How to keep caring when it’s ‘staggeringly too late’ to stop climate change

How do you fight the impulse to curl in a corner when you think about the steady drumbeat of alarming headlines on climate change?

That’s the question director Josh Fox sets out to answer in his documentary film “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change,” which he is screening tonight here in Miami.

The film, which premiered at Sundance, is Fox’s third. His first two documentaries, award-winning Gasland and Gasland II, took the audience along with him on his quest to understand the world of fracking after he was approached by a natural gas company to frack on his land. This third film looks at his inner battle as he realized how troubling the trajectory of climate change is.  We chatted with Fox about he keeps looking ahead and how Miamians on the front lines can do so as well.

“How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” will be screened tonight at a fundraiser for the Urban Paradise Guild at Mind Warehouse at 111 NE 1 St. A VIP reception and meet and greet with Fox begins at 7 p.m. The screening begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at rethinkenergyflorida.org.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What does this film set out to do?

When you’re dealing with climate change, I think there’s sort of a tennis match that happens, sort of ping-ponging back and forth between despair and denial. One minute you think there’s no way to solve this problem and the next minute you’re just suppressing and denying it. And that is the problem right now with why we’re not acting on climate. I think when you go through the despair  and you go through all the emotions and difficulties of it, you can still come out the other side.

Rather than a stale, scientific presentation of this subject, this is an emotional roller coaster ride. It takes you through the fear and the horror and then comes out the other side and on the other side is all the things that we can do, all the things that are worth saving. Those are civic virtues, courage, innovation, creativity, human rights, democracy, civil disobedience. There are things within human beings that are so strong that no storm can take them away. That is what’s on the other side of delving into the climate problem.

I think we avoid the climate problem a lot unless it’s right in our face and you know this film sort of says, “This is another way to deal with this.”

Did you feel a lot of despair as you delved into it?

Oh, absolutely. I think with Gasland and Gasland Part II, I walked into the subject like, “Oh, this is a problem we can solve.” And then when you walk into the climate problem, it’s much, much more complicated, so yea, it sent me off the deep end. I’m the narrator of the film and in many ways the protagonist, and  the film pushes me all over the world,  to the Amazon, with indigenous environmental monitors investigating oil spills deep in the Amazon, to working in the South Pacific with a group called the Pacific Climate Warriors who blockade the largest coal port in the world, which is in Newcastle, Australia, or to China meeting with people who are speaking out even in peril of losing their civil liberties. So it’s a film that’s really more of an action-adventure movie than you think of when you think of a climate documentary.

Why do you think it’s important to bring awareness to the emotional repercussions of being confronted with climate change, not just the science of it?

I think when we get overwhelmed, we don’t act. I think when we get overwhelmed, we get paralyzed. This is a film that tries to address the paralysis problem and come out on the other side with energy to fight a new day. I think a lot of people understand the climate process but don’t feel they can do anything about it. This film brings you back to some very concrete, practical notions about what to do and how to do this, how to work on this.

We approach so many things as Americans as individuals and as an individual you can do very little on climate change. Climate change action is a team sport. It’s something you have to do as a community. I think our impulse in crises are to reach out to all of our neighbors, to reach out to the people around us, however, when we confront scary, scientific thing, I think that it becomes a much more internal impulse, which is why it’s so important for us to show the film in a community context and work with  groups on the ground who are already energized and mobilized.

Talk a bit more about the Florida part of this tour.

Obviously Florida was a big priority because half the state goes underwater by the end of the century. It’s a very scary situation.

I think for the rest of the world and for the rest of the nation, Miami has to be as loud as possible on this issue. Miami and New Orleans, these are places that are slated to basically just disappear unless the nation changes its course in a really radical way.

It’s a test case for what could happen all along the east coast.

We have to get very, very serious about the idea of relocation and not just the relocation of people. We have to be talking about relocating our nuclear power plants… we need to talk about relocating our chemical plants, our oil and gas refineries, because if they end up in the ocean, that’s chemical and oil and gas contamination for centuries.

I would say that the chances that Miami stays above water at this point are very, very slim and I think everyone knows that. The question is how do we responsibly deal with that issue? 

I’m not sure how people in Florida are talking about this right now because I’m just getting into it. The whole point of the tour is really to engage. You know, I want to learn. There’s a lot of solidarity with people across the planet. In a way we’re all in the same boat and I think it’s a test case for how we as humans can operate, whether or not we’re able to absorb the information and act in a way that’s not crazy.

It would be crazy to assume that we can continue to burn fossil fuels and keep South Florida above water. It would also be crazy not to be planning for an eventuality that is not the one we want. It would be crazy to just throw our hands up in the air.

What are your coping mechanisms when you begin ticking off in your head everything that’s going to happen?

That’s what the film is really about. You encounter that it’s staggeringly too late to be dealing with some of the basics of this question and that’s why the film is called “How to Let Go of the World.” I mean there are parts of this world and parts of the philosophy of what built this world that we have to let go of.

When I go out in the second half of the film and encounter these amazing people who are in exactly the same position… like they know that their islands are most likely going underwater or you know that the fish in this part of the Amazon that has just been destroyed by drilling will be contaminated for hundreds of years… People know this and they still fight. People exhibit some of the most remarkable virtues that are what make human beings worth saving. When you get despairing, you have to invest in those things that make us worthwhile. Those are those virtues. That’s community building, that’s love. That’s generosity, it’s resilience, it’s our impulse to work with each other and be creative and fight back. If you just curl up in a bar alone, yes you’re going to be miserable and you won’t solve the climate problem either. The impulse has to be to reach out to others.

There may not be a way to keep Florida above water over the next century. But there is always a way to be better human beings.  We’ve seen the worse of this and we’ve seen the best of this.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, people were drowning. They were trying to get out of their city by walking over this one bridge and they were met by shotguns from the suburbs on the other side. They were saying, “go back and drown.” This was not a climate problem. This was a humanitarian collapse. This was a collapse of American values.

If we want to survive climate change, we absolutely cannot meet our neighbors and friends with shotguns on the other side of the bridge. We have to meet them with open arms, with meals that we prepare for them, and with a key to the spare room. That might be your whole city.

What makes me feel better from time to time? It’s the ability people can have at times of crisis to intervene in a good way.

The film doesn’t pull any punches. The film clearly states how much trouble we’re in. But it’s surprising in its recommendations because when you deal with the value-based philosophy we need to counter climate change, all the other things, the good things, come along with that.

We need you to be part of that debate. In New York I don’t think people get it. I think we need leadership from people in Miami who are actually encountering this, so that’s why I’m so excited to be there to meet people to talk about how to create connections.