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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Racing Extinction documentary review: the asteroid this time is humanity

Racing Extinction green light

A horror flick about the blundering of humanity on a scale so enormous that global warming is only a small part of it. But its monster is not unconquerable.
I’m “biast” (pro): worried about what we’re doing to the planet

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The whole world is singing, but we’ve stopped listening.” So says a scientist who has deployed recording buoys across the oceans of planet Earth to record whalesong, while the whales are still there. And then we meet a guy who — in one of the most pitiable things you will ever see onscreen — introduces us to the last surviving individual of a bird species that mates for life, a male singing for a female who will never respond. Oh, and welcome to the sushi restaurant that sells the meat of endangered whales, to thrill palates and selfish greedy soulless hearts. Racing Extinction is about the careless blundering of humanity on a scale so enormous that global warming is only a small part of it. We are in the midst of a great extinction caused by humanity — the last one killed the dinosaurs; we are the asteroid this time — and there’s plenty of biological diversity that will not survive long enough to be killed by the rising heat and acidifying oceans.

Louie Psihoyos’ new film may not have the movie-movie popcorn thrills of his save-the-dolphins heist documentary The Cove; this one is more of slow-burn horror flick… but its monster is not unconquerable. Psihoyos and his team of eco badasses from the Oceanic Preservation Society travel around the planet, from the illegal but overt trade in endangered wildlife in Hong Kong to an art project in New York and other major cities to raise awareness about the ongoing mass extinction; the projection of massive gorgeous photographs of endangered animals onto the sides of iconic buildings is a brilliant in how it subtly reminds us of the human ingenuity we can bring to bear on the environmental crisis. And so for every moment that makes you want to weep, there is something to give you hope: a shark-fishing village in Mexico, for instance, has transformed into one that is making much more money as a tourist destination for swimming with sharks, and maybe the same can be done for the Indonesian village that has been getting by on fishing endangered manta rays?

“The worst thing you can do for the environment,” comes Psihoyos’ resigned admission here, “is make a film about it”; filmmaking has a huge carbon footprint. And yet, it becomes clear, telling people about the magnitude of the problem really does make a difference; sales of shark fin soup, which decimates shark populations, are way down in Asia thanks to a massive advertising campaign highlighting the damage just that one dish causes. It is absolutely vital to know that going green can make economic sense even for the poorest of people (see: the Indonesian manta fisherman). It is absolutely vital to spread the word that it is not too late, that there are still many creatures that can be saved — the underwater footage here of every sort of animal from plankton to whales is breathtaking — and must be saved, if we’re to save ourselves. (If the plankton go, the whole food chain, which includes us, will collapse.) And it is absolutely vital to know that even individuals can make a difference; we meet a bunch of them here, doing comparatively small but unquestionably essential jobs and having a real impact.

So, will we win this race? Will Racing Extinction be the call to action it’s intended to be… or a requiem for all the beautiful creatures (including maybe us) here? We shall see.

See the film’s official site for ways to challenge yourself to race extinction.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Racing Extinction for its representation of girls and women.

green light 3.5 stars

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Racing Extinction (2015)
US/Can release: Sep 18 2015
UK/Ire release: direct to DVD

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated PG (mild bad language, footage of real animal hunting and slaughter)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Robert Landbeck

    Paraphrasing A. Einstein: “the same reasoning that created the problem is unlikely to offer any way to solve the problem. That is to say, if WE are the problem, and that is indeed the case, we cannot be the source of the solution! That will have to come from outside the existing intellectual paradigm under which natural reason is constrained. http://www.energon.org.uk

  • Bluejay

    “I consider it an extremely dangerous doctrine, because the more likely
    we are to assume that the solution comes from the outside, the less
    likely we are to solve our problems ourselves.”
    — Carl Sagan

  • Robert Landbeck

    I would suggest that the problems that exist are outside the potential of natural reason to resolve. That is why

  • RogerBW

    If you don’t try to solve the problem, and a magical alien doesn’t appear to fix it, how are you any worse off than if you had tried?

