New Josh Fox Documentary on Climate Change Falls Short

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Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning film Gasland was ahead of its time. The documentary not only woke the world up to fracking’s risks, it also sparked a social movement that led New York state to ban natural gas drilling.

That’s why I was so excited to see his new film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, airing on HBO. I hoped Fox would once again elevate the conversation and perhaps go beyond the stories of tragedy and despair that have stymied so many with overwhelming grief. But the two-hour documentary fell short of my expectations.

For the first hour, Fox inundates the viewer with a litany of climate change dangers: forests being devoured by parasites, superstorms, glacier melt, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, species extinction, famine — even the four horseman of the Apocalypse. There’s no hope, we’re told, destruction of our world is inevitable. Even the historic Paris climate agreement, which seems to be thrown in as an afterthought, is condemned for not going far enough.

I don’t know how many viewers made it to the second hour. (I asked family and friends to watch the documentary with me, and they had all left after forty minutes.) But if they did, they would have seen specific stories of courage, creativity, civil disobedience, resilience, and innovation — important traits to have as we face the many threats of climate change.

Let me say again that I really wanted to like this film. But I just struggled to follow the point of these stories. Fox was obviously looking for people who had experienced loss — people who were forced to let go of their world. But the people in his stories didn’t seem like they were letting go. They were cleaning up an oil spill with buckets. They were paddling their canoes at cargo ships. They were holding on to hope that they could pick up the pieces of their world.

Did Fox want us to feel hopeless or hopeful? Did he want me to let go or hold on?

Perhaps I’m just not grasping the abstract intention of the film. But after watching it, it struck me that I hadn’t been this depressed about climate change since before the Paris agreement last December. After so many countries around the world came together to acknowledge the issue and commit to lowering their carbon emissions, I’ve dared to feel optimistic. I had hoped the conversation would switch from our failures as a species to our capabilities.

Apparently, Fox put most of the documentary together in the year and a half before the Paris agreement. Perhaps that’s why it felt dated and depressed.

But for an award-winning documentarian like Fox, this isn’t an excuse. He missed an opportunity to give us a reason to pick up our buckets and get to work. Fox could have said, yes, climate change is very serious and we have many, MANY reasons to feel hopeless, but let’s not. Let’s find some hope in the courage, creativity, and innovation our world leaders demonstrated. Let’s release our imaginations.

Fox let me down with this film. He is capable of inspiring so much positive action for the environment — his capability should inspire our capabilities. I hope he makes a “Let Go of the World II” that encourages us to let go AND do our best to pick up the pieces.

Do you agree with my review? Check out How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things the Climate Can’t Change on HBO, June 30 (7:50 a.m., 5:15 p.m.) and July 3 (10:00 a.m.), 7 (12:30 a.m.), 13 (noon), and 16 (noon).

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