The independent film-makers of today deserve recognition for their commendable efforts in journalism. Some have been very effective in bringing about change and elevating public awareness about key environmental issues. We take a look at 10 really impactful and informative eco-documentaries in recent years. This list is in not ordered in any way.

1. Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic? (2010)

This starts out as one environmentalist’s video-journal about his giving up using plastics in his everyday life. The issue becomes a whole lot more personal when he finds out he’s having a baby. Academicians are brought in to give opinions and present research on a lot of things related to our use of plastics. Issues from the accumulation of plastic wastes in the oceans and the resulting deterioration in marine life quality to harmful chemicals in common household plastics that lead to cancer and infertility are discussed in good depth. When our storyteller’s baby is born, things become more serious as more issues are explored.

This documentary is very moving and personal as the film-maker (Jeb Berrier) allows us a glimpse into his family, and how his decisions to give up plastics or use safer alternatives effects him and those around him. It also demonstrates how one man’s quest for truth led to some rarely-discussed issues that were pretty serious, and that people are really paying attention to now.

This documentary won several awards, and considering the level of heightened awareness towards the dangers of harmful chemicals in everyday items, has proven to be a great success over the years. Made in the fashion of Michael Moore and early Morgan Spurlock films, this is a great watch, if only for knowledge value alone.

2. Do the Math (2013)

Environmentalist Bill McKibben takes on the fossil fuel industry, and presents some very frightening science about the climate crisis we are facing.

This is a great movie, and has spurred a worldwide movement. A really inspirational film, it explores how, again, one man’s quest for answers led to some very crucial and revealing facts. Bill presents some key numbers: 350, and 2°.

350 ppm (parts per million) is the amount of carbon dioxide in the air that is deemed “safe” for living beings and the environment. Right now we are at 400 ppm and adding 2 ppm every year.

2° is the rise in temperature needed to push the climate beyond the limits we are familiar with.

This film has great production value and therefore had to be funded to a considerable extent. The key issues presented here regarding the science behind climate change are undeniable. The global movement which is featured in this movie, 350.org is taking on the issues presented in this movie and bringing about good social change. The movement has seen student activists around the globe requesting universities and colleges to divest from fossil fuel investments successfully, and is still going strong. Definitely a good watch.

3. Watermark (2013)

This movie has some of the most stunning visuals in an eco-documentary. Shot mostly from the air, a film-maker documents our relationship with water. Not really themed about conservation or activism, it is more of an exploratory feature on the ways mankind harnesses water as an essential need for survival.

How Las Vegas thrives in the middle of the desert due to irrigation systems, the pilgrimage of millions of Hindus to the Ganges for sacred rituals, a massive hydro-electric dam in China, all show how man uses water in different ways as a part of life, and are very beautifully depicted in this film.

This movie presents some very stunning visuals, and relies more on imagery to evoke reactions from the viewer. One can be marveled by the beauty of a landscape and terrified at the sheer destructive force of nature, all at the same time. Visuals of desert areas that used to be fertile and heavily polluted waters evoke emotions about the nature of human greed.

If you’re the kind of person that likes to go “ooh” and “aah” over stunning nature photography, this is a must-watch. If you rely more on narrative and story-telling this might be less interesting.

4. Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)

Who Killed the Electric Car? tells the story of the electric car, its modern development, and commercialization. It focuses mainly on General Motors’ EV1, which was manufactured to be leased to drivers in Southern California, following the State’s Zero-Emissions Vehicle laws in 1990. This law required automobile makers to produce electric vehicles in addition to their gasoline-powered cars if they were to continue operations in California.

This law was later repealed after incessant lobbying by the part of GM themselves against the product. Other automobile manufacturers and the oil industry also chimed in to help kill the electric car. Around 5000 units of electric vehicles were destroyed. The motives behind the killing off of the electric car are examined from various perspectives.

The film also explores the future of automobile technologies including a deeply critical look at hydrogen vehicles, an upbeat discussion of plug-in hybrids, and examples of other developing EV technologies such as the Tesla Roadster (released on the market two years after the film).

