This year proved that reality is stranger than fiction. Set against a backdrop of climate catastrophes, dismantled legal safeguards, biodiversity loss, the buildup of plastic waste and other global problems, the holiday spirit of 2017 may feel closer to “Blade Runner 2049” than “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
But inspiring breakthroughs and innovations have emerged toward solving all of these issues, from corporate sustainability commitments to grassroots organization for climate resilience.
Here are 11 films from the past year, from feature-length documentaries to short animations, that highlight the work that’s cut out for us as well as solutions in the right direction.
An Inconvenient Sequel
The long-awaited follow-up to Al Gore’s Academy Award-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” arrives more than a decade after the original, and while some things have changed, the fight for climate science to be accepted is still raging.
The documentary follows the ex-U.S. vice president as he advocates for passing the Paris Agreement, discusses the traumatizing effects of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines with its victims and engages a Texas Republican mayor about his town’s transition to renewable energy.
While Gore presents himself as the leading political voice for environmental sustainability, he’s ready to hand the torch to future generations.
A film that debuted at the end of 2016 may have shifted the world’s recycling system. Wang Jiuliang’s “Plastic China” documents the country’s unregulated recycling industry, which profoundly affects the lives and well-being of sorting communities.
The documentary features an 11-year-old girl, Yi-Jie, who stays out of school to help her alcoholic father sort recycled plastic to satisfy his money-hungry boss; each trying to survive on the output of the world’s plastics addiction. When it aired, “Plastic China” flamed public outcryfor greater environmental regulation. Going into next year, China, one of the world’s biggest scrap and waste processors, will ban imports of recycled plastic, textile scrap, paper and e-waste.
There’s a fever in our oceans and its devastating effects cannot remain hidden for long. As the global temperature climbs, oceans absorb most of the extra heat, causing “coral bleaching,” or the mass die-off of reefs, including the seemingly indestructible ecosystem of Australia’s beloved Great Barrier Reef.
Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski (“Chasing Ice”) teamed up with self-described “coral nerd” Zackery Rago and researcher Ruth Gates, among others, to capture haunting before-and-after footage of bleaching events that are accelerating in our lifetimes, and they call to stop it while we can.
Kids Speak for Parks
“You can’t protect what you don’t understand,” said Robbie Bond, founder of the environmental education organization Kids Speak for Parks.
Bond is 10 years old. With the help of his family, he travels the United States to infect other kids with excitement and respect for national organizations and why they’re not worth sacrificing for fossil fuels. If this is the next generation of climate activists, then we’re off to a good start.
Refreshingly narrated by Neil Patrick Harris, this Heineken-sponsored project is a dip in cool water. A small team of young designers and architects work together to build the “+Pool” in the Hudson River, literally trying to make something good out of a cruddy situation.
They fight the odds (and legal barriers) to create a filtration system that would clean river water contaminated with things that should be kept in the darkest parts of our imagination. Participants came up with a solution to treat 600,000 gallons of water daily to allow New Yorkers to swim in nature for the first time in a century.
Bill Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company, calls upon the spirit of his great-grandfather Henry Ford to shape the future vision of the car company. Ford’s controversial founder wasn’t an “environmentalist,” said the younger Ford, but he built the company upon the value of zero-waste — and that hasn’t changed.
Today, Ford has set tough goals of using to drinking water in production processes and uses 20 million pounds of recycled aluminum every month. If change begins from within, the car company is paving the right path for corporate sustainability. This is a nice example of a corporate sustainability video.
Earth Overshoot Day
This year, the planet marked Earth Overshoot day — the day when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what Earth can regenerate over a year — on Aug. 2. Because we are consuming the resource equivalent of 1.7 planets and global consumerism is on the rise, that day is nothing to celebrate.
A short video from Sustainability Illustrated lays out why our ecological overspend is growing, causing deforestation, drought, global warming and other nasty effects. But, we can’t mend what we cannot measure.
We Live Here Together
That’s why C40 Cities, a coalition of 90 of the world’s biggest cities collaborating for equity and resilience, paired with Citi Foundation to ask six of the C40 mayors to discuss what resilience means to them.
“In society when things go wrong, it’s usually the poorest of the poor that suffer,” said Patricia de Lille, mayor of Cape Town. “Climate change is a reality that whatever you do, you have to include climate change as a factor.”
Get to know the leaders of the worldwide sustainability movement and their visions for inclusiveclimate action that promote urban growth while protecting its most vulnerable citizens.
What has the wings of an owl, the belly of a penguin and the nose of a kingfisher?
The bullet train in Shinkansen, Japan. The redesigned train debuted in 1997, after engineer-slash-birdwatcher Eiji Nikatsu discovered the secret to increasing speed and silencing sonic boom was biomimicry, or studying the natural world to find better solutions to human systems.
Modeled on the birds’ aerodynamic bodies, the train became 10 percent faster, used 15 percent less electricity and stayed under a 70 DB noise level. Vox, in partnership with the “99% Invisible” podcast, ask where else we can apply biomimicry to use nature’s thousands of years of R&D.
Nothing wasted, everything gained
Here’s a cooking secret from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain: “Use everything, waste nothing.” But in the U.S. alone, 40 percent of the food produced goes to waste. Meanwhile, food production contributes to deforestation, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention diverting ample food from the hungry.
“Chefs take something ugly and tough and transform it into something delicious,” said Bourdain, and this film follows the culinary genius and his friends trimming down food waste while enjoying, in true Bourdain style, “the smug self-satisfaction of doing the right thing.”
Sweating the small stuff
The famed sustainability series “Story of Stuff” takes on a huge problem: microfibers.
As the demand for clothing made with polyester increases, some manufacturers have begun implementing recycled fabric into their manufacturing process in order to be more eco-friendly. But there’s more to this issue than meets the eye — when washed, even recycled synthetic fabric sheds tiny fibers that end up in water sources, soaking up toxic chemicals and then being eaten by fish and, eventually, us. This video calls on companies to make clothing safe for the environment, the oceans and for people.
Just what we need to round out the year: A good dose of reality. This illustrated video by German design team Kurzgesagt (meaning “in a nutshell”) captures how disorienting, bizarre and beautiful life is, and how tiny our place in a universe we don’t fully understand.
Offering a counter to existential dread, “optimistic nihilism” urges us to make meaning in our lives, use our time on Earth to create a better world, look out for our fellow humans and to fill our days with what makes us feel fulfilled.
Where can you find Customer Services for WordPress