Documentary Movie Reviews: Racing Extinction

Imagine you’re drowning, you can’t feel your limbs, your lungs are crying out to get air, and you’re paralyzed—drifting through water, only to belatedly realize that the reason you’re paralyze was because you’ve lost your arms and legs. I imagined this was what finless sharks feel, victims of China’s illegal trade. Shark fin soups is the culprit we’re looking at here. Can you imagine, being a terrified shark with nothing but gaping wounds where your fins had been? I could. A tear-jerker, “Racing Extinction” was a slapping wake-up call to my otherwise blissful ignorance towards the environment, especially now in this pandemic times. Sure, we’ve heard time again and again that our environment is dying, but have we ever actually stop, think, and actually do something to change that? This movie pushed me to do exactly that.

Directed by Louie Psihoyos, and starring stars like Elon Musk, Joel Sartore, Louie Psihoyos, Charles Hambleton, Heather Dawn Rally, this documentary was released 5 years ago, in 2015. This documentary is packed with beautiful and horrifying images that’s, honestly, tough to scrub out of your brain. From majestic whale sharks to a village in Indonesia slaughtering manta rays, this new documentary reveal nature’s beauty while simultaneously force us, viewers, to meet the dangerous effects of human activity on the planet.

Personally, I was enthralled by how this movie combined persuasive data with emotion-evoking stories. As an example, I witnessed how activists would pretend to be exotic sea animal buyers to break into a trade center in Hong Kong specializing in shark fins. In no time at all, I began to root for them to successfully expose the wrongdoings being done to our wildlife, and it makes this giant issue seems more personal. Quite a combination of psychological tricks and our basic emotional drive to side with protagonists.

There were countless heartbreaks and rage breakdowns I endured while watching this documentary. But brutal as it was, it was crucial for me to continue watching, because throughout the movie, I see the need to demonstrate how severe the situation is, and how much we need change to prevail. And as the movie progressed, I felt hope began to blossom. As one of the filmmakers said, “Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” It was as if a fire kindled its way in my heart—I grew hope that if we join forces, we can tackle these environmental problems, micro or macro problems be damned.

The problems covered in the documentary are critical, live-and-death problems we need to solve before it worsens. (Especially in this COVID-19 pandemic, where increased waste and the reduction of recycling are further endangering the contamination of physical spaces, like water, land, and air.)

First, species go extinct regardless of human interference, but in the next decade alone, we could make other species extinct ten times faster than normal. Next, one third and a half of carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans, causing them to be more acidic. I saw a frightening revelation of what methane and carbon are doing to the oceans. This is disconcerting, because we often worry about air quality, but ocean quality is an overlooked disaster waiting to happen. Our oceans cover 2/3 part of this Earth, and life itself started from the oceans. If we destroy its ecosystem, then that’s it—it’s game over for us. Then, there have been 5 mass extinctions before our time (which is the Anthropocene), with 1 common cause: climate change, and a spike of CO2 emission. The Permian-Triassic extinction, the greatest mass extinction ever, happened 252 million years ago and killed 96 percent of all marine species. About three quarter of species on land died out. This cataclysm was caused by CO2’s little friend: methane. Methane itself is buried deep in the Arctic’s ice for millions of years, and with the rate of temperature rising due to climate change, those ice will melt at an alarming rate. When these pre-human climate changes happen, they happen incredibly fast, within 3 to 4 years.

How do we solve this problem? Let’s first acknowledge the main culprits of methane and other GHG (greenhouse gasses): transportation sectors, commercial buildings (industries and companies), and livestock. Indonesia is one of the largest GHG contributors, with a number of 0.61GT (metric gigaton) CO2 emission by 2018 only. You’re probably thinking, how could livestocks be one of the major contribuors of GHG? (In fact, they produce more GHG than the entire transportation sector put together.) The GHG emission intensity to produce 200 kcal of beef is 24 kg CO2 equivalent, which is basically you burning around 8 kg of coal into the air. You’re basically burning 8 kg of coal every time you eat a regular beef steak! Of course, an obvious solution to this problem is to become a vegetarian—if we stop buying animal products, producers would stop supplying them.

But let’s be honest, some things in life couldn’t be change. Especially us as Muslims, we have the practice of Qurban once a year. But Qurban is only one day out of 365 others. What about the other 364 days? Here comes the alternative: plant-based meat. It’s a developing solution for less beef production that was invented nearly 50 years ago. Its GHG emission is much lower than animal meat—around 2 kgCO2 eq per 200 kcal.

