SAVE THE HUMANS
Random House, 304 pp.
It took an infected tear duct to make Rob Stewart see clearly.
Visiting Hong Kong for the première of his documentary, Sharkwater, Stewart’s left eye became badly swollen. Upon discovering that air pollution was the likely cause, Stewart realized his vision had been impaired for some time. He’d spent the past decade fighting to save sharks while turning a blind eye to other environmental problems.
Another incident in Hong Kong had already awakened Stewart to the pitfalls of his single-mindedness. A lifelong shark enthusiast, Stewart was and remains a passionate advocate for the species, campaigning against the mass slaughter that has had a devastating effect on shark populations.
Sharkwater, a film that chronicles his efforts on this front, had drawn a packed house to the Hong Kong IMAX theatre. But during the post-screening Q & A, a young woman expressed some skepticism about Stewart’s cause, pointing to a UN report predicting the collapse of all global fisheries by 2048.
“What’s the point in stopping finning,” she asked, “if the sharks — if all the fish — will be gone anyway?”
The question lingered in Stewart’s mind, making him wonder if he’d wasted the past 10 years of his life. He ultimately concluded that while saving sharks was a worthy goal, he needed to take on a more ambitious one.
The title of Stewart’s new book, Save the Humans, encapsulates his expanded mission. Co-written with Evan Rosser, it traces how his childhood love of animals grew into a broader commitment to the environment reflected in his new documentary, Revolution, a globe-trotting look at environmental problems in 15 countries.
“I was hoping that by taking people on the journey that I went on — from a fish nerd as a kid to going through the crazy journey trying to make Sharkwater and Revolution — that audiences would be taken on the same journey and come to the same conclusions that I have,” he says. “And by coming to those conclusions, want to go to bat to fight for the ecosystems and species that they love and to fight for the future of humanity.”
As Stewart observes in Save the Humans, most people recognize the seriousness of this situation, but doing anything about it is a fight many shy away from.
“Instead of taking matters into our own hands,” he writes, “we’re gambling on the hope that someone will invent a solution to all of these problems.”
Described as a cross between Michael Moore and Jacques Cousteau, Stewart takes a populist approach. He rails against targets such as “corporatocracies” — democracies that have become beholden to the economy over the health and happiness of their citizens — and the infamous “one per cent,” arguing reform on these fronts is critical to saving the planet.
“We’re going to figure this out,” he says. “We’ve just got to push a little bit of the power away from the governments and corporations that are destroying everything and put it back in the hands of the people and the long-term health and happiness and sustainability of the world.”
Stewart acknowledges this task won’t be easy, but he likens it to past campaigns for women’s suffrage, civil rights and protecting the ozone layer. And just as they succeeded, he’s confident humanity will meet what he considers the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced.
“I’m 100 per cent optimistic. I think we are going to tackle this within our lifetime, and we are going to solve it,” he says. “There are no other options other than solving it, and I think when you talk to young people particularly, they know we’re going to fix this problem. It’s their future that’s at stake.”