The Common Experience Project’s fall 2016 Sustainability Film Series began on Sept. 7 with a free showing of Louie Psihoyos’ documentary “Racing Extinction” at The Athena Cinema, followed by a panel discussion.
The documentary presented the controversial theory that the Earth is currently undergoing a sixth mass extinction. Unlike the five previous mass extinctions, the current one is thought to have been triggered by human activity.
In the film, Psihoyos and a rotating team of photojournalists, biologists, translators and environmentalists set out to discover what species around the globe are in the process of becoming extinct and how the loss of a given species can be traced back to humankind.
Eileen Wyza, a graduate student in environmental studies, praised the film’s ability to engage several separate audiences with the inclusion of graphs, pictures and statistics. She said the different methods of displaying the movie’s message emphasized the issue to all viewers, regardless of preferred learning process.
Psihoyos’ documentary dedicated attention to the illegal hunting of oceanic mammals. The film crew gained access to several questionable markets in China, in which sharks, rays and turtles are dismantled and sold for medicinal or nutritional purposes. The film often included graphic shots in these scenarios, such as a rooftop laden with shark fins.
Viorel Popescu, an assistant professor of biological sciences, found issue with the movie’s focus on primarily charismatic species, such as the manta ray.
“The vast majority of biodiversity is not seen. There are half a million species of beetles… ants… they perform these crazy ecological functions, and they are likely disappearing as well,” Popescu said.
Psihoyos’ movie mentioned the idea that modern humans are existing within the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch described as “the age of man.” However saddening the loss of biodiversity may be, the film asserts that a positive outlook is necessary to solving the crisis known as the Anthropocene.
Joseph McLaughlin, an associate professor of English, warned about a certain danger found in art, such as an environmental documentary.
“The activation of feeling that a movie like this can generate simply becomes an end in itself and doesn’t lead to action,” McLaughlin said. He argued that the film did an excellent job of illustrating the necessity of going beyond thought and transforming a feeling into action.
Nancy Stevens, a professor in functional morphology, proposed that humans who are not directly related to extinction events should collaborate to find alternative methods for those dependent on the death of animals for income.
“When we think about extinction dynamics, it is really easy to blame other people — the people who are actually catching the animal,” Stevens said.
Popescu closed the panel discussion with a reminder to value patience. McLaughlin elaborated on the idea by suggesting eliminating meat in one’s diet and riding a bike to make small differences each day.
A member of the audience asked panelists how students can get involved off campus with conservation efforts in the area. Collectively, the panelists provided a list of groups including The Athens Conservancy, Ohio Habitat Pollinator Initiative, and Friends of Strouds Run.
The Sustainability Film Series will continue throughout the fall with “Forest Preservation Explored” on Sept. 21.