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Environmental Science Movies

A huge variety of commercial movies, documentaries, and other videos are available to supplement the environmental science curriculum. Each of the movies listed below I have either shown entirely, taken clips from, or given as a homework assignment.

Page 1
Environmental Ethics | Nature of Science | Populations and Species Interactions | Ecosystems

Page 2
Human Population | Food and Agriculture | Environmental Health

Page 3
Air Pollution | Climate Change | Water Pollution | Waste

Page 4
Fossil Fuels | Nuclear Energy | Renewable Energy


Environmental Ethics

Blood, Sweat, and Takeaways

Resources: Writing Prompt (Episode 1 - Tuna Canning)

Length: 42 minutes

Description: A reality-TV program from the BBC television network. Several young, affluent Brits are sent all over the world to observe, work, and live with those who produce many of the prepared foods found in the developed world. The first episode in the series takes the Brits to the island of Sulawesi, where tuna workers in live in basic communities, endure 90-degree heat in the canneries and struggle with the harsh realities of life on a traditional wooden tuna boat in the western Pacific.

Lessons Learned

  • The relative low price of many prepared foods is a reflection of the low wages paid to the workers.
  • The poverty level in many developing countries is so great that opportunities for education are almost none.
  • The average worker in a tuna processing plant earns about five United States dollars per day.

How to Get

The Yes Men Fix the World

Resources: Writing Prompt (based on the Bhopal segments)

Length: 87 minutes

Description: Chronicles of the efforts of Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, otherwise known as the "Yes Men" as they attempt to bring attention to the actions of large corporations including Dow Chemical, Halliburtan, Exxon, and others. The first segment, most relevant to environmental ethics, has them impersonate a DOW Chemical executive, announcing on a BBC News live broadcast that they have agreed to fully compensate all affected by the Bhopal tragedy. This causes a public relations embarassment for the chemical company and a rapid drop in the public stock price.

Lessons Learned

  • DOW Chemical purchased Union Carbide, which was responsible for the Bhopal explosion.
  • Except for a single small settlement with the Indian government, the victims have received no compensation.
  • The shareholders of companies like DOW react negatively to gestures that are ethical, but unprofitable.

How to Get


Nature of Science

The Eyes of Nye: Pseudoscience

Resources: Student Worksheet

Length: 25 minutes

Description: This episode of the 'Eyes of Nye' series attempts to debunk multiple examples of practices that appear or claim to be scientific, but are really not at all. Examples include psychics, palm reading, and firewalking. Science is an incredibly important concept to understand. Any extraordinary claim should be documented and the conditions or experiment that produced it repeatable. If a claim does not meet these standards, it is not science.

Lessons Learned

  • Astrology, reading of the Zodiac signs, is based on an outdated sequence of celestial constellations.
  • Psychic readings are often performed by the reader soliciting feedback from the subject.
  • Rhinoceros are poached so that their horns can be used for unproven homeopathic treatments.

How to Get

Secrets of the Psychics

Resources: Student Worksheet

Length: 60 minutes

Description: A dated but still relevant NOVA documentary looking at some of the tricks and fraud played by psychics and other individuals claiming to have supernatural abilities. James Randi, a former magician, is able to replicate or expose the methods used to produce many of the alleged abilities of psychics he studies. A terrific segment towards the end of the documentary involves placing an alleged psychic in a double-blind controlled study. When the psychic is unable to produce results within this design, all the research done by the facility is called into question.

Lessons Learned

  • Fortunes and astrological forecasts are written in a very general way so they could be applied to anyone.
  • Many individuals with claimed psychic abilities are unable to work under controlled conditions.
  • Double-blind controlled experiments are important for minimizing the effect of researcher bias.

How to Get


Species and Populations Interactions

PBS Evolution: Why Sex?

Resources: Student Worksheets

Length: 60 minutes

Description: Part of an extensive evolution documentary set. This episode examines the relationship between sexual reproduction and evolution. Uses multiple examples found in nature (Birds of Paradise, minnows, bonobos, chimpanzees) to examine different forms of how mates are chosen and how this reflects on the evolution of that species. Briefly considers the idea of evolutionary psychology, where much of human behavior is the result of our own evolution.

Lessons Learned

  • Sexual reproduction has a distinct advantage over asexual: offspring with new genetic combinations.
  • In many animals, the females choose which male has the best genes, and thus drive evolution of the species.
  • Evolutionary psychology is a field that explores human behaviors that are rooted in instinct and evolution.

How to Get

Blue Planet: Seas of Life - Coral Seas

Resources: Student Worksheet

Length: 72 minutes

Description: The seas surrounding coral reefs have the most diversity of any of the aquatic ecosystems. With such a wide abundance of life, a wide variety of complex relationships can be seen between the different animals and plants within the ecosystem. This episode of Blue Planet is the best of the set for illustrating these relationships. Examples of parasitism, mutualism, commensalism, competition, and predation are all included, as well as a terrific background on the formation and importance of the coral itself..

Lessons Learned

  • Coral is a mutalistic relationship between polyps and algae.
  • Coral reefs can only develop in warm, shallow waters. Sunlight is a limiting factor.
  • The tremendous amount of biodiversity creates competition for the scarce resources of the reef.

How to Get


Ecosystems

Blue Planet: Seas of Life

Resources: Student Worksheets

Length: 50 minutes per episode

Description: Each of the 50-minute episodes from this series covers a different aspect of marine life. The ecology of different types of coasts, tidal zones, layers of the ocean deep, the open ocean, and the frozen seas can each be contrasted using this series. Students often make the mistake of assuming the life found in the ocean is the same all over the world. This series is valuable in making those differentiations.

Lessons Learned

  • The food webs of the deep ocean are based on decomposers, rather than photosynthesis.
  • The open ocean is the least biodiverse of all the aquatic ecosystems, due to a lack of nutrients from land.
  • The material that makes up a coast (white sand, brown sand, gravel) reflects local geology and wave action.

How to Get

Life in the Freezer

Resources: Student Worksheets

Length: 30 minutes per episode

Description: Although Antarctica is the coldest and most desolate continent on the planet, life still penetrates even its deepest reaches. This series presents the geography across the different regions of Antarctica, the adaptations evolved by its living inhabitants, and how seasonal changes persist even this far away from the equator.

Lessons Learned

  • Much of the Antarctic continent is actually sea ice, and will melt through the seasons.
  • Due to the topography of Antarctica, some valleys receive almost no moisture and have mummified remains.
  • Only a few animals, such as the Weddell Seal, are able to live on the continent year-round.

How to Get

Planet Earth: The BBC Series

Resources: Student Worksheets

Length: 50 minutes per episode

Description: A groundbreaking BBC documentary series that covers different types of biomes, or land-based ecoystems in each episode. The biodiversity of each biome is sampled, as well as some of the geologic processes that led to its formation. Ecosystems covered include deserts, grasslands, temperate forests, rainforests, deep oceans, shallow seas, fresh water, and caves.

Lessons Learned

  • A tremendous amount of biodiversity can be found even in the driest deserts.
  • The food web of cave ecosystems is based on material such as guano brought in from the outside.
  • Organisms in plentiful ecosystems, such as rainforests, are more likely to have elaborate coloration.

How to Get

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