After the award-winning documentary The Cove, I had kept my social media sights trained on Louie Psihoyos and so was well aware that the movie was being launched. Sitting patiently in the UK, and with much envy, I saw all the Tweets and Instagram posts streaming passed with news of viewings from the US.
The movie finally made it onto Amazon, and I snatched up a copy and watched it with the excitement of a child at Christmas. It did not disappoint. It’s a powerfully edited piece of work, telling multiples stories about the price nature is paying for our greedy consumerism and exploding population. While it does cover sad and emotionally draining topics, there is also an underlying tale of hope. Hope, that if we all wake-up and do something we can help to make the big changes necessary.
I have watched it several times since then, and it slams me like a sledgehammer each time. It starts out with a little palaeontology for the layman that sets the scene perfectly for the team which travels the world explaining why the natural world is racing to extinction. They also used revolutionary technology in this movie to illustrate the impact we are having on the planet (lookout for the segment on seeing our CO emissions with a camera).
Being an author of eco-thrillers set against climate change and the trade in wildlife products, I have studied and researched man’s role in the ongoing demise of the earth for quite a while. As a wildlife photographer, I have researched ecosystems and species to photograph, but this movie still rocked my beliefs. Here I was telling the story of my world around me through writing and photography, and all the while believing that others were taking care of the decline of all that I held dear.
We always think there is going to be someone else around to save these animals – Louie Psihoyos
Every time I find myself losing conservation focus or hope in the world’s ability to fix this, I watch this documentary and am reinvigorated to be a part of the change that I want in the environment.
I guess my only criticism of Racing Extinction is that it doesn’t drum home the message that population is the source of all the issues befalling our natural world. The movie is not alone in missing out the chance to educate people on this critical issue. Many documentaries of late, have missed the chance to push this point. We cannot talk about stemming species decline, loss of habitat or sustainable living unless we tackle the birth-rate of the planet.
Purpose of the documentary
- If you can show people the beauty of animals, there is a chance to save them – Louie Psihoyos
- There have been five mass extinctions in our planet’s history – we are witnessing the 6th.
- We are the cause of that extinction and are not dealing with it.
- Don’t sit back and expect “the other people” to stand up and do something to save our wildlife and ecosystems
- “In a hundred years we could lose up to 50% of all species on earth” – Dr Michael Novacek
- We are the new kid on the street in evolutionary terms but have managed to force a new epoch – the Anthropocene (the name of the era we are in) onto the world.
- Sharks predate the dinosaurs and have survived four previous mass extinction events – we are destroying them for soup.
- The largest factor contributing to the 6th extinction is having to feed 7.9 Billion people on this planet
- 1.5 Billion cattle (for meat and dairy) are the major contributors of methane on the planet which is causing the warming.
- Having to convert natural habitat to arable farmland to feed us and all the cattle, sheep and poultry is the major cause of habitat loss – 75% of the agricultural land is now used to grow feed for our livestock
Most haunting moment or sequence
There were several for me, but the one that stands out was a sequence about a library of bird calls, and the lone male bird of its species in Hawaii.
- Dr Christopher W Clark (Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program) recorded the song of the last Kauai O’o bird in Hawaii – last seen in the 1980’s. The sequence of the film shows the last male of its species calling to a female that will never come. It’s the soundtrack of our failure to protect the planet we are decimating.
- After a shark-fin soup advert (starring Chinese basketball hero, Yao Ming) by WildAid in 2016, demand for that product dropped by 70 %. It shows what education can do in the face of ignorance and tradition.
- Tireless work by Shawn Heinrichs and Paul Hilton demonstrate that individuals can make huge strides when it comes to raising awareness.
- Asian governments are doing a lot to stem the trade and consumption of wildlife products, but a lot will still have to be done.
- Education is still the best long-term solution especially when people’s livelihood depends on harvesting wildlife to satisfy the demand from wealthier countries
- It is not an East vs. West problem. Both are responsible for pushing species towards extinction.
- Governments should provide all schools and every household with a copy of this movie
- Outright bans on the wildlife trade and trophy hunting are what seems to be the natural solution. It is a blunt tool to solve the problem and I believe you have to offer solutions to communities that hunt and kill animals or destroy habitats.
- Education to the limits of the number of children people should have.
- Keep sharing the message of this movie. It only #Startswith1thing so get involved.
A parting quote
If we lose hope, there is not hope. Without hope people fall into apathy. There is still a lot left that is worth fighting for. – Jane Goodall
Since filming, the last remaining, Rabbs’ fringe-limbed treefrog, shown in the movie, a character nicknamed “Toughie” has died. The species is now extinct.