“Gasland” director and author Josh Fox says environmental movements should counter industry opposition with global solidarity
DHARNA NOOR Welcome back to The Real News. I’m continuing my conversation with environmental activist, and Emmy Award and Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Josh Fox. He’s known for his films like Gasland, and Awake: A Dream From a Standing Rock. And his new book and one man show is called The Truth Has Changed. Thanks for coming back, Josh.
JOSH FOX It’s great to be back.
DHARNA NOOR In this book you write about the global nature of the fossil fuel industry. For example, the dominant narrative it says Russians interfered with the 2016 election, but you unpack that narrative. You show that state owned oil company Rosneft has fracking operations in the U.S. It bought those from ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil had a partnership with Rosneft do offshore drilling in the Russian Arctic. Now that partnership has ended, and passed on to BP. How does the global nature of the fossil fuel industry sort of impact how we have to fight against it?
JOSH FOX Well, I think if you’re trying to prove collusion between Donald Trump and the Republican Party and the oil industry you’d have a very easy time of that. I think the problem is that that’s not illegal. And you know, it’s perfectly legal for ExxonMobil to tamper in our election. It’s perfectly legal for ExxonMobil to tamper with the climate. In fact, it’s perfectly legal for ExxonMobil to end the world. And that is a big problem. In fact, most of the things that happened during the Holocaust, according to German law, were perfectly legal.
So legality is not always the best judge of what morality is. And certainly when we focused our attention on the Russian collusion aspect, and this had to be something that was provable, you know, we came up with a variety of different results. But if we had spent time on the left, I think, obsessing about Donald Trump’s connections to the oil industry, I think we would have gotten a lot further along the line. I think that we really have to examine how all of those things are connected. Russian oligarchs and Putin are like this. So he has a relationship with his oil companies that is very similar to the relationship that Donald Trump has with the oil industry, which is to completely strip all regulations and have that sort of deal where the government and the oil industry are basically the same thing.
And I would say that that’s what’s happening right now. It’s never been more true, the George Carlin joke. America is an oil company with an army. That’s what we’re seeing right now. And that’s extraordinarily dangerous and difficult. And you’re seeing the oil industry employ ever more militaristic and rapacious tactics in trying to push back the protests and try to disparage the case for climate change, which is obvious to everybody that that’s actually happening now. It’s very, very real. And it is an existential threat to the planet.
So I would suggest that the opposition also has to be international. And we’ve seen this with the fracking movement. The anti-fracking movement exploded all across the world, and has been responsible for keeping an enormous amount of carbon in the ground. We have banned fracking in the majority of countries in Europe. That is an enormous climate impact. We have banned fracking throughout the entire state of New York, and Vermont, and I believe in Maryland, and many other counties and municipalities. That has kept an enormous amount of carbon and methane in the ground.
DHARNA NOOR And those who are already Americans often are experiencing the same kind of thing that you’re saying. You know, it’s often these communities of color who are hit first or worst by the climate crisis; poor people, people who are already marginalized. And there’s a lot of debate now about how to sort of make that policy more intersectional. The Green New Deal has really taken this on. And like the anti-fracking movement, which you’ve been, obviously, very involved in for about 10 years, it’s captured the attention of lots of young people, and has united lots of grassroots groups. How far has that climate conversation come in terms of that sort of intersectionality? And do you think that there’s enough conversation in that movement about things like natural gas power plant buildout, and fracking, and LNG, and some of the things that you pushed to include?
JOSH FOX You know, I was just speaking with some of the people at New Consensus who are writing that Green New Deal legislation. And I was imploring them to make sure that they included fossil fuel infrastructure. The Bernie Sanders campaign–full disclosure, I am a surrogate for the Bernie Sanders campaign–just included a part of their policy saying no new fossil fuel infrastructure, no new fracked gas power plants, no new pipelines, no new compressor stations, no new LNG terminals. That is absolutely essential, right. That has to be a part of the Green New Deal. They assured me that it was part of the conversations. I want to see it written into the bill. So that’s a conversation that’s ongoing.
But there is absolutely no question that what has happened with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Green New Deal, the conversation has changed in an incredibly amazing and wonderful and brilliant way. We are now talking about climate change as an issue of race. We are talking about climate change as an issue of economics. We are talking about climate change in terms of the kind of intersectionality that we haven’t seen. And on this Earth Day I think we really have to celebrate the fact that we are not seeing this issue of the environment, the issue of climate, as an issue of privilege, as an issue that only white environmentalists are talking about. We’re seeing this as an extension, climate change, of white supremacy. We are seeing this as an extension of late model capitalism. We are seeing this as an extension of economic inequality, racial inequality. These are the–these are the things that we absolutely must speak about when we’re talking about this in terms of the legislation.
And as the child of immigrants, I think we also have to speak about this issue as an issue fundamentally tied to immigration and to the border. We have to see these things through an international lens, through an intersectional lens. And I think that it is an incredibly welcome, you know, new wave in this dialogue that the Green New Deal, that the Sunrise Movement, the climate mobilization that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, that all these incredible women of color who have just come in like gangbusters into the House of Representatives, has changed America, and in a wonderful way, and we have to welcome that.
DHARNA NOOR I have to ask: In your book and in your work you’ve been quite critical of Jill Stein and the Green Party. Some people have pointed to them as sort of early adopters of the Green New Deal. I mean, the first time I think I ever heard the term the Green New Deal was from Stein in 2013. Could you talk a little bit about where that critique comes from, and why you’re more willing to champion the Green New Deal of today’s Sunrise Movement and AOC?
