Discovery's "Racing Extinction" Exposes Tragedy and Reminds Us: There Are Solutions

Here's what I wish all Americans will do this month: Tune into Discovery Channel's "Racing Extinction."

I was fortunate enough to see a preview of the film over the summer with a diverse group of folks, and I'm here to tell you - don't miss this one. Everyone who saw the preview with me was moved to tears by the documentary, which follows Oscar-winning filmmaker Louie Psihoyos and his team across the globe as they chart the impacts of climate change and the illegal wildlife trade on our planet.

Psihoyos and his team expose wanton disregard for wildlife and grave risks to our very own planetary life support systems. But I can guarantee you he's not in it simply to shock us, Clockwork Orange-style, into a collective stupor.

The fact is that people got us into this mess, and only people can get us out of it. I know, because Environmental Defense Fund is working day in and day out to reverse the extinction tragedy.

U.S fish populations are recovering

One of the most uplifting parts of the documentary was the work being done to help villages profit more from healthy populations of manta rays. Aligning people's well-being with well-being of wildlife is an amazingly powerful solution.

EDF has been at the forefront of this approach. As a result of our work on catch shares, for example, fish populations are recovering in North America. Implementation of catch shares has resulted in more fish in the sea, more income for fishermen, and more seafood for us. We are now working with partners to bring this approach to the top fishing nations.

Deforestation down, incomes up in Brazil state

We've also been working with indigenous peoples in Mexico and the Amazon to make forests more valuable as climate and biodiversity protection than as timber or soybeans. In Acre, Brazil, deforestation decreased by 60 percent while the income in the communities increased by nearly twice the rate of the national average.

And in the United States, these approaches have helped turn around ranchers who once fought endangered species protection by making it possible for them to benefit from practices that improve habitat on their lands.

In the words of Texas rancher, Kerry Russell, who restored golden-cheeked warbler habitat on his land, "I'd still be fighting the U.S. government if it weren't for EDF."

We can do this

The point here is not that these folks rejected pessimism and decided to start with one thing. The filmmakers say as much on their website: One thing leads to another, then another, and then yet another.

American anthropologist Margaret Mead may have summed it up better than anyone.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world," she famously said. "Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."