Dede's Green Scene: Racing Extinction by Dede Tabak, October 21 2015, 0 Comments

Could half of the world's species be extinct soon? If mankind continues to treat animals the way we are doing now, it's possible. Racing Extinction is a documentary directed by Louis Psihoyos, who won an Oscar for his 2009 documentary The Cove, about the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan. Psihoyos, a former National Geographic photographer and executive director of the Oceanic Preservation Society, uses his latest film to expose the hidden world of endangered species and race to protect them against mass extinction. There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth and we may be coming up on a sixth. Racing Extinction delivers one clear message throughout the film—mankind is directly responsible for endangering countless species all over the world.

Psihoyos uses the same tactics as in The Cove by teaming up with other environmental activists to go undercover and expose the illegal trafficking of endangered species on the black market. The footage is sobering. The viewer is taken inside Chinese warehouses filled with thousands and thousands of shark fins. And the numbers are staggering—200,000 sharks are killed for the fin trade every day. Fishermen catch sharks, cut off their fins and dump them back in the ocean to die. The filmmaker then takes viewers to a restaurant in the United States and exposes them for selling illegal whale meat. In one scene, an activist projects an image of a whale on the restaurant building to deter restaurant goers from dining there. As a result, the restaurant closed. Next, Psihoyos exposes a village in Indonesia where they slaughter manta rays for their gills to sell on the black market. Demand for the gills of manta and mobula rays has risen dramatically in the past 10 years for use in traditional Chinese medicine, even though rays were not historically used for this purpose. The film is hard to watch, but the stories are necessary to see. It makes one feel like the Earth is doomed and there is nothing we can do it stop the downfall. But Racing Extinction delivers the message that indeed there is something we can do.

“Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. There’s so many people who sit back and say we’re screwed, but you know what, with that one candle maybe someone else with a candle will find you, and I think that’s where movements are started,” says Shawn Heinrichs, a photographer and an activist in the film.

The film goes on to say that climate change is having a negative impact on Earth, as well. Noting that our planet’s five major extinctions had in common a spike in carbon dioxide, Psihoyos worries that our carbon emissions are damaging our oceans in ways that are mostly invisible. Coral reefs dissolve and die due to the increasing acidity of our oceans. State of the art technology shows alarming levels of carbon dioxide shooting out of everyday street scenes. But more provoking and alarming is the fact that methane produced by our reliance on live animal farming is more harmful than the pollution created by all the transport activity in the world.

The Racing Extinction team honored the death of Cecil the Lion, a beloved lion in Zimbabwe who was illegally killed, and other endangered species by projecting their images on the south side of the Empire State Building in New York City on August 1, 2015. The one-day show was called Projecting Change and was used to promote the documentary as well as to raise awareness for these species who will soon be gone if we don’t take immediate action.

Racing Extinction has some powerful images, but Psihoyos wants the film to inspire and be a beacon of hope.

"When you're talking about losing all of nature, it's not a spectator sport anymore," says director Psihoyos. "Everybody has to become active somehow," says Psihoyos. "The idea is to inspire people."

Since The Cove, the killing of dolphins has decreased from 23,000 a year to 6,000 and Psihoyos is still working on decreasing the killings even more. Psihoyos hopes that Racing Extinction will have a similar effect. In the film, Shawn Heinrichs, an internationally renowned oceanic photographer and owner of Blue Sphere Media, exposes the shark fin industry. Heinrichs and WildAid, with the help of former NBA player Yao Ming, created a PSA about how shark fin soup is made. Since then, the shark fin trade has seen a sharp decline in China. Also, when the film was shot, there were seven illegal shark oil processing plants in China and six of them have been shut down. After the manta ray slaughters became viral, Indonesia created the world’s biggest manta ray sanctuary in 2014. Instead of killing the manta rays, the filmmakers helped to raise $250,000 to convert the ray village to a tourism attraction. Now, tourism thrives in this popular "Coral Triangle."

These children don't have to be killers," says Hendrich. "They can be researchers and guides."

Racing Extinction encourages viewers to make just one change at a time instead of being overwhelmed by it all. Look at greening commercial buildings and homes. Decrease meat consumption or remove it altogether. Read labels of beauty products and Chinese medicines to make sure they don’t support these illegal wildlife industries. Be conscious of what’s happening on our planet.

Racing Extinction first aired at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and is in limited release now. On December 2, 2015, you can see Racing Extinction when it airs on the Discovery Channel in more than 220 countries and territories around the world. Airing the documentary on the Discovery channel will reach a larger audience and raise awareness to inspire ordinary people to push for change and save the countless endangered species from dying out.

"If we don't have healthy oceans," concludes Psihoyos, "we don't have a planet."