For the good of the planet, I hope everyone can set aside 2 brief hours to watch Racing Extinction and contemplate the world their living in and each individual’s role in it. Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos masterfully portrays the stunning beauty, shocking destruction, and power of the individual in the beautifully crafted documentary, Racing Extinction. Known for his Academy Award winning film, The Cove, Psihoyos transports us to another world where the presence of majestic blue whales is reverberated through the television screen and into our hearts, where the intelligence and human-like emotions of manta rays draws a tear, and the microscopic and forgotten bathe in the spotlight. The absolutely stunning cinematography and photographic images captured by many National Geographic explorers, bridges the gap between humans and all else that lives. We are drawn into this incredible blue and green world teetering on the edge of extinction. Unlike so many other documentaries, equal in passion, Racing Extinction is distinctly powerful because it is able to effectively balance the injustices and destruction with the voices of scientists, conservationists, and creative imagery of photographers. Racing Extinction is a documentary yearning to connect all people, yet its message is for the children of the 21st century, who hold the key to either the destruction or resurrection of Earth’s future.
Whenever we speak about the endangered species trade, Americans tend to assume that it takes place entirely in Asia and that we could not possibly be a contributor; however, the opening of the film is at an acclaimed Su
shi restaurant in L.A. where they serve whale. The media artist responsible for the displays at the Academy Awards, bravely projected footage of whales in their natural habitat with bold, red letters reading “Don’t Eat Whale” as he was stationed outside of the restaurant projecting the video 24/7 until it was shut down. By proving that atrocities like this are taking place on the homefront, as not necessarily the exception, but as a dark, unregulated industry, got the attention of Americans sitting in the luxury of their home. It then transitions to a peaceful Bioacoustics lab at Cornell University, which has the largest collection of animal sounds in the world. As an uplifting caucus erupts filled with whale calls, bird songs, and mighty roars we realize that one day soon these human-recorded pictures and sounds may be all we have left of the animals. Chris Clark, a professor at Cornell, is visibly concerned and impassioned about preserving each unique voice and heartbeat on Earth. His wise words resonate throughout the film, “the whole world is singing…but we have stopped listening”.
Cries of distraught, anger, whimpers of fear, roars of resilience, and songs of love are rising up from the animals, but in order to hear them we must recognize that humanity is not disconnected from all other forms of life. Paleontologists are interviewed who are experts in the past 5 mass extinctions; and, they all conclude that leading up to the extinctions were significant increases in atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. In concise terms, “Humanity has become the asteroid” and we will have only been a blink of the eye in geologic history. The focus of the documentary hovered on the oceans because they are the base of life from the massive amount of seafood consumed each year, to the 50% of Oxygen that is produced by phytoplankton. The mesmerizing world of microscopic larvae and plankton is presented before us, a complex world that we never waste a moment to dwell on. A lead plankton researcher presents his groundbreaking research that shows how greenhouse gases have led to a 40% decrease in plankton worldwide. How can this be? Each year more Carbon Dioxide enters the atmosphere, and more is absorbed by the oceans. Carbonic acid is formed with molecules found in the ocean; however, the carbonate shells of a multitude of species are being dissolved faster than they can grow back – leading to a major problem in shellfish hatcheries and beyond.
Geologists brand humans guilty of, “reversing geologic history” with their input of greenhouse gases into the environment. The melting of the arctic isn’t just bad news for rising sea levels, but the trapped methane bubbles that have been frozen there for millions of years are starting to escape the melting permafrost. Methane is 22% more powerful and deadlier climate changer, when it comes to trapping heat. We can’t reverse what has already happened, but we can certainly change our addictive habits to halt the further destruction of our world.
