Teach us a lesson in climate relativism

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Documentary filmmaker Josh Fox looks almost stereotypically American: embroidered eagles on his shirt, white sports socks and a baseball cap. But his ideas about what we should do with the world after climate change are everything but traditional. With his Oscar nominated film Gasland, Fox became a major driving force behind the American anti-shale gas movement.
He sees documentaries, but also short videos that journalists and activists film during protests, as a “very powerful new weapon” in the fight. A weapon that “scared people with power to death”: recently, one of his employees, Deia Schlosberg, was arrested during a protest against the construction of an oil pipeline in the American state of North Dakota. Fox was in the Netherlands to show his documentary, remarkably titled How to Let Go of The World and Love All Things Climate Can’t Change. The title already reveals a great deal about the dual nature of the film: a worst case scenario on the one hand, and optimism about life after climate change on the other. We also want to keep hope alive now that we are up to our necks in water, and ask the charming Mr. Fox to teach us a lesson in climate relativism.

Josh Fox (1972) is a documentary filmmaker, actor and environmental activist. The first time he came into contact with the oil and gas industry was when his family in Pennsylvania was offered a hundred thousand dollars for permission to drill for gas on their land. That is when he started the investigation into fracking that is central to his documentary Gasland. The film was nominated for an Oscar. How to Let Go of The World and Love All Things Climate Can’t Change was launched at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Josh graduated at Columbia University.

What can our readers expect of your film?
“They’re actually two films rolled into one. The first 45 minutes is the same as every other climate film, you’re in a fast Ferrari that’s going straight to hell. At the end of that part you are left with the feeling that you want to escape the cinema and kill yourself. Fortunately, the film subsequently shows how I go in search of people who keep on going anyway, in spite of that nightmare scenario. Mothers who protest against the coal industry and thereby risk their freedom; people who sail the sea in handmade canoes to stop ships full of coal; people who install solar panels in Zambia in places that have never seen electricity before. I want to motivate viewers with story after story that inspires them to join in, stories that don’t make you sad, not even for a moment.”

What are the things that climate change can’t destroy?
“What struck me was that, wherever I was, the actions of these activists stemmed from the same values. Whether it concerned a highly educated Chinese person or the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. They campaign out of love, determination, courage and creativity. These values don’t disappear. On the contrary: they are revived on the front line of the protest.”

And those values will actually make a difference? 
“There is a revival of activism in America, from Black Lives Matter to the shale gas protest and the fight for the rights of indigenous Americans. You can see the emergence of a political march in which all those movements come together, driven by the same momentum: neo-liberalism has failed. They come together through a sense of community based on love. Even though we are going down, the group of people that remains will survive on these values. In that sense, the question is not whether there is any hope for the future. What matters is what we do together.

In order for real change to happen, the extraction of all fossil fuels has to stop in the short term

So you have lost all hope of change?
“That changes every day. Philosopher Marshall McLuhan once said: ‘There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.” We are in deep shit, but we also know what we have to do. In order for real change to happen, the extraction of all fossil fuels has to stop in the short term. This change is based on an ethical choice that leaves no room for political compromise. Based on those ethics, more and more people are starting to take action, like those people who install solar panels in Zambia.”

How should we deal with climate change?
“See climate change as the disaster with the Titanic. The ship went down, but it didn’t go down fast. There was time for people to take decisions; children were put in the lifeboats first. Choices were made that say something about our values. The same thing has to be done in the short time we still have left before climate change truly strikes. We can do this in a conscious and controlled manner, or it will organize itself. If we’re smart, we already start with moving polluting industries that are located at the waterside, think of refineries, nuclear plants and chemical factories. When their waste ends up in the sea, the level of pollution is immense. And what did you think of closing the Street of Gibraltar to save countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea? Is there a wall around New York yet? The point is that we put the time we still have left to good use and stretch it as much as we can in order to be climate resistant.”

Power is so divided and rooted in large structures that one person can only do very little

What can people do to help, according to you?
“The emphasis in climate campaigns lies too much on the individual. ‘Stop driving, stop eating meat, substitute your lamps with LED and turn off your lights.’ It will help a little, but if you leave it at that, it really won’t make any fucking difference at all. Power is so divided and rooted in large structures that one person can only do very little.  What matters is that we organize ourselves. When clubs or political parties call you if you want to come to protest, or occupy the head quarters of Exxon Mobile: be sure to show up. The first step to climate action is actually leaving your house.”

What does Trump’s inauguration mean for tackling climate change?

“With a Democrat in the White House at least climate change was an issue that could be discussed. Now we have entered a period of great social unrest and uncertainty. The American government characterizes itself by racism, by inequality, and by rubbing elbows with big business. The way big companies and the government are increasingly becoming intertwined is truly terrifying.”

People are still protesting now that Trump has become president. Is that the right response according to you?
“Absolutely! The economical and political unrest that people feel has to be expressed, so protesting is the right thing to do. The film and the main characters in it have only become more important. Activists elsewhere also fight daily against governments that threaten them. That is what we should be heading for. Protesting every day, and simultaneously thinking about how we gain strength from our ideals.”

How to let go

More about Josh Fox’ actions at

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