Must-See: 'Racing Extinction' Exposes the Secrets Others Don't Want You to See
“Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” —Shawn Heinrichs in Racing Extinction
In September of 2014 at around 10 p.m., I stood outside the United Nations building in New York City and watched a massive film being projected across the buildings in front and above me. Endangered species—from small invertebrates to large charismatic megafauna—world groove music and massive flowing images of nature streamed down the side of the 39-story building. Amidst the serene images were also scenes of environmental holocaust—smoke stacks, ecological decay and the threat of extinction to the web of life.
The UN building projection was the filming of the last scene in the documentary, Racing Extinction, just released a few weeks ago by the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), the same filmmakers who brought us the Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove.
Earlier this month, I sat in the Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colorado, and watched the Colorado premier of Racing Extinction. The same kind of large-scale effort that projected the film across the UN building permeates the entire documentary. It’s a racing, jet-set, epic kind of film—one that takes on the big problems at a worldwide scale literally racing all over the planet to find, face and fix extinction.
In screenplay lingo, Racing Extinction is James Bond meets The Cove meets Apocalypse Now.
The most intense scene in Racing Extinction is when the film crew gets on board a small manta ray fishing boat in Indonesia. A village fisherman stands on the bow of the boat with a long harpoon in his hand searching the water below. A giant manta ray, maybe 12 feet across and nearly flying through the ocean, surfaces just ahead of the speeding boat. A second later the fisherman lunges into the water, his full bodyweight on the harpoon as it stabs the giant manta ray in the back. Blood fills the water as the ray fights and flails. The film jumps an hour forward as the huge dead animal is hauled atop the boat.
What Racing Extinction does before and after this scene is what sets the film apart from other documentaries such as its predecessor, The Cove. Back on shore, the filmmakers show scenes of dozens and dozens of dead manta rays in just one day of fishing on this Indonesian island—it is an apocalypse, a type of species genocide, that is played out day after day on manta rays and other endangered species across the planet. The film jumps to other scenes of tens-of-thousands of shark fins in Chinese markets, bags and bottles full of endangered species body parts and oils for sale in markets worldwide, all while discussing the holocaust that humans are wreaking on the non-human world across the planet.
Racing Extinction then goes a step farther than just chronicling how human avarice and greed are purposely killing and profiting from the endangered species trade. The film delves deeply into the climate crisis and how it will likely lead to making many of Earth’s species endangered, especially those in the increasingly acidic oceans. Coral reefs dissolve and die before your eyes on the screen and hi-tech carbon-dioxide-sniffing cameras film the exhaust of the millions of planes/trains/automobiles polluting the oceans.
More importantly, Racing Extinction does not just chronicle the potential apocalypse, it also offers some hopeful outcomes and a path forward for everyone to take action. The same genocide that occurred with manta rays on the Indonesian island is now being replaced with a tourism industry that focuses on protecting and restoring the ocean and its species. The OPS team has been helping to educate children in that Indonesian fishing village and develop a tourist trade to replace the slaughter. Further, the entire film and its website is a call to action for people to engage and make a difference.
The two main people on the screen in Racing Extinction are Louis Psihoyos who is the Oscar-winning director of The Cove, and Shawn Heinrichs who is an internationally renowned oceanic photographer and owner of Blue Sphere Media. Another prominent person in the film is Leilani Munter, the “carbon free girl” race car driver who drives the Tesla that is fitted with extremely powerful film projectors that bring the images to life on the side of the U.N. building and wherever the filmmakers go. All three were on hand at the Boulder screening and were extremely gracious to visit with every person who came to see the sold-out event. Behind the scenes were dozens of producers, filmmakers and directors who helped bring the documentary to life.
In the trailer to the film, Louis Psihoyos says, “If you can reach people, you can change them." Racing Extinction is a big-screen attempt to reach people—not just environmentalists and the eco-choir—but also reach children, adventure seekers, educators, decision-makers and people who care of all ages.
As this film races across America and the world, try to catch it in your town or on the Discovery Channel which swiftly picked up the distribution rights. In fact, the CEO of the Discovery Channel said that the channel’s goal with this film and others is to “dump all the pseudo stuff and instead have programming that would impact people to do something.”
Stopping extinction is a race that we can win if we all run together—Let’s Go!
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
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