Imagery is a powerful tool. We have to make plant-based meat popular, through mass media and social media influencers. I noticed that not many Indonesian artists or celebrity are concerned of climate change and environmental issues. By social-influencing those with popularity, they can subconsciously evoke action and awareness, and change the perspective of our citizens. Educate people on how it’s actually not veggie tofu or anything, like the common opinion. It’s a meat for meat-eating folks like us! On Qurban, we could eat beef once a year, nationwide, but on the other days, opt to eat plant-based meat instead. These little actions would go a long way. As of the political aspect, we have to create and enforce effective laws and regulations, as well as providing the facilities to act on it. Regulations for livestock companies to limit their numbers and ensuring they are sustainable might just do the job.

What we’re up against to is a macro-problem—coming from a deep, rooted part of our culture and habits. In order to solve these problems, we need to know what we’re up against to. It’s clear as the light of day that humans are the main cause of this upcoming-6th extinction. The culprit, unfortunately, includes entire cultures up to and including ourselves. This challenge to act is much more daunting.

But if we scrutinized deeply enough, there’s one fundamental problem that causes environmental issues: profitability. Ironically, profitability is the cause of almost every major problem on earth; to name a few, racism, colonialism, and climate change itself. Why do politicians corrupt their people’s money? Money. Why do the 9 Dragons make pandemics, illegal market, drugs, and prostitution rings? Money. Why did the Dutch invade our country? Money. People are profiting from black market, and making easy money from plastic toys, cheap snacks, and non-sustainable energy plants.

Countless companies out there are roundaboutting environmental regulations and laws to save money, or just because they won’t bother to apply a more sustainable production or waste system than the standard ones that governments regulate. Remember, 80% of GHG comes from commercial buildings. Big corporations have to change their unsustainable ways, and they certainly have the means and funds to do so, if they’d only try. In fact, the Empire State builing in America has saved USD 4 millions per year just from “green”-ing the building.

But what about small, family business? Regulations would surely help, but without proper facility or the government’s assistance to provide them with sustainable methods of income, production, and waste management, it’ll all be moot.

In a way, our country needs money first before fixing this problem. We can counteract this problem by promoting and popularizing sustainable solutions—green energy. Turn our most basic needs to something profitable and sustainable. Of course individuals switching to green energy would help, but international regulatory measures to change these industries is crucial, as well. Research has shown that when governments invest in renewables, they can transform their economies. Look at Germany, as an example. Although it’s territories are only a third of Indonesia’s, they get 30% of their power from their renewables. By 2050, it’s predicted they’ll reach 80%. Job prospects are blossoming from renewable energy sectors—renewable energy jobs could reach 42 million by 2050. From the predicted total energy jobs of 100 million in 2050, jobs in renewables alone could reach 42 million of it. This means renewable energy sectors would cover 42% of total energy jobs!

In Indonesia, we can boost this progress by making sure that the government has allotted enough budgeting on the renewable energy development sector. Currently, Indonesia has a target of increasing the use of renewable energy sources by up to 23 percent of our national energy consumption in 2025. A study from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources states that to achieve the 23 percent target, we will need IDR 1,600 trillion, according to a report by the Team for the Acceleration of New and Renewable Energy Development (P2EBT) on 2016.

In a society that values money as power, justice has to be made. But it’s not as simple as keeping up new regulations—powerful people, with no regards of environmental damages, have the upper hand in both worsening and solving our environmental issues. As an example, there’s a reason why CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the international laws to protect endangered species, only includes a few hundreds of animals in their list. It’s because the people that control CITES are the ones that trade and sell those animals themselves!

That’s why one crucial step for an honest, sustainable politics system must include green candidates—candidates who’d ensure their country to be green, their companies and industries to be green, and their society to be green. The phrase “use your votes” wisely has never been more crucial. And maybe, the combination of these laws, these people, our efforts, limiting the gases released by energy production and transportation, and minor lifestyles changes from us, can be enough to turn the tides.

Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can change ourselves and our country first. There’s already people fighting out there; Greta Thunberg, Elon Musk, your NGOs, activists, or even sympathizers, or your own family members! Act now, especially at the edge of another crisis—the ridiculous Omnibus Law. We’ve proven that Indonesia has one of the best solidarity at times of crisis, thus if we join forces in this too, we’ll be successful.

Now or never, this is a life and death situation. We are khalifahs on earth, as the Quran says, and our sins would be massive if we let this happen. Can you imagine standing on the judgement day, knowing that you’re a perpetrator of earth’s destruction, something that’s supposed to be our responsibility, and being trialed by Allah? Some may be pessimistic, but as long as we enforce our ikhtiar as best as we can, just remember Allah is inevitable. His kun is fayakun. As it was told in QS. Ar-Ra’d, verse 11, “Indeed, Allah will not change the fate of a people until they change themselves.”

Essay by: Rafida Hanun Khairunnisa W

Student of Sciencepreneur (SHS Tazkia IIBS IPA 3)

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