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Coping with Climate Change

By Jessica Cohen, special to Utne Reader

Tags: Climate Change, Jessica Cohen,

Josh Fox, who made Gasland, joins Pacific Island activists in handmade canoes surrounded by sharks below and police boats above in one scene of his new documentary, How To Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change. As they try to obstruct a ship carrying coal, a major source of greenhouse gases, Fox’s canoe capsizes. He tosses his camera to a comrade who catches it, saving the day’s video footage and typifying the film’s motif of hope, defiance, and humor amid gloom: The island is being submerged in water as the ocean rises because of climate change. But Fox joins the activists in singing and dancing as they celebrate delaying a coal delivery for one more day.

The film follows Fox to activist enclaves from the Amazon to the Arctic, places where environmental destruction is rampant and insidious. In China, metropolitan areas look perpetually foggy with smog, and industrial spills poison the Amazon River around which forests are denuded. Fox also tours global warming disasters close to home, as coastal cities become vulnerable. He points to a house where a woman drowned when the Atlantic Ocean overwhelmed her in her living room in Queens during Hurricane Sandy.  He interviews a man in whose house the only item left intact was his Santa Claus suit. 

However, Fox also interviews Aria Doe at the Action Center nearby, a grass roots organization to assist the low income community with food, education, and other support. She was there, she said, “Because I knew no one else was coming.” 

In a post-apocalyptic scene, Fox showed her alone in a large empty space at the Action Center, and then, in a similarly vacuous space, a man singing.

Activists singing and dancing recur in the film, signaling the value and vitality of community organizing despite grim forecasts. Fox notes his own despair in response to predictions that 30-50 percent of species will be lost along with disappearing forests. “What will climate change not destroy?” Fox asks. “People who got back up from despair.”

Josh Fox

Those are the people whose efforts Fox documents in the film’s international tour of global warming damage, and those are the kinds of people for whom he will hold screenings across the U.S., he said at the East Coast premiere in Sugar Loaf in March. The auditorium was full of ardent anti-fracking activists, who allied themselves with Fox when he made Gasland.

Fox recalled Gasland’s beginnings near his Pennsylvania home at a meeting of seven activists in Damascus, trying to prevent gas drilling there. Barbara Arrindell, cofounder of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability was well informed, but he realized she needed help informing the public.

“So I did a YouTube video,” Fox said, “and now here I am, three movies later.”

As for being an organizer, Fox said, “I can’t organize a sock drawer. I don’t have one. You need to do what you love and do best that’s needed. When I started making films, fracking was at my door, and I didn’t know what to do.”

At the screening he announced an online kickstarter campaign that would fund showings of How To Let Go in dozens of places on the East Coast and then across the country, where groups of environmental activists invited him. He would be touring until the end of 2016, bringing along activists from the film, such as Aria Doe.

In Sugar Loaf and elsewhere, cards were passed out that audience members could fill out to request an evaluation of their homes.for renewable energy. He encouraged activists to set up home showings of How To Let Go.

Everywhere he went, he said, “I saw a huge build-out of pipelines and power plants. It’s an enormous crisis how much the U.S. has sold out to oil and gas. It’s an unintended consequence of Obama’s energy policies. But we have plans for renewable energy for every state in the nation.”

He noted the way persistence can pan out.

“I knew a guy who talked to everyone he knew about a film he wanted to make,” said Fox. The result was Red Violin, an ambitious, award-winning film.

He announced a dance marathon protest of the nearby CPV gas power plant construction in Wawayanda, and local activists took the stage with him. They decried losses, celebrated wins and pointed out opportunities. Some of those avenues, pursued, would be fruitful.

“Fifteen of us picketing the CPV power plant seemed uphill,” said actor James Cromwell, referring to regular Saturday morning protests there. “But now there’s a full audit spreading exponentially,”

“There’s a federal investigation of undue influence in power plant approvals.We need to make noise over the next two months,” said Pramilla Malick, Cromwell’s cohort activist and picketer at CPV.

Malick had publicized findings about problematic health effects for miles around gas infrastructure, including pipelines, power plants, and compressors, as well as drilling sites.

By May, the federal investigation would appear on the front page of the New York Times.