What do we talk about when we talk about climate change?

by Caitlin Zera

What do we talk about when we talk about climate change? Our conversations often turn on the irresistible paradox of our desire to find solutions to reverse climate change effects and our need to totally grasp the crushing realities of what climate change is doing and will continue to do to the world’s most vulnerable populations. In his new documentary How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change director Josh Fox, of Gasland fame, asks us to confront this paradox and change the way we’ve been talking about climate change.

How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change

Directed by Josh Fox

Runtime: 125 minutes, 2016

While the title might seem to suggest resignation as the major theme, most of the film focuses on resilience. For Fox and the people he visits around the world, resilience is not about the power of technology to reverse climate change effects but rather the power of community to fight for justice and a better quality of life in the face of an increasingly inhospitable world.

But in order to get to the resilience portion of the film, Fox first takes us through an assessment of our current global situation and all the grimness it entails. Fox does an overview of climate change threats, bringing in the voices of experts Dr. Michael Mann, Elizabeth Kolbert, Bill McKibben, Van Jones, and Dr. Petra Tschakert. The scene they set is unsettling – from mass extinction to extreme weather to the complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet. It becomes clear that a full reversal of climate change effects is no longer realistic for our world. Dr. Michael Mann, a climatologist and geophysicist likens the consequences of climate change on our planet to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Death, Famine, War and Conquest.

The overwhelming nature of these conversations leads Fox to confide in his audience that to slow warming by a significant amount we would need “a major overhaul of every human system – politics, food, energy, transportation, media and all in the next 3 to 4 years – I don’t know about you but I’m about ready to watch a few cat videos right now….” This is Fox’s voice as a narrator and an activist. He strikes a chord with audiences by talking about these heavy issues with sincerity, authenticity, and humor. This touch makes How to Let Go a catalyzing film for both those well-versed in climate issues and those new to the depth of the subject.

We can see the ill-impacts of these systems on our climate even as microcosmically as Missouri. Industrial agriculture in our state dumps chemical pollution into our rivers and degrades our soil; coal powers 82% of our electricity, more than most other states; our public transportation networks do not meet the needs of those who don’t own cars; our state legislature gridlocks on important environmental issues like clean water more often than it progresses.

As Fox learns from Tim DeChristopher, an environmental activist, we must build space in our hearts for despair. At 2 degrees warming, 30-50% of all the species on the planet would become extinct, an event that would deal a devastating blow to our planet’s biodiversity. “That’s a lot of goodbyes,” Fox says. Despair has a place.

It is necessary to have these conversations, the ones that are bleak and overwhelming. We need to have them with our friends, families, our decisionmakers, our neighbors, and ourselves.

“Working on climate change doesn’t just mean dealing with the future it means making public health better right now; it means a whole host of things changing right now,” Fox says as he leaves air quality activists in Beijing. We must work on making life more livable on a dire planet.

Ultimately, How to Let Go of the World is not a film about throwing in the towel. It’s a film about being realistic, a film about taking the things we love with us into a future that looks darker than it ever has before it. It’s a film about preserving those things we love – community, generosity, creativity, – and abolishing the things that have been our downfall – greed, competition, tyranny – as we look to adapt to life on this new planet.

“We have the biggest choice is there is, to fight and keep the things we have,” says a Pacific Climate Warrior Fox visits on the island of Vanuato. “You can’t just sit there and say, ‘We’re gonna drown, we’re gonna drown, we’re gonna drown.”

We will be living in a world where death, famine, war, and conquest loom as the effects of climate change continue to set in, but we can still imagine and bring to fruition a world in which equality, justice, and generosity are sustained. We may not overhaul our human systems in the window of time necessary to halt climate change effects but we can still strive to refashion our world into one that is more equitable in the face of difficulties brought on by climate change. We know that community can be stronger than the storms ahead, and we can take comfort in working toward a future in which “we can face the music together.”