  • Bluejay

    the ‘problems’ we now confront exist outside the potential of natural reason to resolve

    Well, I think that’s mystical defeatist bull. Science and reason already make it clear to us what we need to do to combat climate change and environmental degradation. We just need the political will to do it. We may still fail, but it’s not beyond our capacity for us to succeed.

  • Danielm80
  • Robert Landbeck

    The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face, representing a countdown to possible global catastrophe. It has been maintained since 1947 by the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who are in turn advised by the Governing Board and the Board of Sponsors, including 18 Nobel Laureates. The closer they set the Clock to midnight, the closer the scientists believe the world is to global disaster. Recently expanded to include threats from climate change and emerging technologies, the Doomsday Clock reflects urgent danger to civilization. The clock is now set at 3 minutes to midnight, almost equal to the height of 1960’s cold war tensions. As a measure of human failure there is non better!

  • Robert Landbeck

    Could be closer to the mark than anyone might imagine! It easy to forget that religion is a wholly human theological construct. It could very easily all be in error. Exposing that error would be a potent catalyst for change.

  • Robert Landbeck

    Absolutely. Every effort to change can only bring us closer to a view of human nature that will demonstrates for itself just how profound the problem is.

  • Bluejay

    I know about the Doomsday Clock, but I have to say you’re very good at quoting definitions verbatim from Wikipedia.

    And, yes, we’re making a mess of it. But there’s no one to save us except ourselves, and we have the tools and the science that we need to do it. The rest is politics and persuasion. (That, admittedly, is the harder part.)

  • Robert Landbeck

    There is nothing wrong with quoting definitions. The point is well made and precise. What you call the ‘harder part’ is indeed the case. For it represents those predominant values that define the nature of a culture and society. The very thngs that must change. Whether we have the ‘tools and the science’ necessary to effect change, even if we had the will and values to do so is an open question. The Dooms day clock suggests not or we would have resolved many there issues by now that remain untouched. War for example. Our knowledge base remains incomplete, both scientific and moral. And the only ‘wisdom’ is that of hindsight. Too late to do anybody much good!

  • Bluejay

    There is nothing wrong with quoting definitions.

    There is if you don’t credit the source. That would make you an intellectual thief. Either say things in your own words or post a link to the site that says the thing you want to say.

    And the only ‘wisdom’ is that of hindsight. Too late to do anybody much good!

    So you’re inclined to give up all hope and retreat to your bunker, then? Okay, if that floats your boat. Defeatism’s not for me. Only those who still hope that things can change are motivated to work for change.

  • Robert Landbeck

    Ou misunderstand me completely. I’m not going up hope, just searching for solutions elsewhere. Quoting from The Final Freedoms:” compelled by the weight of history and experience, acknowledging the
    limitations of existing political process and human nature itself are
    seeking a catalyst for change and progress by other means.

  • RogerBW

    You’re arguing that we shouldn’t look for our own solutions while we wait for someone else to provide them for us.
    Sounds like giving up hope to me.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    The “Doomsday Clock” is meaningless nonsense. The only way to ever gauge its predictive power would for it to hit midnight. But it quite literally can’t be moved to midnight, not because we’d all be dead, but rather because of the fact that we wouldn’t all be dead. Ask yourself, what functional difference would there be to it if, instead of reading 3 minutes to midnight (11:57 p.m.), it read 30 minutes (11:30 p.m.), or 3 hours (9:00 p.m.)? I’ll tell you the difference: it wouldn’t seem scary as shit. Hence, they started it at 7 minutes, and have never moved it further back than 11:43 p.m., back in the early ’90s. And now, the BAS is digging themselves into a hole of irrelevancy by letting it get as close to midnight as they have. They’ve only moved it by as little as 1 minute a handful of times. So what if next time they move it, they set it to 11:59 p.m., and then six months later, conditions get demonstrably worse, but still not catastrophic? Do they start measuring in milliseconds?
    The BAS likes to pretend that the clock is set in a “deliberative manner”, but since it’s a totally arbitrary metric, it has no rational basis. It’s only purpose is to scare large groups of stupid people into using their power for good, for a change. And in 70 years, it’s never worked. I’m frankly embarrassed for anyone still involved with setting the damn thing.