5. Revenge of the Electric Car (2011)

Revenge of the Electric Car tells the story of four entrepreneurs who fought to bring back the electric car. Bob Lutz from General Motors, Elon Musk from the American start-up Tesla Motors, Carlos Ghosn from Renault-Nissan, and Greg Abbott, an independent electric car converter from California are all featured and interviewed.

While the film Who Killed the Electric Car? ended with the destruction of nearly 5,000 electric cars from California’s clean air program, this sequel gives a breath of fresh air and hope to environmentalists and techies alike as it features the birth of a new generation of electric cars: the Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Roadster.

6. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)

In this film, we’re presented a look into the cattle-farming industry, and how it is actually the largest contributor to pollution that we know of. A lot of facts are presented

This documentary turns somewhat scary as our heroic film-maker is warned by predecessors about how he could be putting his life in danger just by attempting this investigation.

BBC ran a feature similar in nature but not as detailed or as “independent” as Cowspiracy in 2014 that discussed the food industry and it’s adverse effects on the environment. The BBC feature gives more credence to Cowspiracy but takes on a much broader scope.

7. Gasland (2010)

The Gasland movies are about fracking. The first film begins when independent filmmaker Josh Fox is offered $100,000 to allow oil companies to drill in his backyard. Weighing the pros and cons, Josh sets out on a journey to discover the effects of fracking toward human populations. What is uncovered is really worrying. From contamination of ground water with toxins and carcinogens that have led to serious health problems to combustible water faucets, this documentary takes a very direct and sometimes humorous approach to telling the story of lives who have been effected by fracking.

8. Gasland II (2013)

Gasland II continues with the issue of fracking but takes things to another level: government. In this film Josh goes about uncovering how lobbying by corporate interests has allowed for legislation to be passed that allows almost free-reign to big energy and oil companies. Josh documents how increasingly difficult it has been for him to gain access to information and due process now that he is known for his work on Gasland, and even ends up being incarcerated.

Altogether, these collection of movies about fracking make for some real eye-opening stuff.

9. FrackNation (2013)

This movie is a response to Gasland (2010). It presents the commercial benefits of fracking, as well as tries to dispute claims made by Fox in Gasland. This movie drew a lot of flak from critics who disputed the filmmaker’s crowd-sourced funds as mainly big oil interests funding a documentary counter-claim, or more simply put, propaganda. Worth watching, if only just to see things from a different point of view.

10. The Yes Men (2003)

The Yes Men have probably got to be the most shocking duo in modern eco-activism. Preparing elaborate hoaxes to highlight environmental and social damage caused by major corporations, the Yes Men have had huge impact with their work, and have often-times produced immediate results.

These three movies are a series of little battles fought by the Yes Men in the great war for the environment and humanity, all fought on their own terms, (often with bizarre tactics) against corporate adversaries much larger and more powerful than the duo.

11. The Yes Men Fix the World (2009)

The Yes Men have probably got to be the most shocking duo in modern eco-activism. Preparing elaborate hoaxes to highlight environmental and social damage caused by major corporations, the Yes Men have had huge impact with their work, and have often-times produced immediate results.

These three movies are a series of little battles fought by the Yes Men in the great war for the environment and humanity, all fought on their own terms, (often with bizarre tactics) against corporate adversaries much larger and more powerful than the duo.

12. The Yes Men Are Revolting (2014)

The Yes Men have probably got to be the most shocking duo in modern eco-activism. Preparing elaborate hoaxes to highlight environmental and social damage caused by major corporations, the Yes Men have had huge impact with their work, and have often-times produced immediate results.

These three movies are a series of little battles fought by the Yes Men in the great war for the environment and humanity, all fought on their own terms, (often with bizarre tactics) against corporate adversaries much larger and more powerful than the duo.

13. A Fierce Green Fire (2012)

A documentary about the modern environmental movement and how it came to be. Complete with archive footage that would fill those old enough to remember with eerie nostalgia, this film traces the beginnings of the global awakening in consciousness toward environmental issues in modern times.

This movie is definitely a must-watch for any environmentalist.

14. Inside the Garbage of the World (2014)

This documentary released for public broadcast is probably one of the more noble efforts by independent environmental filmmakers to date. Shot and produced by a husband and wife team (the Carillos), this feature takes a look on the effects our consumption (and waste disposal) has had on marine life.