JOSH FOX If Jill Stein was running for Congress, I would support her. I mean, that’s not the point. I don’t have a problem with their policies. I think their policies have always been pretty spot on. I have a problem with their tactics. I have a problem with the fact that they have absolutely no strategy. I mean, you can’t win a presidential election–I’m sorry, the Green Party is not equipped or organized to do anything but become a spoiler in a presidential election. It’s happened now twice in a row, helping tilt the electoral college in the favor of Republicans. Like, I am also a fan of Ralph Nader’s policies. That’s not my point. My point is that these are–as an activist and as a filmmaker, but also as a person who just cares about getting things done, this is a terrible strategy. That’s my main issue with the Green Party.
And I confronted them. I said, “Are you running a presidential campaign, or what are you doing?” And they said, oh, we’re running for president. Well, you’re not trying to win. What are you trying to do? They said, well, we’re trying to get 5 percent. Now, these were backchannel conversations. These were not the things that they were saying to the public. And that was a problem that I had. If you’re coming out and saying, well, we just want to win 5 percent, then great. Say that. But don’t come out and say that Al Gore and George Bush are the same person. Don’t come out and say that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the same person. Because that’s just absolutely, patently absurd. It’s not true. And if we had ranked choice voting in this country I would say, fine, vote for the Green Party if your second choice are the Democrats. Then, obviously, if somebody doesn’t have a majority, it moves over. The equivalent of ranked choice voting, which the Green Party supports, is you drop out in swing states. You don’t play spoiler.
DHARNA NOOR Yeah, I hear you. But I guess the sort of obvious counter to that is, you know, nine percent of Democrats voted for Trump. That’s more of a percentage of the vote than Stein even got. So I guess that’s some people who disagree that the Green Party were spoilers for this election might raise that an issue. And also, of course, Stein sort of spearheaded that push for a recount in the 2016 election.
JOSH FOX Right. Which didn’t actually get followed through on. So what I would say is that, you know–and a lot of friends of mine who would be contributing to movements in other ways contributed to that effort. What I guess I would say is that, you know, for my money, and for my voice, I would like to make sure that the people who are affected by what I have to say in terms of reporting on fracking, reporting on the climate, if I can influence anyone, I would say do not go down that road. We are trying really hard, whether the progress is incremental or the progress is revolutionary. What I believe we offered to the American people in 2016 was tremendous progress and political revolution at the same time, when you had Bernie and Hillary come together, rather than just throwing in the towel and saying this whole conversation is corrupt. The conversation is corrupt, but we change it by actually getting involved with it. That’s what I believe.
So from my point of view I would say to people who were vehemently anti-fracking, who are single issue voters, who were moving towards Jill Stein, please don’t do that. You’re undoing a lot of the good work that we are trying to achieve there.
DHARNA NOOR And could you talk, for you, about what the role is of these sort of artistic endeavors, filmmaking projects, these creative endeavors in moving that conversation forward, in pushing what’s possible in terms of climate policy?
JOSH FOX Well, I mean, we have to imagine a better world. And we have to imagine the future. We’re making a new episodic series on climate change that’s coming out of the themes from The Truth Has Changed. And we’re trying to see a beautiful future that climate change makes us encounter, rather than the constant feeling that the future is going to be awful.
And one way I would like to say, it’s like, you know, America closes the restaurants at 8:00 and the bars at 1:00. We have, like, Walmarts and all these corporate experiences everywhere which aren’t a place to have a deep conversation about anything. What about 200 million new people from other places that could make this place amazing? What if we New York-ified the rest of the country? Now, that makes some people horrified. But I would like to dream about learning Guatemalan dances, and–how many Guatemalan restaurants are there in Wyoming? You know, and wouldn’t that be incredible?
DHARNA NOOR Yeah, not that many here either.
Couldn’t we find a way to encourage our values, our innovation, our diversity, our cultures, our generosity, our communities, our courage? Why couldn’t the climate crisis inspire us to new heights, to be better human beings? I think that’s an artistic endeavor. I think that’s a poetic endeavor. I think that’s an imaginative endeavor. So we’re seeing–you know, we’re seeing that future. We’re seeing different outcomes. We’re trying to portray that. Because I truly think that ingenuity and innovation is not just something that happens in a technological space, it’s something that happens in a philosophical space. It’s something that happens in a values sense. So we can have innovation in terms of values. We can have innovation in terms of our intellectual capacity. We have to challenge ourselves to go there, just as we have to challenge ourselves to make solar panels, and make wind turbines. We have to have the moral imagination. And I think that’s a place for artists, for philosophers, for poets, for people who are kind of crazy; you know, mad men. You know, that we have to go to those places to see where we are headed.
And I think that that’s, I think, a lot where–I mean, look. We’re artists, first and foremost, as filmmakers. So we have to tell a good story. We have to thrill people. We have to engage our compassion and empathy. And so that’s how I approach it. And I think what we’re trying to do with the climate crisis is not just portray the complete horror and terror of, like, a Category 5 hurricane come bearing down on your doorstep, but also what human ingenuity, imagination, love, respect, all these incredible virtues that we have, those are the things that climate change can’t destroy inside of us. We destroy them. But climate change could inspire them. Why don’t we do that, and why don’t we see that?
DHARNA NOOR Well, thank you so much, Josh. And as you continue on these endeavors, as we see when this new book of yours is made into a film and a series, please keep us posted. We’d love to talk to you again.
JOSH FOX I really appreciate the conversation. Thanks so much. And we will.
DHARNA NOOR And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.