  • Robert Landbeck

    I’m not suggesting that the ‘clock’ has predictive power in itself, but it does suggest a trajectory for our species that reality continues to confirm. But if your not happy with the clock, how about the melting arctic ice pack or any number of other environmental measures that 97% of science does agree on. What is this conversation about? The bottom line is that we don’t pop from our mothers womb complete with a set of sustainable values that would guarantee the survival of our species. And culture has not provided them. That that evolutionary deficit in human understanding is coming home to roost. “And what choices exist between any political,
    religious or intellectual tradition, when like a ‘slow reckoning’, the planet’s
    very capacity to sustain existence is coming under threat?”

  • Robert Landbeck

    What constrains the highest of human aspirations is rarely
    imagined but if the catalyst with the necessary authority to realize
    the changes necessary were ever revealed, who would care enough
    to believe with sufficient courage and conviction to act? Unfortunately
    the world has usually preferred the soft, the easy and more convenient
    ways of intellectual vanity, political correctness and spiritual confectionery
    than the honesty and courage to confront human nature itself!

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’m not suggesting that the ‘clock’ has predictive power in itself

    Bullshit, because you also said this:

    As a measure of human failure there is non better!

    Own your crap, dude.

    Besides, the Doomsday Clock not only suggests a trajectory, but it makes specific (but completely unverifiable) claims about where the trajectory we are.

    The rest of your post is an argument with someone else (who I don’t think is even in this forum). The actual argument people are having with you is what is either your defeatism, or your unspoken appeal to a supernatural solution.

    But the Doomsday Clock is still manipulative nonsense.

  • Bluejay

    I’m not [giving] up hope, just searching for solutions elsewhere.

    Elsewhere than human society? Your original comment: “if WE are the problem, and that is indeed the case, we cannot be the source of the solution!”

    Which is stupid, of course. Problems caused by humans can be solved by humans; anyone who denies this is a poor student of history. There is NO ONE ELSE, Robert. But good luck trying to find your magical savior.

  • Bluejay

    If you’re somehow steering this towards a discussion of Catholic doctrine, I’m going to be very, very pissed.

    There is no monolithic “human nature” that’s all darkness and corruption. You’ve fallen for the myth of the veneer.

  • Robert Landbeck

    Quite the contrary. I regard the whole of the last two thousand years of mono theism, and particularly the catholic church, as no more than a theological counterfeit. Probably the greatest self inflicted fraud of human history. Yet rethinking the God question may very well be necessary, not only to expose that fraud, but to find a new path to ethical progress.

  • You’re spent this thread saying a whole lot of nothing. Do you have a suggestion as to where else beside “natural reason” a solution could come from? What is this new paradigm you think we need? Stop being coy and tell us what you’re hinting at.

  • Robert Landbeck

    The answer is in the very title : ‘the asteroid this time is humantiy’ So where do you look for solution to US? While I am of the opinion that all of mono theism is just so much theological codswhallop and should be relegated to history’s own dustbin of oblivion, the magnitude of the very real existential risks facing our species are such that their may be no option, however unpalatable it may sound, then at some point in time, to revisit the God question, if that’s where solutions can be found. And I have the feeling that this period of history is slowing pushing us to that inevitability.

    You might try: “Phil Torres’ The End is the most chilling reality check on over-optimism I’ve ever read,
    a gripping narrative that could be a Hollywood blockbuster script
    but in fact is grounded in facts and data about what threatens to send
    humanity the way of the dinosaurs.”

  • The answer is in the very title? That is in no way an answer to my question. You continue to dance around the topic. What, specifically, does “revisit the God question” mean?

  • Robert Landbeck

    That true religion hasn’t even started yet!

  • Dr. Rocketscience
  • LaSargenta

    Scalia’s dead.

    OT, I know, but…

  • amanohyo

    If I understand correctly, you’re claiming that there is something inherently unethical and morally lacking in human beings that we cannot correct using logic, empathy, compassion, and/or reason because our reasoning processes are flawed and limited due to… biology? socialization? You are vague on this point.

