Advocating for the environment can often seem like a job suited for Sisyphus, the mythical Greek king sentenced to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity.
Powerful corporate interests throw money at obstacles to avoid changing their destructive business practices. Many people who could make a difference instead remain oblivious to the harm committed against the planet and themselves. Sometimes the work gets downright dangerous, involving confrontations with poachers or police.
So far, none of that’s stopped a group called the Oceanic Preservation Society, which won an Academy Award in 2010 for The Cove – a gripping documentary that exposed the brutal, annual, and ritualized slaughter of dolphins in Japan. OPS, as the Society is also known, said public outrage sparked by the film led to a 50-percent reduction in the Japanese dolphin killings.
But OPS (headquartered in Boulder, CO) says The Cove was just “a warm-up act” for an even more ambitious goal: to create a worldwide movement that averts our planet’s next mass extinction.
Mobilizing now is critical, according to the group. Problems like ocean acidification, overfishing, and climate destabilization are bad enough taken individually. But combined, they have the potential to wreak globally catastrophic consequences – a sixth worldwide, mass extinction wiping out as much as 50 percent of living species by the end of this century.
“We’re taking on the biggest threat humanity has ever faced,” said The Cove director, decorated photographer, and OPS frontman Louie Psihoyos in a Kickstarter campaign video.
“Species are blinking out faster than scientists can record that they’re even here.”
Earth’s natural ecosystems support a diversity of species that rely on one another to survive. The ocean in particular serves as home to critically important relationships. When human activities wipe out one species, such as marine coral or phytoplankton, it has a domino effect that ripples throughout the food chain.
The difference between this coming extinction and the previous five? Humans will have played a direct role in this one (some scientists say we’re already in the midst of the sixth mass extinction). To be sure, extinctions have happened with some fair regularity throughout the planet’s history. But researchers say the current rate of extinction is about 1,000 to 10,000 times the “background” rate found in the historic fossil record.
Still, the Society thinks it’s not too late and is planning a massive awareness campaign using several high-profile events, the first of which has been dubbed “The Heist”: a type of public art, multimedia teaser that the group hints will take over parts of the Manhattan cityscape.
The Heist, in turn, will serve as a climactic plot point for the campaign’s centerpiece: a feature-length documentary film that attempts to capture both the grandeur and the vulnerability of the oceans. It’s slated for release some time in 2014.
The producers seem to be aware that if the film is to be successful, it can’t be overly preachy. They’re also betting that a bit of cloak-and-dagger, special ops-style intrigue won’t hurt either, if The Cove’s success is any indicator.
Psihoyos said, “Our goal is to capture the public imagination while delivering a powerful message about species on the brink and what we can do to save them … Think Oceans 11, The Avengers, but this time it’s real.”
As it did with The Cove, OPS is relying on social media and other grass-roots support to create a groundswell of consciousness – and action.
The group aims to use its new film as a catalyst for inspiring activism, youth education, and greater public understanding of the natural world.
With so many challenges already on humanity’s plate, will our species have the wherewithal to react to this one before it’s too late?
According to Psihoyos, it might only require a small initial group to spur a chain reaction of change: “Margaret Mead once said that a few thoughtful citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”