–This film discusses the competing interested for Colorado River Water
  • Dam Nation--This film discusses dam building, and the case for removing some dams to allow more salmon spawning.

Oceans

Toxicology

  • American Experience Silent Spring–This film discusses Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and DDT.  A bit long for a minor topic.
  • Frontline: Fooling with Nature–discusses endocrine disruptors. Out of print and difficult to find, however. If you can find a copy, its a good film to show. (Check your public library)
  • Erin Brokovich–Be aware that its rated R and has profanity, but it features illegal toxic waste disposal, cancer, and environmental justice. You may or may not be allowed to show at your school.
  • A Civil Action–This movie starring John Travolta is similar to Erin Brokovich and dramatizes the fight again illegal toxic waste dumping.
  • Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain–A documentary about the Bhopal, India and the terrible environmental disaster there.

Air Pollution

Climate Change

  • Before the Flood–A new climate change film that is popular in APES. It used to stream for free, but now there is a charge.
  • NOVA Decoding the Weather Machine–A great new climate change video that discusses all the science. As of 9/2018, PBS has it for free.
  • NOVA Power Surge–An upbeat climate change video with solutions. This is my favorite, because the tone is full of hope.
  • Carbon Nation–A climate change solution video that doesn’t care if you don’t believe in climate change. Upbeat and also full of hope.
  • NPRs Carbon Videos–A fun, 5 part mini-video series about carbon and climate change.
  • Inconvenient Truth–one of the original climate change films, but old now and some kids are turned off by a politician. There are better films out now. I have not previewed the sequel: Truth to Power. 
  • Chasing Ice–A mesmerizing film that follows a time-lapse photographer as he documents glacier recession and ice sheet melting over the past decade. There is a shorter TedTalk by the photographer (James Balog) available too.

Biodiversity and Conservation Biology

  • Saving Otter 501–One of my favorite videos all year. Kids love it. Features the conservation efforts to save the Southern Sea Otter by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.
  • Racing Extinction–This is a wonderful new film that inspires kids to save wildlife.
  • NOVA Wild Ways–This new film by NOVA features wildlife corridors as a way to protect species. Kids enjoy this film.
  • Star Trek Trouble with Tribbles–A fun episode about an invasive species in space!
  • National Parks, America’s Best Idea–Documentary series by Ken Burns. This is a wonderful series, but is a little slow for students and goes into a lot more detail than they need.

Forestry and Land Use

  • NOVA Wild Ways–see description above
  • The Original Lorax–usually streams somewhere on Youtube. You can also purchase a copy fairly inexpensively.
  • Nature: Survivors of the Fire Storm–Discusses fire ecology in Australia. Kids enjoy watching this film, because it shows many Australian animals at a rescue center.
  • The Story of Yosemite--This film re-enacts the historical meeting between Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir and how that led to more National Parks and land preservation.

Energy

  • Switch–This film is free for educators by request. Many teachers show several small segments about energy sources from this film, if they don’t have time for the whole thing.
  • NOVA Treasures of the Earth: Power–my favorite new energy video that discusses fossil fuels, electricity and alternatives.
  • NOVA Saved by the Sun–a nice video about solar energy.
  • Oil on Ice–a documentary about the Arctic National Wildlife Sanctuary. A bit long for a minor topic.

Solid Waste

  • Dive–I have not seen it, but a colleague said that his kids like this film about dumpster diving.
  • The Works: Garbage–Sadly out of print and difficult to find online. Features landfills and hazardous waste.
  • Toy Story 3–I show the end of the movie from the landfill and incineration scene to the end.  The kids cry, because they soon will leave for college (just like Andy does in the movie).
  • EPA videos–Several small free videos made by the EPA about hazardous waste cleanup.
  • Wasted-A film about the problem of food waste. One of the “newer” topics in APES and has been in the news recently.
  • Bag It! –A fim about plastic use, trying to go plastic-free and plastic pollution.

Mining

  • The Last Mountain–This film shows mountaintop removal. The most widely used video for this topic by APES teachers and is impacting.
  • Modern Marvels–This series has several episodes about mining and quarries that can be used in APES.
  • 30 Days: Season 3: Working in a Coal Mine–This film shows students what coal mining is like. Not a lot of science in it,  but interesting as a visual.

Cities

  • Suburbia and the End of Oil–This is an interesting video about how suburbs were created and some solutions for future oil scarcity. A bit outdated, however, as we have found new sources of petroleum since this film was made. I used to show, but no longer have the time.
  • Filthy Cities–documentary series discusses problems with urbanization and touches on many other APES topics such as waste management, sewage, and disease.

Environmental Economics and Law

  • Story of Stuff–A short film discussing the environmental issues around globalization, commercialism and planned obsolescence. This film has some pushback from conservative groups.
  • Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt–Free short video series that shows how globalization and manufacturing work. Non-judgmental–just presents how it all works.

Video Series

  • Bozeman Science–Good for review, not for initial learning of material, because it goes fast and has a lot of content. I assign as homework on Edpuzzle the night before an exam.
  • TedEd: Environment–Some good videos to supplement lecture or labs.

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