If there's one film you should see before the year is out, it's Racing Extinction.
In this riveting film, Academy Award-winning director Louis Psihoyos, with a team of artists and activists, uncovers the hidden world of endangered species and mass extinction. The film exposes the two worlds that are driving global species extinction—the international wildlife trade and the fossil fuel industry.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Psihoyos the day after watching his film at AREDAY in Snowmass, Colorado this summer.
“I’m trying to make a documentary so that your butt doesn’t hurt after 45 minutes," Psihoyos told me as we sat overlooking Snowmass Mountain.
"I want it to feel like a thriller, because what we are doing is thrilling," Psihoyos said as we discussed the value of documentaries compared to dramatic films. "We made a film that is like the Avengers, but it’s real. You have this incredible group of people with special skills and you bring them together to try and save the planet.
“We are using the same devices that you would with a narrative film. I loved Avatar. I’m working on a film right now where James Cameron is the executive producer. But I’m not so sure what people’s call to action was after Avatar. Maybe it warmed people up to the idea that we are destroying the environment, but when it’s fictionalized the call to action also feels a little fictionalized. There isn’t a call to action. So that’s the part that’s missing."
Psihoyos won an Academy Award in 2010 for his film The Cove, a true story of how an elite team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers embarked on a covert mission to penetrate a hidden cove in Taiji, Japan to uncover a dark and deadly secret—the slaughter of more than 20,000 dolphins and porpoises. The film exposed that dolphin meat, often labeled as whale meat containing toxic levels of mercury, was sold in Japan and other parts of Asia, and the remaining dolphins were sold to dolphinariums and marine parks around the world to live a lifetime of captivity.
I asked him what he thought the overall impact was from that film and he shared a converastion he had with Cameron.
“I talked to James Cameron and he said, ‘The Cove was a great film but never hit the numbers to make a difference.’ That really hurt me to the core. Because I felt like we made a great film, the team made a wonderful film and it is making a difference," he replied. "Not at the pace we would all like but it is out there doing good. At the end of the day I am not a filmmaker, I’m more of an environmentalist, I’m an activist, I’m using the genre of filmmaking to reach people that normally wouldn’t think about this subject.”
Prior to filmmaking, Psihoyos was known for his still photography and contributions to National Geographic. He explained what he sees as a big difference between the printed image and the power of film.
“With a film you can get people to sit for 90 minutes without their cell phones and concentrate their brain and heart on the most meaningful subject in the world. You can’t do that as a still photographer. As a still photographer for National Geographic, I’ve seen someone on a plane scan through an article that took me a year and a half to do in 30 seconds or a minute and I don’t know what they are really comprehending anyway when you scan through photographs because mine were pretty full of information," he lamented.
"But, with a film you can have a chance to change somebody’s heart and that’s what we want to do. The science shows that you don’t change behavior by getting people to think differently, you change people’s behavior by getting them to feel differently. That’s what we’re doing with this film, first we break people down, get people to have a little bit more compassion for other species and then build it up from there so they internalize that hey I’m responsible for this."
"I’ve been going to this conference [AREDAY] for the last five years, we’ve been such outsiders, we’re the whinny kids in the back of the room that nobody has been listening to, and all of a sudden this [the health of the environment] is on the forefront. The conversation is now front and center. So I feel like the tide has really changed for us and things are really changing quite quickly and we have to cease that moment and what we want to do with this film is put it over the top so people can engage the leaders to do the right thing.
“There has never been a more important time in the world than to be alive now—the decisions we make in the next few years will impact the Earth and animal species for millions of years."
Psihoyos summed it up best when he said, "My goal is to make a film that doesn't just create awareness, but inspires people to get motivated to change this insane path we're on. Films to me aren't just entertainment, they are for me the most powerful weapon in the world, a weapon of mass construction.
“The idea is to try and get the film seen by as many people as possible so we can start to create this tipping point that we’ve all been talking about forever."
And now, Psihoyos has a huge opportunity to get millions of people to see his film. On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Discovery will feature Racing Extinction in more than 220 countries and territories around the world in a 24-hour period.
The plan is for Racing Extinction to be a catalyst for a larger, ongoing campaign utilizing the hashtag #StartWith1Thing. It will serve as Discovery’s call to action to create a global movement behind the film's television event and encourage everyone across the globe to make small changes that will have a huge impact on the health of the planet.
It's no coincidence the film will be featured on Discovery during COP21, when world leaders are meeting in Paris to negotiate what many hope will be a binding treaty on reducing global carbon emissions, Psihoyos added.
Watch the official trailer here:
The Racing Extinction soundtrack is available for download and streaming. The soundtrack is by Academy-Award-nominated composer J Ralph, and features the song "One Candle, written and performed by J Ralph and Sia.
Watch the music video below that features the spectacular event when images of species were projected on the Empire State Building in New York City on Aug. 1. Psihoyos' nonprofit Oceanic Preservation Society teamed up with Obscura Digital to raise awareness for species extinction worldwide by using this iconic building to reach as broad an audience as possible.
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By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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