Josh Fox’s films Gasland I and II made “fracking” a household word. His expose of the negative consequences of fracking (a process which uses pressurized water filled with chemicals to split shale and release oil and methane gas), highlighted the testimony of scientists and suffering property owners. Both films’ hard hitting impact educated the public and helped to spearhead campaigns which eventually led to the banning of “fracking” in New York state and elsewhere.
As an extension of his discoveries about fracking, in How to Let Go of The World And Love All Things Climate Can’t Change, Fox focuses on “global warming/climate change.” The film is a wake up call; scientists’ predictions reveal there is no time left to correct what is already happening faster than anyone could have imagined. The concept of “climate change,” is still disputed by the fossil fuel industry (greenhouse gas emissions-caused by fracking, strip mining, tar sands oil, mountain top removal, offshore drilling), and political allies who have created a media backlash that questions the existence of global warming. Fox’s film answers those questions roundly.
Fox highlights the impact of global warming and CO2 emissions on the ice sheets, glaciers, ice caps. He shows it causes ocean acidification, destruction of marine life ecosystems, ecosystem destabilization, extinction of mammal populations, etc., in the first segment of his documentary. Then he examines what others are doing about the fossil fuel industry’s wreckage, and climate change around the world. In an uplifting and proactive conclusion, he suggests a perspective we can take to remain hopeful and positive. At its center is local community action.
With his adroit storytelling style, Fox begins this exceptional documentary dancing after his win against the fracking companies. As he dances in a voice over he narrates that he wanted to rest on his laurels and just chill, but his hemlock tree, to him a powerful symbol of regeneration, moves him to act.
The decades old hemlock which Fox had transplanted with his father as a tiny tree was dying. The hemlock woolly adelgid was sucking the tree’s lifeblood (sap), and happily proliferating to vampire all the hemlocks in the forest. Killing frosts and bitter cold which normally wipe out the pest hadn’t occurred: winters were warmer. The insect was growing fat and multiplying exponentially not only in the forests of the Deleware River Valley but in the forests of the southern Appalachian range down to the Carolinas, up to Massachusetts and Vermont. Fox points out that hemlock is a keystone species of a vast forested ecosystem. In a revelatory moment, he reveals the theme of the film: what is the point of winning one battle against the fossil fuel industry when the world war of climate change is overcoming the planet?
Few appreciable renewable energy sources like wind, solar and tidal are pitched at the massive scale they need to be to fight the climate change war on all its fronts. He discovers this alarming conclusion through interviews with scientists, climate researchers, published climatologists with charts, reports, graphs and other conclusive data which he reinforces with striking video examples of CO2 pollution in China, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, sea level rise on island atolls, etc. This is enough to overwhelm even the most diehard climate change deniers. He shows heart-rending video of communities under siege during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy throughout New York City. The videos of the destruction fomented by the never-before-experienced tidal surge are a devastating reminder of the results of weather weirding, global warming, climate change.
Video commentary by Michael Mann, Director of the Earth Systems Science Center, Penn State, Co-Winner 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and others, eliminate uncertainty about the 1 degree temperature rise and increased melting of the ice caps and glaciers across the planet. Global culture cannot afford to indulge its doubts, if one considers that a consensus of scientists affirm that warming is increasing at a faster rate than the United Nations Paris Climate Change Conference COP 21 has been willing to admit.
The melt is happening with power and ferocity. Michael Mann’s discussion and Fox’s journey to glaciers in Iceland to survey the ice melt, reinforce that sea levels will continue to rise because the increase in global temperature is not 1 degree, it is actually moving rapidly toward 2 degrees. The melt from glaciers, the Greenland Ice Sheet and the polar ice caps is shifting the movement of water across the planet which (as scientists and Fox explain in the film), creates mega storms and extreme weather patterns (hurricanes Katrina/Sandy, Super Typhoon Yolanda, the polar vortex, mega snow storms), and exacerbates droughts (California, Africa), heat waves (Europe/India), which kill thousands, and deluges (India, Pakistan, US-most recently West Virginia), which also kill thousands and decimate the social culture.
The accumulated cost of life, social stability and property destruction is incalculable; it impacts the “have nots” the most. With supporting video, Fox discusses how the drought in Syria prompted the Civil War when Assad jailed individuals who spoke out against him for his lack of help. Fox attributes the conflict in Syria as the first Climate Change Civil War. Mann and environmental activists (i.e. Lester Brown), echo the concerns that civilization will undergo vast shifts in migration as coastal areas flood (the charts showing the inundation of cities like NY, Miami, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, etc. with 5 degree global warming beggar belief), cities experience droughts and people migrate and fight each other for dwindling supplies and resources.
After such interviews with these and others, Fox admits he is overwhelmed. But hopelessness gives way. Fox seeks answers and inspiration from those who are struggling to cope as they make choices to do something on their own personal and local level.
In the next part of the film, Fox takes us on a cinematic, global carpet ride from the green, lush headwaters of the Amazon River, to Pacific atolls, to the red earth of Zambia. We meet indigenous environmental monitors who are hell bent on exposing a disastrous oil spill that is polluting their lakes and poisoning their water and food supply. He moves from there to Peru to travel with a pineapple farmer who shows him (after hours of trekking in the jungle forests), the clear-cutting deforestation by logging companies. Both corporate entities are contributing to wrecking havoc, the second by increasing CO2 emissions and decreasing the planet’s oxygen supply in the Amazon, the “lungs of the world.” We admire the strength and courage of these indigenous groups who unite to protest against state/corporate corruption. By showing their example, Fox is mentoring how we should respond
.Likewise, he interviews Nina Gualinga. She is an activist whose Dad in protest created Children of the Jaguar, a film which documented the struggles of indigenous people’s resistance to Equadorian state/corporate corruption as they prevented oil drilling on their lands. The film helped to get laws established to protect their culture; their spirit is tied with the spirit of the land; if the land is destroyed, they are destroyed. Fox follows Pacific Islanders/Climate Warriors in hand carved canoes sailing out to block the Port of New Castle as they take a stand for renewable energy against Australia’s Muswellbrook coal mining ship carrying tons of coal.
In one fascinating scenario after the next, Fox travels to China for video taped interviews. One is with renegade artist Wu Di who captured famously iconic photographs of young child Fei Fei breathing from an oxygen mask as she holds an oxygen tank because of the heavily polluted air in Beijing. As we view video of densely clouded air from coal fired plants, Fox quotes the figure of 1.6 million who die from air pollution each year. Reinforced is the concept that greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuel industry leave death and misery in their wake, now and predictably in the future.
Yet there is hope because entrepreneurs in China are innovating with solar power (Huang Ming, Founder Hi-Min Solar). And according to Ella Chou who advises the community development of solar energy, the Chinese have everything they need to to scale up emerging renewable energy technologies and make them cheaper for the rest of the world. Her discussion of moral imagination to close economic inequality through such technologies is uplifting. For whether it’s rising sea levels on coastal islands like the Marshall Islands or those impoverished in Syria, it is the poor who suffer the consequences of climate change the most. But none of us will escape
This is a monumental film. Fox reminds us of the dire circumstances that will happen if we keep the status quo. Even if we make strides toward renewable energy, if politics trumps humanity, we and our posterity are “cooked.” He shows that we do not have to sit back and watch cat videos while we moan that we can’t stop corporations who make their profits at our expense. There is much to be done on a local, community level. We have only to open our eyes to see what can be done, then take a stand and do it.
This must see film airs on HBO June 27th.