Top 10: Films for the Earth

Watch ’em, weep, then get off your duff and do something

<i>The Meatrix</i>

The Meatrix

With the number of green Web sites and magazines growing daily, America has clearly accepted green as a cool new trend. Green isn’t just hip—it’s essential to our survival.

Newcomers to the movement, or followers doing their duty out of a vague sense of needing to help the Earth, may have their hearts in the right place, but real change depends on educated individuals galvanized by a basic understanding of the issues.

Fortunately, a small army of documentary filmmakers make environmental education easy. Two handfuls of well-produced films offer in-depth discussions of such issues as oil dependency and introduce the human face of the green movement via interviews with people like Rick Piltz (who blew the lid off the Bush administration’s attempts to suppress information about climate change) and Bish Neuhouser (an ordinary guy who runs his car on vegetable oil).

Funny, enlightening and scary, these documentaries are the place to start if phrases like “carbon emissions” and “peak oil” still make you scratch your head.

1. The Meatrix. Available for free download (, this series of animated shorts isn’t technically a documentary. Spoofing The Matrix, Meatrix invites viewers to “take the red pill” and follow the adventures of Leo (a pig), Chickity (a chicken) and Moopheus (you get it) as the animals battle the evils of factory farming, kung fu style!

The animation spares you the too-horrible-to-contemplate reaction that usually accompanies images of mistreated animals, but drives home a powerful point: Your steak doesn’t come from Yasgur’s Farm.

<i>Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price</i>

2. McLibel. Not only a valuable exposé on McDonald’s—a company that, despite reams of damning evidence, continues to flourish—this 2005 film paints an inspiring portrait of an ordinary couple who take on a big corporation and win, offering hope to the activist in us all.

3. The Future of Food. A film every American should see, Future investigates the ramifications of genetically modified food at both the local and global levels.

Among the more chilling sequences is an examination of seed manufacturer Monsanto (whose products are engineered to go fallow) and a peek at the role E. coli plays in making our tomatoes big and shiny.

4. Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. This film tells you everything you’ve ever tried not to know about this iconic capitalist behemoth.

5. The Corporation. This documentary ingeniously evaluates corporate institutions (considered “individuals” under the law) on their attitudes toward conservation, sustainability and quality of life of employees.

<i>Crude Awakening</i>

6. Who Killed the Electric Car? Also known as: Why did the government (including California’s own Air Resources Board) shut down production of the EV1, a vehicle designed to kick gasoline dependency and spare the air?

7. Crude Awakening. As gas prices soar, this chronicle of our dependency on fossil fuels offers a comprehensive history of oil production, the impact oil-based industry has on our planet and the vital facts needed to understand the peak oil crisis.

8. An Inconvenient Truth. This Academy Award-winning film presents a sane, just-the-facts approach to the causes of global warming. Nobel Prize winner Al Gore’s eloquent call to action is already a classic.

9. Everything’s Cool. Though most people now “believe” in global warming, this documentary stands as a testament to the fact that paradigm shifts are hard to come by.

<i>Everything’s Cool</i>

The film documents the efforts by the Bush administration to censor scientific findings and explores the lives of the journalists, scientists, environmentalists and average Joes who have been trying—some since the ‘70s—to blow the whistle on climate change.

Poignant and informative, it introduces some of the central human figures in the green movement and reminds us that a trustworthy government is essential to progress.

10. The 11th Hour. By wrapping science, research and social consciousness into a comprehensive whole, The 11th Hour creates a perfect summary of the issues at the heart of a green revolution. From reforming the government to rethinking the way we build houses, it covers every aspect we need to address.

Remember: It’s not a question of the planet’s survival; it’s a question of our own.