About 65 million years ago, a meteor 10 kilometers across crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula. The resulting explosion sent clouds of dust and gases into the sky for months, blocking out the sun and fundamentally changing the chemistry of the atmosphere. This climate cataclysm contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs, along with about 70% of all species. It was the fifth mass extinction in the history of Earth.
The Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital concludes later this week with a grand finale featuring “Racing Extinction,” a riveting film about the sixth extinction. It’s something that scientists say we are experiencing right now: Some predict we will lose half of all species by the end of this century – within the next 85 years. This time, there’s no massive meteor to blame. As the film’s director Louis Psihoyos explains, “Humanity has become the asteroid.”
The film follows the work of activists, scientists, engineers, and artists who are working to document, uncover, and change the course of our planet. The tactics are varied: hidden cameras infiltrate black market stores stocking thousands of endangered species specimen in China; underwater video documents shark fin hacking, whaling, and giant manta ray hunting operations; special cameras reveal invisible carbon dioxide emissions spewing from airplanes, cars, and even people’s mouths; and Tesla-mounted video projectors beam stunning footage of threatened animals on New York City skyscrapers.
But in the midst of all the compelling action, it’s the scientists who quietly drive home how urgently we need action. There’s Professor Christopher Clark, director of Cornell University’s Bioacoustics Research Program. He documents the sounds that animals make across the world, and guards a library of sounds that will never be made again, from the animals that have gone extinct just in the past few decades. If we listen closely enough, he says, eyes shining, “the whole world is singing.”
Then there’s the improbably-named plankton scientist, Dr. Worm. Dr. Worm studies plankton population, noting that this marine plant is on the decline. Plankton are responsible for half the oxygen we breathe. “Your life,” Dr. Worm says, “depends on the oceans breathing.”
We are the only generation left who can save these animals. And saving these animals, of course, means saving ourselves. It’s easy to squeeze our eyes shut and turn away from the massive scale of the extinction we are living through. This film allows a way into the problem, and inspires a way out of it too.
It’s just one of many gems on view now at the Environmental Film Festival. Most are free, and many are family-friendly. Hope you can join us.