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GOING GREEN - Racing Extinction: Taking Action To Win The Race Against Environmental Disaster

Posted By Rachael Joy, Monday, August 15, 2016

I expected Racing Extinction to paint a bleak picture of endangered animals, but I didn’t expect to be moved to tears by the very opening shot. The film begins on a close-up of a small, petrified bird in a glass jar labeled: Dusky "Orange” Last One. I immediately got the chills. I knew the story of Orange very well. He was the last-ever Dusky seaside sparrow, a bird native to the coastal area in Florida where I grew up. The delicate ecosystem the dusky called home was decimated by human development and Orange died June 16, 1987. Dr. Christopher Clark of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology makes the point that losing a species is "like having a symphony and one by one you pluck each of the instruments out of the orchestra. The last voice is there and then it’s gone.” Racing Extinction may begin on a chilling note, but it doesn’t end there. In Director Louie Psihoyos’ latest environmental thriller, he finds the balance between uncovering illegal hunting and selling of wildlife, revealing the impact of climate change on our planet and motivating a call to action. For Psihoyos, that call to action was also personal and began behind the scenes with his first film.

Psihoyos’ directorial debut, The Cove, exposed the shocking and inhumane practice of the dolphin hunts in Taijii, Japan, in which wild dolphins are sold alive to aquariums and marine parks or slaughtered for meat. Two years into production, Psihoyos was alerted to another shocking revelation but of his own making. A carbon assessment revealed that the film had generated 646 tons of carbon. "I was horrified by how much energy it takes to do what I do. The worst thing you can do to the environment is make a film about it.” Psihoyos adds, "As filmmakers we’re part of the problem. How can we be part of the solution?”

Immediately, Psihoyos installed 100 solar panels at his production facility in Boulder, CO which quickly generated 140% of their energy needs, more than enough for the production office and his home.

The Cove went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2010, and Psihoyos went on to tackling another environmental disaster: the disappearance of species 1000 times faster than the normal state of extinction over earth’s history. In his latest film, Racing Extinction, Psihoyos lays out the threat. The planet has endured five major extinction events. The last one (the K-T event) took out the dinosaurs when an asteroid hit the earth 65 million years ago. As Psihoyos says in the film, "Now humanity has become the asteroid.” The film uncovers the factors contributing to human-caused species extinction such as illegal poaching, overfishing and habitat destruction, as well as the sources of carbon emissions that cause global warming.

Committed to being part of the solution, the producers implemented sustainable practices from the beginning, such as hiring local crew to cut down on travel and carrying stainless steel water bottles. But Psihoyos contends that the most impactful practice is requiring all crew members to be vegan. "The raising of meat for human consumption creates more greenhouse gases than all the emissions from the entire transport sector.” Psihoyos explains that whether it’s a freelancer for the day or a DP on the job for weeks, "While you’re working for us, you’re vegan.”

Still the producers felt they could do even more, so the production partnered with SavingSpecies to offset their carbon. Founded by Dr. Stuart Pimm, one of the world’s top conservation scientists, SavingSpecies aims to conserve biodiversity through identifying the most at-risk areas in the world and then helping local organizations raise funds to connect, protect and restore habitats that will prevent the most species extinctions.

Racing Extinction’s carbon offset donation will support SavingSpecies’ forest corridor restoration project in the northwest coastal region of Ecuador—a corridor that, once restored, will help protect many species of birds, reptiles and amphibians, and mammals. In addition to the countless insect species like butterflies, and hundreds of plant species, including trees and orchids, the species that will be helped include several that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature deems at risk of extinction on its Red List:

Birds: 260 species including 3 Endangered, 7 Vulnerable, 7 Near Threatened

Mammals: 20 species including 1 Critically Endangered, 1 Endangered, 3 Vulnerable, 3 Near Threatened

Amphibians: 28 species including 1 Critically Endangered,
1 Endangered, 3 Vulnerable, 3 Near Threatened

Reptiles: 47 species including 1 Endangered, 6 Vulnerable,
13 Near Threatened

Helping protect these species through carbon offsetting was an unexpected benefit of the film. The real work is reaching the species responsible for habitat loss in the first place, with the inspiring message that we can make a difference. After its theatrical release, Racing Extinction made its TV debut on Discovery Channel—broadcast in 240 countries during the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris— and was recently nominated for a 2016 Emmy in Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. The producers hope the success of the film means more people will hear the call to action.

In spite of the sobering projection that "in the next 100 years we could lose 50% of all species on earth,” Psihoyos urges the audience to stay positive. "I know it all sounds overwhelming, but if we start with just one thing we can start a movement.” A lesson he learned from his first documentary, Psihoyos considers a film a "weapon of mass construction. You drop a bomb, you kill people. You make a film, you create allies.” Before the release of The Cove, hunters were killing 23,000 dolphins and porpoises a year. Now it’s down to less than 6,000.

We may no longer be able to hear the chirpy whistle of the Dusky seaside sparrow in the wild, but there are many species on the brink we can save. Let’s commit as filmmakers and producers to do what we can to not lose any more of the symphony.

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