There Is No Planet B: Climate Change on Film

People are impacting the environment at a larger scale than ever before; the Earth can expect more extreme weather events and longer periods of drought, among other deleterious effects. The Paris climate accord is a pledge of every nation in the world except for Syria, Nicaragua, and the United States to work actively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, predominantly carbon dioxide, which humans produce. On the occasion of the U.S. withdrawal, here is our selection of 12 fiction films which integrate environmental change into the plot; they are all dystopian.

Directed by Richard Fleischer. 1973. Overpopulation and extreme heat make New York a very uncomfortable place to live in 2022. Fossil fuels have created an enhanced greenhouse effect. Water and food shortages have forced the government to create a food substitute that is made…from people.

Directed by Roland Emmerich. 2004. Climate change has continued unchecked and altered the Atlantic Ocean’s water currents. Resultant extreme weather events have created another Ice Age. The U.S. government ends up in exile in Mexico.

Directed by Christopher Nolan. 2014. Life on Earth is unsustainable after widespread crop blights; only corn and okra still grow. A group of interstellar travelers look for a new home.

Directed by Minh Nguyen-Vo. 2014. In 2030 Vietnam, the country is flooded and most farmlands are gone, so communities are trying to find a way to genetically engineer plants to grow in salt water.

Directed by Douglas Trumbull. 1972. All plant life on Earth is extinct, but select spaceships house greenhouses to preserve the surviving plant species in the hopes that they will one day be able to repopulate earth. One astronaut, a botanist in charge of a greenhouse, would kill to save his plants.

Directed by Jake Paltrow. 2014. The United States is suffering from an extended period of drought and the state controls the water supply.

Directed by Bong Joon-ho. 2013. Society has made a failed attempt to curb global warming and has instead created another Ice Age. No life can survive outside. A train harbors the survivors; a despotic engineer governs the train and makes living conditions unbearable for those in the back.

Directed by John Hillcoat. 2009. A global catastrophe extinguishes most plant life leaving humanity in a state of desperation.

Directed by Steven Spielberg. 2001. Rising sea levels have resulted in the destruction of coastal cities around the world; massive death tolls have decreased the human population. Scientists engineer a new kind of robot meant to substitute for people. Eventually, humans become extinct.

Directed by Kevin Reynolds. 1995. Polar ice caps have melted and most land is submerged in water. People live on floating structures, and a lone sailor tries to survive.

Directed by Andrew Stanton. 2008. In 2805, people have abandoned Earth to live on corporate-run spaceships. A trash-compacting robot unexpectedly finds a plant seedling.

Directed by Tim Fehblaum. 2011. Solar flares have destroyed the earth’s atmosphere. It is dangerously hot, and food and water are scarce.

For more, read an interview with water shortage specialist Dr. Andrew Bell about SOYLENT GREEN.