    Fortunately, evidence would suggest that humans are already more than capable of using our natural reasoning and empathy to improve our living conditions. As this movie demonstrates, when people become aware of the consequences of their actions, many of them willingly adjust their behavior in a positive way.

    I could argue that the solution to the extinction problem is to increase the grade of the slippery slope our primitive human natures have placed us on and magnify our current value priorities of short term gain and selfishness. This will inevitably lead to a massive decrease in population through war, disease, poor diet, and low birth rates that will eventually solve most of the environmental issues. Now, I don’t actually believe this is a good idea – but it seems at least as plausible as the Zen-like “think outside of thought and reinvent human nature” solution you suggest.

    Is your flowery language a Heidegger-ish attempt to circumvent or drill under the foundation of logic and reach something more essential? Like you, Heidegger tried to make words do something that they couldn’t – destroy and then recreate themselves, but it’s like trying to use Newtonian physics to describe the Planck epoch. We are too far along the process to completely restructure human reasoning – the only tools at our disposal are the reasoning tools that millions of years of evolution have given us.

    Long story short, although mystic, transhuman fantasies may send a tingle of mysterious anticipation down our spines, I’m fairly certain that any paradigm shifts we make as a species will have to occur with the generous frame of ordinary humdrum human thought. It’s done wonders for us in the past – don’t give up on it just yet.

  • Bluejay

    ANY religion — even a “true” one, whatever that is — still has to be explored, explicated, interpreted, debated over, accepted, promulgated, and put into practice… by human beings. No matter how hard you wish for it, you simply can’t take human reasoning and human agency out of the equation. Them’s the breaks, Robert.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Indeed he has. And Senator McConnell wants to take that as an opportunity to take a year off of work.

  • LaSargenta

    McConnell’s been working?!

  • Robert Landbeck

    I doubt any conventional wisdom will be of much value when speculating on such matters. History itself has yet to agree upon whether there is or not a god and even religion cannot agree with itself on just about anything.

    But backtracking a bit, if the ‘asteroid is us’ I can find nothing in history to suggest a capacity for the critical self scrutiny and wisdom necessary to understand the changes required to reach sustainability. How ever aspirational we might be, such primary ethical insights would appear outside the grasp of human nature.

    But if ever new potential and opportunity for human agency were ‘revealed’, providing the opportunity to effect the changes that would turn humanity off the slippery slope, can it escape the prejudices and bias that make the God question so contentious?

    The closest one might imagine on the question seems best summed up below.

    Quoting Schopenhaur: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

    So when we see ecclesiastic feathers fly, we’ll know ‘something’ has started!

  • Robert Landbeck

    “there is something inherently unethical and morally lacking in human
    beings that we cannot correct using logic, empathy, compassion, and/or
    reason because our reasoning processes are flawed and limited due to…

    Spot on! Our species is a corruption of the natural order. How else could you describe the most destructive species on earth?

  • RogerBW

    Indeed, we all ought to be dead by 35-40 when we get too old to hunt.

  • Bluejay

    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

    “Truths” are sometimes resisted — but so are falsehoods. Just because what you say is challenged and opposed does not mean what you say is true.

    In any event, your argument discredits itself. YOU, Robert, are a human being — and therefore, according to you, utterly without sustainable values, with an inherently corrupt and unethical nature, and unable to grasp the truth that lies beyond your feeble and insufficient capacity for reason. Any thoughts you may formulate are therefore suspect and futile, and we have no reason to seriously consider anything you say. But thanks for playing.

  • Danielm80

    JACK: Rose, I don’t think we’re going to make it. The waters are too icy.

    ROSE: Just hold on a little longer. This door we’re floating on will support us.

    JACK: I have a better idea. Let’s try to make contact with a higher intelligence.

    ROSE: Yes! That will save us both! That will save everyone! Let’s focus on that right now!

    (They look at the sky and wait.)

  • RogerBW

    The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
    — Carl Sagan

  • Bluejay

    Yup. :-)

  • Again, not an answer to my question. Are you unable to answer? Just tell us now so those of us who seek actual conversation can disengage.

  • Would Like a million times if I could. I live by this.

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