Environmental Issues on Screen: Netflix Picks

By: Shannon Reilly

Every January and February, Netflix knows we are all hiding away in our rooms from the inches of snow that the Midwest is usually guaranteed. In those months, many new series are usually released to fill the long J-term and first few weeks of school. This year, there was hardly a white winter- maybe we can call it a gray one. This winter was one of the warmest for several cities in the Midwest and Eastern United States. Kansas City’s January was 12 degrees warmer than average. It feels like Netflix knew this would happen, too, because several of the releases on the streaming platform address climate change. From documentaries to dramas, concerns about the future in a world of climate change underscored many of the shows it introduced in 2020. Here are my latest recommendations:


This new documentary series focuses on a few relevant pandemics, which is especially critical with the coronavirus spreading across Asia and parts of Europe. The series opens with an episode on the flu, the next episode touches on Ebola, and then later episodes broaden and show the behind-the-scenes search for a cure. These events will only get more common under climate change, as warmer temperatures fail to kill new viruses, and deforestation and disruption of natural habitats exposes us to new dangers. 


Fire in Paradise

This documentary tells the story of recent wildfires in California and how they are tied to climate change, and there is powerful footage of the devastated region. First responders described how quickly this fire progressed from a small and common threat to a deadly wildfire. The documentary is centered on interviews with witnesses and people affected by the flames, reinforcing what a tragic event it was.  


Night on Earth: Shot in the Dark

This documentary shows the intensive behind-the scenes efforts that go into getting wildlife footage. Though it is mostly centered on the work of the crews that follow the animals, it is clear from the lengths that they go to that many of the Earth’s most incredible species are getting even harder to find. This idea is complicated by how wildlife is extremely sensitive to human activities, even just the presence of a light and camera. This documentary had beautiful footage of scenes in nature from around the world that we will likely never have the opportunity to see with our own eyes. 


Streaming platforms like Netflix influence our collective culture by choosing what shows are accessible to their over 8.2 million subscribersOur Planet, a nature documentary series was the most watched program in its category. Having discussions on climate change as components of its shows, even if in varying degrees, increase our perception of climate change as the inescapable reality that it is. Addressing climate change has been decisively handed down to the younger generations, the same generations  that rely on Netflix for their entertainment. Small steps like this make protecting the environment part of our daily discourse, instead of a political issue or personal hobby. 


Cover photo courtesy of Pixabay

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