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Don’t feel like watching that holiday movie you’ve already seen 900 times? Then gather ’round to learn about a topic even more timely than Christmas cookies and the dreidel song: our warming planet.
In addition to the best-known titles, like “An Inconvenient Truth” and its sequel, “Chasing Ice,” and Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Before the Flood” and “Ice on Fire,” here are five documentaries to try. Don’t worry about spoiling the holiday mood: Most of them end on an inspiring note.
This series, featuring celebrity correspondents like Matt Damon and Olivia Munn, is a favorite of the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. Not only because it discusses climate impacts and solutions, but also because it tackles two huge myths: first, that climate change is a “distant issue,” and, second, that we can only fix climate change by “destroying the economy or our personal liberties.”
If you’ve ever wondered how the climate debate became, well, a debate, then this intriguing and infuriating film is for you. Based on a book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, it draws a parallel between the tactics of Big Tobacco and Big Oil, revealing the world of politics, spin and public opinion.
Besides highlighting the work of the oceanographer Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, this film also paints a picture of the devastating changes she has witnessed during her decades underwater. Xiye Bastida, a 17-year-old activist and organizer for Fridays For Future NYC, said it “shows the power we have as individuals to connect with nature and speak for nature.”
Inspired by Naomi Klein’s 2014 book of the same name, this documentary “aims to empower,” rather than scare, viewers into action. “The film tells moving, personal stories,” said Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, “but weaves them into a larger story about how colonialism and greed got us into this crisis, and also how people-power and disruption will get us out.”
Unless drastic changes are made, some biologists estimate we could lose up to 50 percent of Earth’s species within the next century. That devastating fact — a potential sixth extinction, wherein “humanity has become the asteroid” — is the basis for this fast-paced, wide-ranging film from Louie Psihoyos, who won an Oscar for “The Cove.” While some scenes are tough to watch, they’re balanced with awe-inspiring nature shots that showcase a world worth saving.
Seeking, and finding, invisible methane leaks
When our tiny plane packed with scientific instruments took off over the oil fields of West Texas, I didn’t know what to expect. We’d chartered the aircraft from a research company in an effort to spot “super emitters” of methane, an invisible gas that’s helping to warm the planet.
These emitters, scientific studies have shown, are contributing disproportionately to methane emissions from natural gas production, worsening global warming and local air pollution. But would we actually find one?
Over the course of two short flights, my colleague Jonah Kessel and I ended up finding six super emitters. It turns out they’re everywhere. But we weren’t done.
For the second stage in our reporting project, we drove to each of the sites to try to capture the methane emissions on video. We took a high-resolution infrared camera with us, one that takes methane’s heat signals and turns them into images. We stopped along the way to shoot other oil installations that dot the Permian Basin, the country’s largest oil and gas field.
What we saw through the camera’s lens, which is made of metal, was startling. Innocent-looking storage tanks belched gas. A nondescript shed glowed with gas and fumes. Compressor stations looked like giant fireballs.
Jonah, who is director of cinematography at The Times, set up shots with both infrared and regular cameras, so we could show you what’s visible to the naked eye, compared with what isn’t. The contrast, as you’ll see in these images, was powerful.
I hope you’ll take a look at our project. And let us know what you think — and if you have any ideas about how we can continue to use advanced technology to further our reporting.