Sustainably-Minded Media: Film, Book, and Podcast Recommendations

Hello!

Caitlin here, your Campus and Community Engagement Intern. It’s hard to believe finals were already weeks ago, yet we aren’t even halfway through winter break yet! With all the extra time we have this year, I wanted to look into and offer some suggestions for sustainability-minded films, books, and podcasts to occupy our time and provide for more mindful media consumption. Sustainable living and learning doesn’t take a holiday, but there are so many ways to learn that are also fun and entertaining! So sit back, relax, and enjoy these recommendations. 

What’s Trending Now

“A Life on Our Planet” (2020)

David Attenborough is best known for writing and voicing natural history documentaries. In his 93 years, he has traveled to every continent in the world and has experienced so much the natural world has to offer. Throughout this time, he has also witnessed changes in the environment due to climate change and other environmental degradation. “A Life on Our Planet” documents his life-long career of traveling and working in nature, his testimony of the changes he has witnessed, and a call to action for change.

You can watch the trailer on YouTube. The documentary can be streamed on Netflix. 

“I Am Greta” (2020)

Greta was just 15 years old when she began striking school for climate change. This film documents a year in her life as a young climate activist. It shows the challenges she faces personally and when faced with opposition to climate action. A powerful look at a young girl doing everything she can to fight for what she believes in, this documentary might inspire you to get more involved and make your voice heard.

Watch the trailer on YouTube here. The documentary can be streamed on Hulu.

“Kiss the Ground” (2020)

“Kiss the Ground” makes the argument that the soil we walk on might just be what saves us. The health of our soils is closely tied with the health of our plants, animals, food crops, and overall planet. This documentary explores the idea of regenerative agriculture and shares perspectives from scientists, farmers, activists, and politicians. With December 5th being World Soils Day, this documentary is an especially timely watch.

Watch the trailer on YouTube here. Kiss the Ground can be streamed on Netflix.

Caitlin’s Picks

I have picked just a couple of my personal favorites for documentaries, movies, books, and podcasts to offer as recommendations. I hope these suggestions provide a good variety of focus on environmental, social, and economic sustainability, and offer something new you may have not heard of before.

Documentaries:

“Night on Earth” (2020)

This nature docu-series is similar to others such as “Our Planet” and “Blue Planet” (which are also great and I would highly recommend), but this series focuses specifically on nocturnal life. Utilizing special low-light camera technology, the series follows nocturnal animals in various habitats. Each episode focuses on a different landscape, including “Moonlit Plains,” “Jungle Nights,” and “Dark Seas.” Each episode is about 45 minutes long with 6 episodes in total. I find this series very relaxing and also incredibly interesting and beautiful as viewers get to look at wildlife and nocturnal creatures like never before. It is really astounding to get to see the incredible creatures and natural world that exists when we are sleeping. 

Watch the trailer on YouTube here. The series “Night on Earth” is available on Netflix .

“Living on One Dollar” (2013)

Wanting to gain a better understanding of poverty, four economics-majors from the United States decide to spend 2 months in rural Guatemala living on just $1 per day. This documentary gives a very real look at the challenges faced by so many people living in poverty around the world – from economic issues, health, nutrition, water availability, and stress – while also highlighting the resiliency of people, families, and communities. One of the things that was most striking to me from this documentary was seeing the enormous generosity and humanity of people, especially people who have so little to give. This is an incredibly humbling film, but also provides some really uplifting moments showing how resilient and wonderful humans can be, which is so timely and relevant – especially in all that we have navigated in 2020.  

Watch the trailer on YouTube here. The full-length documentary can also be streamed for free on YouTube, or with an Amazon Prime subscription.

Movies:

“Wall-E” (2008) 

“Wall-E” is what I call an oldie but goodie. Wall-E is a lonely robot, long-ago left behind to clean up a deserted and trash-filled Earth. After meeting a sophisticated robot sent down from space, Eve, Wall-E begins to fall in love. To impress Eve, he shows her a small growing seedling. Upon discovering this incredible find, Eve quickly gathers up the seedling and Wall-E and heads back to space, where the two robots embark on an adventure to save humanity and restore the planet. Watching this movie for the first time when I was just 9 years old, I absolutely loved it, and it actually helped to spark my sustainability journey. The messages of the movie are extremely important and relevant, but it’s done in a way that is accessible and meaningful to viewers of all ages.  

Watch the trailer on YouTube here. Wall-E can be streamed on Disney+. The DVD is also available for free at the Ames Public Library. 

“Princess Mononoke” (1997)

“Princess Mononoke” is a Japanese animated fantasy film produced by Studio Ghibli that tells the story of a war between human civilization and nature. The people of Irontown have cleared away much of the forest and are on a mission to continue destroying the natural world, infecting many of the animals in the forest along the way. A young girl who was raised in the forest by wolves fights against them to defend the forest, and finds an unlikely ally in her struggle; a prince cursed by one of the infected animals. The story shows the conflict between humans and nature, the importance of coexisting with nature, and the balance needed for both humans and the natural world to thrive. 

Watch the trailer on YouTube here.  “Princess Mononoke” can be streamed on HBO Max, or bought through YouTube and Amazon. The DVD is available for checkout at the Ames Public Library.

