Filmmaker and climate activist Josh Fox is back on the big screen with "How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change."
While in Washington to screen the film, Fox was arrested in a protest against the approval of an oil pipeline. The action was consistent with his stand against fossil fuels. In 2010, his Academy Award-nominated documentary "Gasland" tackled the hotly debated method of extracting natural gas known as fracking, a subject he went on to explore in "Gasland II" in 2013. His new film is the final part of the trilogy.
Early in the film, Fox says we are certain to face increasingly extreme storms and droughts, rising seas, mass migrations, civil strife, and food and water shortages unless carbon emissions are curbed: “[The climate is] going to change in some of the most difficult and dangerous ways that we can imagine, and when you really encounter that head on, it really causes an incredible crisis.”
A local resident shows the oil residue left behind along an Amazon tributary from a pipeline. (Credit: International Wow Company)
Fox says he is often overwhelmed by the possible impacts on the planet: “I think you go deep into some kind of despair and you pingpong back and forth between this despair and denial.”
That despair led Fox to consider what climate can’t change. He says those are the things inside us that make us human. “That is our value structure and that is what the film starts to define," he says, pointing toward an emphasis on "building community, building human rights, building democracy and the things that are inside — courage, love, generosity, innovation, creativity.”
Traveling to 12 countries on six continents, the filmmaker digs deep into the human spirit to find those qualities. He paddles hours through a sunless forest in the Amazon with indigenous activists to monitor polluting oil spills. He arrives in a remote Ecuadorean village to learn how the town opposed a pipeline project and won. He joins a flotilla of young Pacific Islanders in Australia to halt coal barges from entering the port of Newcastle, the largest coal export facility in the world.
Pacific climate warriors celebrate their successful protest, stopping a coal ship from leaving Australia's Port of Newcastle. (Credit: International Wow Company)
These climate warriors are fighting for their homes, which are threatened by rising seas. In the film, Fox lets us know that they (and he) are in immediate danger: “There’s a downside to what we’re about to do. ... This is the short list: drowning, arrest, run over by boats, all kinds of sharks, jellyfish, getting punched, drifting away in the currents out to the Pacific Ocean, cultural disrespect, big waves — well, you get the idea!”
The port of Newcastle was shut down for only a single day, yet Fox called the protest a success. “But also what it did was, it was a win internally for these folks and for all of us that we can celebrate," he says. "Then we realize that resilience is one of the most important things going forward and these people exhibit so much resilience.”
In another sequence, at China’s Great Wall, Fox meets Ella Zhou, an international energy analyst with the U.S. Department of Energy. She inspires him with the idea of the moral imagination.
“The moral imagination forces us to get out of our box of thinking about, for instance, what is being successful,” Zhou says. “The moral imagination allows us to think outside this box, having a moral value about what you as a person, as an individual, what you want out of your own humanity. What do you want to do for the world, for yourself?"
Josh Fox gestures to the oppressive smog from a rooftop in Beijing. (Credit: International WOW Company)
Speaking to viewers, Fox responds, “If there were ever any idea that could rocket you off into the stratosphere, this was it. The moral imagination wrote the Bill of Rights, came up with the idea of democracy.”
Fox is currently on a 100-city tour with the film to try to bring attention to local efforts against climate change. "How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change" will debut in June on HBO.