‘Racing Extinction’ documents plight of endangered species

Film offers hope that people can still prevent mass die-off

whale projected on skyscraper

MAKING A SPLASH  In Racing Extinction, images of wildlife are projected onto buildings to inspire action to save Earth’s threatened inhabitants.

Oceanic Preservation Society

Racing Extinction
Airs December 2
Discovery Channel

Watch the trailer

Saving the world can be a beautiful thing.

In Racing Extinction, director Louie Psihoyos lays out the case that the world is already in the midst of a sixth mass extinction. In just a century, the film notes, half the species on Earth may be gone. The documentary, airing December 2 on the Discovery Channel, has an unabashedly environmentalist slant. But Psihoyos presents sobering conclusions from years of scientific study along with stunning views of animals that could be lost if people don’t take action.

Psihoyos doesn’t just tell viewers how bad things are. He and his crew conduct sting operations to expose the illegal trade of endangered species. The filmmakers find severed shark fins covering a roof in China and piles of gills cut from manta rays in Indonesia. Elsewhere, the team exposes underground wildlife markets and a factory that extracts oil from whale sharks.

Creatures that have already lost the extinction race are also highlighted. The last remaining Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog gets a close-up. At Cornell University’s bioacoustics repository, the last male of the now extinct Kauai O’o bird sings for a female that will never come.

The film also considers indirect impacts on wildlife. The vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere warm the planet and acidify the oceans. Special camera filters reveal otherwise invisible CO2 and methane plumes from cars, boats and even people and animals.

But the film isn’t all doom and gloom. Psihoyos also serves up a feast for the eyes — a manta ray ballet, a swarm of golden bees against a blue sky, a sublime assortment of crystalline, microscopic marine organisms. He also tells success stories, such as the 2013 addition of manta rays to an international treaty banning the trade of threatened wildlife.

In the film’s finale, race car driver Leilani Münter pilots an electric car on a guerrilla mission to project images of endangered species and messages of hope and peril on the sides of buildings. The journey culminates with shows on iconic landmarks in New York City to inspire people to change small things — giving up meat once a week or installing energy-efficient LED lights — that could help reduce humans’ harm to the environment.

Racing Extinction aims to show what in the world is worth fighting to save. Although preachy at times, the film mostly hits the mark.

NEED FOR SPEED    Watch the trailer for Racing Extinction.

Oceanic Preservation Society

Tina Hesman Saey

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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