“I needed to find the people that had no choice”
With a title like How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, documentarian Josh Fox dancing over the opening credits looks a bit incongruous. Here’s a film filling us with the dread of reality and all that’s happened since a planet temperature increase of one degree Celsius (and what will happen when it goes to two degrees and onto four), yet the narrator leading the journey over six continents to see the damage is having a grand old time. Well the juxtaposition isn’t lost on Fox either and his first words explain exactly why his rejoicing is well deserved: his town just stopped a fracking company from taking over their river. Sadly it’s not very long before his infectious smile disappears.
The film isn’t necessarily built specifically for opening our eyes to climate change as much as it is Fox’s. The man behind GasLand obviously knows about it, but he’s been of the mind to sit at home because it was affecting “people” and not necessarily him. That’s how many of us feel—the problem so overwhelming and steeped in political finances. So when he speaks with interviewees like 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, what he learns is devastating. It feels permanent and impossible to defeat. The world has changed so that the idea it may be destroyed has been replaced by the reality that civilization will be the first (and maybe only) part to actually disappear. Just a five meters rise in sea level will put metropolises under water.
And that’s why the tilt of the title intrigued me. It’s one thing to languish in tragedy hearing statistics to make you despise humanity; it’s another to discover what will remain. I guess I took the title too literally, though, as the shift reveals the human spirit as his unwavering beacon of hope. Despite spending half the film talking about how Earth will survive but humanity may not, somehow that which cannot be altered by climate change is what’s being destroyed? I get the poetry of what Fox is trying to do. He wants to showcase Climate Warriors who refuse to let their homes get erased. Innovation, creativity, and resilience are great, but those ideals are destroyed too if there’s nowhere to live and people start dying.
Is it misleading? Maybe a little. Does it hurt the film’s goals? No. I actually had a blast with Fox’s loose style informing while entertaining. He sticks in fun asides like a security guard telling him he can’t film where he currently is, but that it’s a free country so he can film anywhere else. There are fantastic bits of irony like that throughout as well as an impressive soundtrack including tUnE-yArDs, Radiohead, and The Beatles. We meet unsung heroes like Aria Doe of the Action Center in New York during the aftermath of hurricane Sandy as well as Pacific Islander badasses with hearts of gold like Mika Maiava. There’s even a tension-filled segment in China where the filmmakers truly fear the government will confiscate their footage.
It’s long at just over two-hours and much of the second half takes place in the Pacific with Fox doubling back to Maiava for one-on-one conversations after seeing him earlier during a water protest in hand-carved canoes, but nothing feels excessive. The regions he spends most time in are chosen with purpose and you have to give him credit for putting himself in the fight no matter the consequences. It’s also important to see these Pacific Islanders because they are on the frontlines. Whereas our east coast and California live in blissful ignorance, these citizens have already noticed how lands they visited as children are now gone. It’s a devastating reality to witness. Pair it with the smog in Beijing and you see first world regions aren’t left unscathed.
Some nations are introducing solar power—some doing so in tandem with campaigns to curb prostitution and a rampant AIDS epidemic. Others are discovering ways to use the damning CO2 as a means of creating alternative energy. Fox doesn’t go into much depth on the processes, instead focusing on the human element. This is a key detail that really won me over because the science is there in the background to either be studied or ignored. What’s seen and related to are the people using that it in practice. This battle is about making connections and realizing that while anything we change may not affect us now, it will surely affect our children’s children later. It’s time to start thinking about our legacy rather than our material gain.
And hearing this message from a goofy guy like Fox is appealing as opposed to dry pedants forcing information without context down our throats. He’ll dance with natives, embrace those in pain, and in one instance even leave someone alone knowing their wound was too fresh to ignore for emotional soundbytes. Maiava is a standout: strong, sensitive, and ready to cause a tidal wave to ensure his relatives have a future they can enjoy. His laughter keeps things as light as Fox’s banjo playing. As for the conversations with artists, scientists, and regular residents alike, this look at climate change is about private citizens in multiple countries around the world fending off extinction. Fox puts a face to the problem in hopes we’ll finally stop ignoring it.