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Racing Extinction
Racing ExtinctionCourtesy of Discovery UK

The maker of The Cove is back with a new documentary

Racing Extinction lifts the lid on the hidden world of endangered species, infiltrating black markets to expose man’s impact on the planet

If mankind continues destroying the planet, 50 per cent of Earth’s species could be extinct within 100 years. What happened to the dinosaurs could be going on right now, with another mass extinction event a distinct possibility, yet mankind’s solution is to ignore it. This is why Racing Extinction – the new documentary from Louie Psihoyos – is also an urgent message: we’re the generation that can save the world.

After winning an Oscar for The Cove, which involved secretly filming dolphin slaughters in Japan, Psihoyos goes undercover again by infiltrating restaurants and markets that illegally sell endangered creatures. Of course, not all of us can squeeze such operations into our schedule, so Racing Extinction also educates viewers on just how drastically we’ve been reversing geology by pushing the environment to its extreme. We met up with Psihoyos to find out how we as individuals can collectively make a massive difference.


“The biggest cause of mass extinction is the destroying of natural habitat to raise food for animals that we’re in turn going to eat. 90 per cent of the rainforests in South America have been eradicated to grow food for cows. All nutrition comes from plants, so eliminate the middleman. When you’re eating an animal, you’re just mugging it for the protein it got from plants.

The average person in the UK eats 10,400 animals in their lifetime. If every American stopped eating animal products just for one day, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6m cars off the road permanently. The raising of animals for human consumption creates more greenhouse gases than all the emissions from the transportation sector. We can’t be eating wildlife and expect to have wildlife. There’s just too many of us. We have to be smarter and more efficient.”


“The burning of fossil fuels is probably the second greatest cause of mass extinction. It creates carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, a lot of greenhouse gases. Solar and wind energy sound expensive, but they’re actually much cheaper in the long run. The solutions are upgrades. They’re cheaper, cleaner, healthier and better for the planet. It’s a win win.

World War II will be a footnote in comparison to this generation presiding over the biggest loss of biodiversity since it accommodated the planet 65 years ago. We’re acidifying the oceans by the burning of carbon dioxide. 25 per cent of the species in the ocean live on coral reefs. When you acidify them, you lose all those species. A billion people rely on coral reefs for food. What are they going to eat?”


“In Racing Extinction, we do a lot of busting rings that are selling endangered species. It wasn’t easy to get access. The people we’ve been working with have tried to get into some of those places for over 10 years, and they haven’t been able to do it. China, in particular, so much is sold on the street, but they’re weary if they know a westerner is coming. They carve elephant tusks and use them for ornaments. Manta gills. Shark fins. All kinds of live birds, mammals, snakes, frogs.

China’s the biggest market in the world for endangered wildlife, but the second biggest is America. We’re no saints. Right now, it can be completely illegal to sell shark fins in Washington, but a container can come through the port and ship to another state. Our campaign is working with states that have ports – we’ve just banned the import of 10 endangered species in Washington. Our film is not just a movie, it’s a movement.”


“Raising awareness to me is the first baby step. OK, you know the house is burning. A lot of scientists are measuring the temperature of the rooms and how hot they are. That’s not enough. We want to get people to put water on the house. That’s the exciting bit. The small changes we make can have a huge impact when we work collectively. I think everybody feels like they’re not in power. Even if you’re not busting rings selling endangered species, the small choices you make every day collectively add up to big things.”


“If you add all the money that’s ever been made from whaling, going back from the 1700s to modern times, far more money has been made whale-watching than whale-killing. It’s the same thing with manta rays. In China, it’s called gill-raking – they uses the gills for traditional medicine that allegedly cures cancer. It’s a bogus remedy. But in the course of this film, you see that Indonesia, which was the biggest supplier in the world for manta gills, became the biggest marine sanctuary – basically because they were helped by a couple of guys working with organisations like Wild Aid and ours. A couple of people can make a big difference.”


“When you talk about greenhouse gases like methane or carbon dioxide, it’s a little like the bogeyman – you can’t see it. With this camera we helped create, you see methane come out of your gasoline car. You see the gas leaking out of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. You see carbon dioxide come out of heat lamps at the back of your car. It becomes real and visceral. People need to see things and feel things and experience them to have an emotional reaction to it before they’ll change. The oil companies should be really scared to see this film.”

Racing Extinction airs on Discovery Channel UK at 9pm on Wednesday 2nd December