Date of Award

Winter 12-19-2019

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Environmental Studies


John Van Buren


This paper addresses the motives of environmental documentaries and their influences on public opinion and action regarding environmental issues and ethics. It suggests that through the communication platform of the environmental documentary, environmental education can further one's understanding of the environment and the human relationship with nature. Chapter 1 uses quantitative data on contemporary documentary filmmaking, as well as on coverage of environmental issues in all communications media. This chapter also includes the data from a survey conducted at Fordham University, showing the influence of environmental documentaries on students’ mindsets and behaviors at this school/institution. Chapter 2 explores the history of documentary film and its representation of the environment, from the works of David Attenborough to the rising popularity of Netflix documentary films. Chapter 3 delves into contemporary communication theories on persuasion, as well as industry disinformation campaigns utilized by documentarists to target and sway audiences on environmental issues. Chapter 4 showcases the relationship between documentary viewership and environmental education, showing how viewership shapes one’s environmental worldview and actions and determines an individual’s contribution to environmental causes. Drawing on discussions and lessons learned in previous chapters, the concluding Chapter 5 addresses the overall success or failure of environmental documentaries to spark the minds and actions of the public to create positive change for the environment’s benefit and makes policy suggestions on behalf of this medium as a communication tool within education.