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5 Eye-Opening Climate Refugee Films That Are Available Online

In recent years, the undeniably devastating effects of climate change have become clearer and clearer. Higher global temperatures lead to drought, flooding, rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions on an unprecedented scale. This affects not only the environment and animal species, but humans and their rights as well. Marginalised communities and vulnerable groups suffer the most from the consequences of climate change.

What happens when people are unable to stay where they are, faced with droughts, flooding, disease, and other dangers? They become climate refugees. Data from the World Bank suggests that by 2050, climate change could displace many as 140 million people. Here are five films available online that explore this issue further:

Planet SOS from Palau to Alaska: Where Will Climate Refugees Go When The Tide Rises? (2019)

Available on: Youtube |  From: Al Jazeera English
Al Jazeera reporters travel to Palau, an island country in the western Pacific Ocean, to investigate the effects of climate change. For thousands of years, the people have depended on the ocean, but as sea levels rise, they’re in danger. In this short film, Al Jazeera takes a closer look at what Palau is doing to protect itself and its biodiversity. The film also features a reporter going to an Alaskan village. There, natives deal with rising seas. In the Netherlands, people consider building homes on the water.

The Al Jazeera Media Network owns Al Jazeera English. It’s won numerous awards since its launch in 2006. The network is available via live streaming on its website. “Planet SOS” proves that the effects of climate change aren’t something on the horizon. They’re happening right now.

Fleeing Climate Change – The Real Environmental Disaster (2019)

Available on: Youtube | From: DW Documentary | Report by: Thomas Anders

In this 42-minute documentary, viewers are taken to “hotspots” or areas most affected by climate change. These include the Sahel Zone, Indonesia, and the Russian Tundra. In the Sahel Zone, Lake Chad has shrunk by 90% over the last half-century. Without rain, around 40 million will need to leave their homes. In Indonesia, rising waters from rivers will destroy poorer neighborhoods and ruin crops. In Russia, melting permafrost endangers both people and infrastructure.

DW Documentary is part of the DW-TV family of television channels from Deutsche Welle. Broadcasting began in 1992 with a focus on news and information. Documentaries like “Fleeing Climate Change” come from German broadcasters and international production companies. The film shows how climate change affects the world in different but equally devastating ways.

Climate Refugees (2010)

Available on: Tubi (US only, free), Youtube (rent) | Director: Michael P. Nash

Director and producer Michael P. Nash explores the human impact of climate change around the world. He and his producing partner Justin Hogan went to 48 countries to collect information.  The film features politicians like John Kerry and Al Gore, as well as scientists and environmental activists. What will happen when countries run out of food and water? Where will the people go?

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“Climate Refugees” premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, but received some criticism for its portrayal of climate refugees as “victims” and wealthier Western nations as “saviors.” Because of the breadth of research involved in making the film, it’s still worth watching and discussing.

The Age of Consequences (2016)

Available on: Tubi (US only, free), Youtube (rent) | Director: Jared P. Scott

This film looks at climate change effects like human migration and conflict within a national/global security framework. Military members and politicians like Madeleine Albright discuss how climate change plays a role in issues like the rise of ISIS and the conflict in Syria. Climate change triggers water and food shortages, drought, flooding, and other societal disruptions. This leads to violence and political instability. If nothing is done to address climate change, the world will see more refugees, terrorism, and political upheaval.

“The Age of Consequences” has a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for an Emmy for Oustanding Politics and Government documentary. It goes beyond the science of climate change and digs into the societal impacts. Solving climate change is about more than saving the environment; it’s about saving ourselves.

The Island President (2012)

Available on: Tubi (US only, free), Youtube | Director: Jon Shenk

The Maldive Islands is one of the places most vulnerable to climate change. As sea waters rise, the island is in danger of vanishing completely. This film features Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the island. He tries to protect the island and prevent Maldivians from becoming climate refugees. Once a political prisoner, Nasheed brought democratic reform to the island after three decades of a dictatorship.

Before the film’s release, Nasheed resigned in response to protests from political opponents and a police mutiny. Director Shenk hoped that the film would draw attention to the Maldive Islands and demonstrate that Nasheed was essentially forced out. “The Island President” has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.