Years passed, and Louie Psihoyos continued to self-educate. He expanded his scope and embraced a much greater problem, which sadly to say, was just about everything. From human carbon footprint to the state of the ocean to the slaughter of marine life to wildlife trade… he had his work cut out for him more than ever. So, in 2015, he released his second documentary. Racing Extinction focused on the ongoing Anthropogenic mass extinction of species and the efforts from scientists, activists, and journalists to document it and protect our interconnected world. The goal? Raise awareness and encourage people to change habits to ensure the survival of species for future generations. While The Cove was about one species in one location, Racing Extinction posed problems on a much larger scale where humanity was causing the loss of half the species on the planet. There are four components to mass extinction – habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, and overconsumption – and the documentary addressed them all.
“The best thing that you can hope to happen when you’re doing a film,” Psihoyos said, “is to get death threats, because then you know you’re creating change. We got death threats on The Cove, but Racing Extinction was a much more difficult film to make in terms of risk because we were directly confronting the perpetrators, posing as buyers of endangered species.”
It’s well apparent that he and his team of activists were fully committed, as they exposed two massive threats to endangered species globally – climate change and the international wildlife trade. Like The Cove, they put themselves in incredibly risky and even dangerous situations in pursuit of their story and went as far as going undercover to expose a ring of illegal wildlife traffickers in China. But equally important to the problem is the solution, and they provided that, as well.
One example of a long-term sustainable solution to a devastating issue was teaching Indonesian villagers about the economic benefits of conserving Manta Rays rather than killing them. Just a few years ago, there was a struggle to get Manta Rays on the endangered species list, but it finally happened. Previously, Indonesia was killing more Manta Rays than any other place in the world, and now it is home to the largest marine sanctuary in the world. This again parallels Camera 1, Mike Coots and his message– creating an ecotourism business through shark diving could be financially viable in lieu of killing sharks.
Despite the previous example, unfortunately, the global picture isn’t as positive. Worldwide shark and ray populations are getting taken out by certain fisheries and their incidental take, also known as bycatch. Sharks, dolphins, whales, and other marine species (including species not targeted for the marketplace) get tangled and die. Almost half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch consists of lost, stray nets.
Psihoyos pointed out, “The Blue Whale is the biggest creature on the planet, bigger than any dinosaur ever. Just like dinosaurs, they're going extinct.” This isn’t to say we need to stop fishing entirely; we simply need to fish on a safer and more sustainable level with less invasive techniques and more practices of moderation. The world will always consume fish, but only if it fishes for all species properly/sustainably, minimizes bycatch, monitors and enforces catch limits, and only keeps what is really needed.
Per OPS, more than 300 species of sharks and rays are now listed as either endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and at least 75% of oceanic shark species are at risk of extinction. Psihoyos exclaimed, “Sharks predate dinosaurs. They survived four mass extinction events. And in just this one generation that I've been alive, we've cut down their numbers by about 90%.” This is yet another reason he made Racing Extinction and spread the urgent message.
Another factor of this mass extinction is the elimination of natural habitats to grow food for animals that society will consume. By lowering meat consumption, we can create an impact on the extinction of wildlife. Like fishing, it does not have to be 100%; simply doing individual parts to make a difference, on the whole, makes a difference. If everyone in America adopted a plant-based diet just one day a week – without meat, eggs and cheese – that would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road permanently. The raising of beef for consumption creates more greenhouse gasses than all of the transportation system’s emissions combined. If we reduce our consumption, it will help.
Linking back to our oceans and their inhabitants, the amount of carbon dioxide we’re creating is acidifying the oceans’ reefs at an alarming rate that wasn’t didn’t comprehended until 2003. Roughly half of the carbon dioxide that humans create is absorbed by the ocean. While at one point, it was thought to be a good thing, it’s now apparent that with the current rate of acidification, all coral reefs will be gone by the year 2100. When you lose the coral reefs, you lose about 25% of the species in the ocean. And if sharks are part of that equation, that could be detrimental to our entire ecosystem and planet.