Racing Extinction, directed by Louie Psihoyos (The Cove, 2009), is a documentary depicting the current environmental crisis facing the earth. Rather than centering on a single subject or aspect of environmental responsibility, the movie offers a holistic view of the devastation that is occurring on a global scale. Looking at life on the planet, the movie reveals the unprecedented rate at which species are becoming extinct. In fact, the movie argues that we are on the brink of a global mass extinction, brought on by the exponential increase in carbon dioxide production through human industrial practices, transportation, and energy consumption. Moreover, the movie exposes the lucrative but illegal and ecologically irresponsible business of hunting endangered species. Focusing on everything from the blue whale to plankton, the move reveals the interconnectedness and contingency of all life on even the smallest organisms, and emphasizes the all-encompassing impact that humans bear on the planet. By taking this holistic view, Racing Extinction is more than a movie that seeks to raise awareness; it is a powerful call to action, demanding that the human race take responsibility for the future of the planet.
Theologically, the movie offers an insightful illustration of humanity’s responsibility within creation. While not explicit, the movie points back to Genesis, calling us to return to our origins as God’s image bearing stewards over creation (Gen. 1: 26-30). From this passage, while some interpret “dominion” and “subdue” to permit our (ab)use of the earth for selfish gain, this movie provides a convicting glimpse into how this misinterpretation has devastated the “good” creation and implores us to resume our God-given responsibility as caretakers of the planet. More specifically, however, the movie serves as a reminder to the covenants that God made with Abraham, with Noah, and with the Israelites, specifically in relation to our environmental responsibility. While the biblical topic of environmental responsibility is too vast to explore in this forum, I will point to two aspects of the covenant relationship that the movie illustrates.
First, the movie showcases how the mass farming and killing of animals is devastating the environment and the longevity of multiple species. Looking back at God’s covenant with Adam (Gen. 1:29) we see God safeguarding animal life by prescribing a vegetarian diet for humanity. This theme is picked up in Genesis 8-9 and Leviticus 11, where God restates his covenant with humanity through Noah but concedes that humans may eat meat (Gen. 9:3-5) provided that the meat was from permitted animals – from livestock that families would raise themselves and that were fit for the Lord’s table (cf. Lev. 1-3). Through this concession and provision, God places firm limits on which animals may be killed and effectively safeguards all other species from the human appetite.
Second, and more startling, the movie explains how human industrial practices and CO2 production will eventually render the earth uninhabitable for all life. This prophetic warning harkens back to God’s commands in Leviticus 25-26, where God prescribes a system of social and agrarian responsibility that serves to maintain environmental balance (cf. Lev. 25:1-7, 11-12). Should the Israelites be obedient to God’s commands, God promises blessings of food, security, and peace that will be derived from the land (cf. Lev 26:1-13). However, if the Israelites disobey, if they abdicate their responsibility and abuse the land, the land will be unable to sustain them and they will be exiled (cf. Lev. 26:14-45; Leviticus 18:28 actually states that the land will vomit them out). In this capacity, Racing Extinction delivers a prophetic message that points to God’s order for creation, to the sanctity of all life, and to the caretaker responsibility that humankind is to exercise over creation. The effects of neglecting this responsibility are clearly depicted in this movie, as is the call to repentance and action.