Books:

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) 

This nonfiction book is written as a letter from Coates to his 15-year-old son. Throughout the book, he shares personal experiences, historic references, and thoughtful insight on what it is like to be a black man in America. The book addresses racial and social injustice in the United States. This was assigned reading for a class I took this fall, and I can honestly say this is one of the best books I have ever read for a class. After reading this I felt very reflective and open to understanding different perspectives, which is essential for our social sustainability. One of the greatest things we can do is to listen and learn from others and experiences different than our own.

“Between the World and Me” is available at the Ames Public Library. Check your local library for availability. 

“The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells (2019)

Another book I was assigned to read for a class, author David Wallace-Wells depicts a worst-case scenario of what the future could look like if we continue to be complacent about climate change. The book, though rather short, covers a lot of ground. It’s broken into different sections and includes focuses on droughts, floods, wildfires, and economics. I think this book provides some important and at times shocking information, which can also help to motivate readers. Even though it seems dark at times, it has some glimmers of hope in it as well, as Wallace-Wells says that we already have the ability to address so many of these issues, we just need to put that into action. 

“The Uninhabitable Earth” is available at the Ames Public Library. Check your local library for availability.

Podcasts: 

“A Matter of Degrees” 

Co-hosted by Dr. Leah Stokes and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, this podcast tells stories for “the climate curious,”  those who know climate change is an issue but don’t know what to do about it. This show is brand new – season 1 came out this fall and there are currently 6 episodes. The hosts bring in guests to discuss topics including climate guilt, the youth climate movement, and how to manage carbon emissions. I found this podcast engaging, entertaining, educational, and easy to listen to – I binged the whole thing in one day while doing work. Now I am anxiously awaiting more episodes!

For more information on the podcast and for access to full transcripts of each episode, refer to the A Matter of Degrees Podcast website. “A Matter of Degrees” can be streamed on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or right from their website without a subscription. 

“Sustainability Defined”

Self-described as “the podcast that defines sustainability one topic (and one bad joke) at a time,” friends and environmentalists Jay Siegal and Scott Breen attempt to define exactly what sustainability is with a different topic and guest each episode. I found this podcast really easy to listen to because at times it feels like listening to friends talking and making jokes, but there is also a lot of really good discussion, information, and guests knowledgeable on a wide range of topics. Their website even features a “Sustainability Tree” where they have categorized topics and sub-topics covered in each of their episodes, showing what episode each topic was featured in. So, if you have a specific area of topic of sustainability you want to learn more about, you can easily find where they cover it!

For more information about the podcast, as well as access to full-length episodes, episode notes, and the Sustainability Tree, refer to the Sustainability Defined website. “Sustainability Defined” can be streamed on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and on their website for free.


Live Green! Team Suggestions

I asked the other members of the Live Green! Team for recommendations as well, so here are some of the ideas they offered. While I have not seen or read all of these, I have definitely added them to my “to watch/read” lists and encourage you to do the same!

Films:

“Penguins” (2019)

Follow Steve the penguin as he finds love and goes about life in the wild. Watch the trailer here. 

“An Inconvenient Truth” (2006) and “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” (2017)

“An Inconvenient Truth” is a film presentation given by former vice president Al Gore, who wrote the book of the same name. Both films focus on spreading awareness and education of climate change, its impacts, and the efforts made to address them. Watch the trailer for “An Inconvenient Truth” here, and the trailer for “An Inconvenient Sequel” here. 

“Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” (2017)

This documentary addresses the issue of food waste and shows how chefs utilize scraps or wasted food to create amazing dishes. Watch the movie trailer on YouTube. 

“The Lorax” (2012)

Based off of the book by Dr. Seuss, a young boy living in a world devoid of nature goes looking for a real tree to impress the girl he likes and finds himself in the world of The Lorax.  Watch the movie trailer on YouTube. 

Books: 

“A New World System: From Chaos to Sustainability” by Donald G. Reid (2020)

According to Google Books, this book “examines the present crisis in the social and ecological environment that is producing profound, potentially catastrophic challenges to the planet and humanity and outlines a process for moving forward to address these critical issues.” 

“The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)

Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction event: our own. This non-fiction book explores thousands of years of history and through present day, and uses scientific terms and ideas in an accessible way. 


This is only a short list of sustainability-focused media that is out there. For more film suggestions, check out Triple Pundit’s “Top Eleven Must-See Sustainability Documentaries.” Have a long car-ride coming up? GreenBiz offers “14 Sustainability Podcasts You Need to Know.” For the avid-reader, end your year with one of The Zero-Waste Memoirs’ “20 Must-Read Books on Sustainability in 2020”, or start your year off with a New Year’s resolution to add Bookauthority’s “26 Best New Sustainability Books to Read in 2021” to your reading list. For those who may not have access to certain titles on specific streaming sites, your local library can be a great resource for free rental options of movies and books.

With so much time being spent indoors (and frequently in front of a TV or device), I think it is a good idea and great opportunity to include some thoughtful, sustainable content into our media consumption. There are so many great resources out there to learn about different areas of sustainability, or even just to keep your mind engaged sustainably. We would like to hear your favorites as well! To share, tag us on social media (@isulivegreen) or email Live Green! at livegreen@iastate.edu.

Planning is also underway for Sustainapalooza, so save the date for March 3rd, 2021, from 5:30pm-8:30pm in the Memorial Union. Check out and follow Live Green! on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more sustainable-minded ideas to come for your holiday break, and for updates about Sustainapalooza. 

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season, and a well-deserved extended break!

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