From radiation seepage into oceans stemming from the Fukushima nuclear disaster to tiny bits of plastic that are mistakenly consumed as food by marine life and inevitably ending up on our dinner plates, this documentary is both informative and moving. Oceanographers, marine biologists and other scientists and researchers all lend their views on the deterioration of marine life quality resulting from our mismanaged waste disposal and consumption.

15. Years of Living Dangerously (2014)

This is actually a 9-part documentary feature, starring some very notable and recognizable public figures as narrators for each episode. Each episode (and each narrator) takes on different issues, and spans the entire globe. A truly global outlook on our environment and the issues we are facing are presented individually, and how everything ties together as a whole becomes very obvious, very quickly, in this series.

Episode 1: Don Cheadle reports on severe droughts in the Southwestern US. Harrison Ford explores how massive deforestation in Indonesia contributes to global warming. Thomas Friedman investigates how drought contributed to the rise of the civil war in Syria.

Episode 2: Arnold Schwarzenegger accompanies a team of forest firefighters in the forests of the Western US, and learns how longer summers attributed to climate change are giving natural pests such as the bark beetle more room to cause damage to forests. More dead trees equal more fuel for fire. Harrison Ford continues on his investigations in Indonesia, and even confronts Indonesian ministers and the President in seeking commitment to reduce deforestation.

Episode 3: Chris Hayes reports on the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, and meets with congressman, Michael Grimm, who reversed his anti-climate change stance after reviewing research and evidence presented by fellow Republicans. M Sanjayan travels around the globe to view the effects of global warming.

Episode 4: Ian Somerhalder visits the Evangelical fight against global warming and the Beyond Coal campaign, planned at shutting down a coal-fired power plant. Lesley Stahl visits Greenland to discover the ice is melting 5 times faster than it was 20 years ago. Large unexplored reserves of petroleum under the ice sheet mean that the country stands to gain trillions of dollars from the eventual melting away of the ice. Senator John Kerry calls climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction”.

Episode 5: Olivia Munn studies ocean acidification, and plans for a coal export terminal that would double US coal production and export. She shadows Washington’s new Governor, Jay Inslee, who puts the climate agenda at the forefront of his administration. New York Times reporter Mark Bittman reports on rebuilding the ruins of Hurricane Sandy, rise in global sea levels, and explores Holland’s flood management technology. Bittman also uncovers startling revelations about Governor Chris Christie’s administration.

Episode 6: America Ferrara reports on how the support of public policy made the growth of solar and wind energy in Kansas possible, even in the face of adversarial lobbying by oil and gas companies and their allies. Mark Bittman reports on fracking, and how it may actually be as dirty, if not dirtier than, coal.

Episode 7: Jessica Alba follows the Climate Corps, a group helping businesses across America implement green business practices. Thomas Friedman returns in an exploratory piece on how climate change effects food production across the globe, and makes the connection between severe droughts in wheat-producing countries, which caused prices to rise in the Middle East, where wheat-based flours are a staple diet. This inflation in food prices is one of the factors that contributed to the Arab Spring. Chris Hayes visits other areas badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy and discovers how the more impoverished communities are those that are usually hit the hardest, and who find it the most difficult to bounce back.

Episode 8: Michael C. Hall travels to Southern Asia to explore how rising sea levels might effect the population in Bangladesh and India. Hall states how developed nations like the US are more responsible for climate change and the effects it will have on lesser developed countries. Matt Damon studies how more and more severe heatwaves are contributing to more American deaths each year. Thomas Friedman continues his investigations in the Middle East to Yemen, where scarcity of water has already led to fighting between communities.

Episode 9: Michael C. Hall’s journeys in Bangladesh comes to an end. Thomas Friedman interviews President Barrack Obama on his views on climate change, and finds the President very concerned about the matter, saying that climate change is “one of the most significant long-term challenges, if not the most significant long-term challenge, that this country faces and that the planet faces. … when [the effects of climate change] start multiplying, then people start thinking ‘… We’re going to reward politicians who talk to us honestly and seriously about this problem.’”