In the film, we feel as if we are on the journey with the filmmakers as they travel the world discovering both the absolute beauty and horror our Earth is teeming with. On the streets of Hong Kong, we watch as, “no other species better represents what’s going on in the ocean than sharks”, where scenes of expansive rooftops are laden with hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of drying shark fins. Shark populations have declined by 90 percent. Each day 250,000 sharks are caught for their fins, excluding those who are caught as bycatch. The demand for shark fin soup has declined in recent years, due to the success of a WildAid anti-shark finning campaign, but millions are still killed each year. The owner of an underground endangered species buisness says that the Western world is just, “misunderstanding our industry” yet he arrogantly admits that there is no nutritional or medicinal value in sharks. Again, we must remember that Hong Kong is the epicenter of this activity, but it is happening on our soil as well. My heart sank as footage of a de-finned nurse shark struggles to swim and lands on a coral bed, its gills still ferociously beating as it grasps for life. The sleek, exceptionally evolved, and majestic beauty of sharks can be derailed by humans so quickly in the most inhumane ways. Most importantly, the film shows us that change and conservation is possible. On the Eastern shores of Mexico lies Isla Mujeres, once the largest exporter of shark, but today boats filled the water taking tourists on trips to swim with them. It is the amazing and feasible success story of one man who dared to change the way the community operated. Finally, we are once again transported across the globe to the fishing communities of Indonesia.
We are reminded that even if we are not directly involved, many of us are indirectly contributing to the extinction of species at a disturbingly high rate. Throughout the documentary, experts who have done research or conservation work speak with such passion and urgency that everyone in my household couldn’t help but be moved by their words. The most honest, genuine, and impactful story in the film was that of a man rescuing an Oceanic Manta Ray caught on fishing line. An aerial view of the interaction shows a diver swimming down and clipping the fishing line, disentangling her. He makes a second descent and carefully pries a hook out of her mouth once he realized that she still wasn’t moving. She gracefully circles his feet, and he decides to make a final descent. Softly, he rubs the wound trying to tell her, “that it’s going to be okay” she understands this gestures and moves her body to look into his eyes, as if saying thank you, before swimming into the blue abyss. As he recalls this experience, after witnessing the killing of many mantas the day before, his voice quivers as he can’t imagine a world where these incredibly intelligent and majestic creatures do not exist.
If the manta ray gill trade does not stop, that empty world is where we are heading. They visit Nama Kara, Indonesia, “ground zero” of the manta ray trade where it was started and continues to be a main exporter to China. In response to the decline in sharks, they began to hunt Mantas and claim that their gills hold the cure to cancer, among a host of other diseases. Due to ignorance and false misconceptions: the manta trade is booming. Research done in the maldives by Manta Trust director, Josh Spencer, shows that Mantas are slow to reproduce and their migratory patterns limit genetic diversity. However, he was successfully able to convert a large manta hunting community into a prosperous eco-tourism community, after teaching them about mantas. Similarly the filmmakers showed the children of Nama Kara footage of manta rays in their natural habitat – an aspect of mantas they had never experienced before. Kids, who hold the power of the future, became sad at the thought of hurting these gentle giants. Hopefully this community is on the road to eco-tourism, “we just bring a message, it’s really up to them” claims Psihoyos.
There was a time where great value was put on the land and animals we were able to peacefully coexist, but humans have distanced themselves from these innate beliefs. Why do you think the ancient texts regard animals so highly and sacred? It is because we are infinitely connected, but the great machine has made us lose touch with our natural surroundings, believing that we can survive on a scorched Earth and ignore the reality.
New York City is the epicenter of the Modern World, and as industrialized and removed from nature as possible. Jaw dropping videos and images of endangered wildlife colored the buildings and billboards of New York City, as the team projected these images from afar. The captivating imagery made the people gather together in peaceful awe of what they were witnessing. This is a conservation movement for a new era. If there was ever a time and place to make a statement, New York City during the week of Paris Climate Talks is it. By broadcasting it on Discovery channel, which under new management has leapt forward in becoming more active in conservation movements, this documentary is the first to reach such a large and diverse audience. Estimates are from anywhere between 500 million and 2.5 billion people tuned in worldwide – just last night. Racing Extinction did not simply burden viewers with the wrongs of humanity and their disastrous effects but they presented simple, real life solution that the average person can undertake.
Near the end of the film, Jane Goodall’s wise words resonated with me, “Without hope people fall into apathy” which does nothing to aid our cause. The film was so revolutionary because it was relatable, for it combined art, science, and solutions to craft a picture of hope for the future, yet provoke people to take action. Finally, the filmmakers leave us with a thought provoking quote from a reverend in Japan, “better to light one candle, than curse the darkness”. The time is now. The motivation and means have arrived. Please, do your part to preserve the miraculous beauty that remains.
For more, visit: http://racingextinction.com/