Isla Aitken: Don’t try to save the world by yourself - let’s do it together

Writer and campaigner Isla Aitken reviews Josh Fox’s new documentary and says it’s time to work as a team and take collective political action on environmental issues

WATCHING filmmaker Josh Fox’s latest documentary – the snappily titled How To Let Go Of The World And Love The Things Climate Can’t Change – leaves the viewer with an equal sense of desolation and inspiration. It’s a disconcerting balance, but one that Josh I think has orchestrated. It’s the best way to galvanise people – a blast of fear, followed by a spoonful of hope.

There were so many eye-opening soundbites I wished I had pen and paper on my lap to make notes during the show – I ran out of memory space in my own, overwhelmed brain after about half an hour. There were several emotive points: the Zambian child who had written in the margin of her schoolbook, “There is no freedom when there is poverty,”; the Chinese campaigner who stood atop verdant hills and declaimed that we need to develop our “moral imagination”, a fantastic expression for thinking broadly and acting sustainably; and my favourite quote from American campaigner Tim DeChristopher, “Our old model of trying to meet all our emotional needs, with consumer goods, hasn’t worked. It hasn’t made us happy anyway. Maybe greed and competition weren’t the best values to be basing our society on.” (Tim ended up serving 21 months in jail for trying to protect land from oil and gas developers.)

If you can’t feel emotional about the harm mankind is causing, you have no right to be a part of the powerful elite that makes decisions about the world.

So, How To Let Go… starts with the incontestable images of the impact of man’s work and the ensuing climate change. If you can watch this section and not find yourself out of breath with shocked guilt, frankly you’re not human. If you can’t feel emotional about the harm mankind is causing, you have no right to be a part of the powerful elite that makes decisions about the world. I cried. I held my breath. I saw on the huge screen above me vast swathes of Amazonian forest shorn, hacked down, stripped bare. It was painful. I saw tender, mutilated, desecrated patches of Canadian land the size of England, plundered for tar sands.

There is a sense of hopelessness, of impotence. The conglomerates carrying out this depraved work are the powerful elite, fuelled by that holy trinity of capitalism: power, money and machismo. They have built the machines and now are the machines, entrapped in their own vicious cycle of destruction to make money to aid destruction, which makes money… It leaves you with a suffocating, prodigious sense of utter futility, not helped by the equally oppressive sense that governments – the authorities that surely should be custodians of the land, protectors of the people’s interests – seem to be in on the vicious cycle… 

So where does the hope come in?

Watch the trailer for How To Let Go Of The World And Love All The Things Climate Can’t Change below:

It enters with that concept at the top – teamwork. Josh travelled the world and met communities who worked as teams, united by a desire to protect their land, their families, their livelihoods and their best interests. Such teamwork is not necessarily always successful – at the moment. There were the Pacific Climate Warriors whose hand-built canoes merely delayed, rather than entirely halted, the movement of coal ships out of Australian ports. Seeing grown men sob with a sense of perceived failure is pretty disarming. Especially when I hadn’t seen their actions, up there on the screen, as failure at all – I saw bravery, cohesion, passion and integrity.

And that’s where Josh’s enormously long documentary title comes in – with the relentless onslaught of climate change, we will have to let go of the world as we know it. The harm has already, irreparably, irreversibly, been done. There will be chaos. There will be rising sea levels. There are already displaced people, refugees, absolute poverty… all the final result of climate change. But if we capitulate to these apparent inevitabilities, it is necessary to identify and embrace the things that climate change can’t change: courage, resilience, innovation, art, creativity, culture, generosity, community, human rights, democracy, love…

It is necessary to identify and embrace the things that climate change can’t change: courage, resilience, innovation, art, creativity, culture, generosity, community, human rights, democracy, love...

And communities are doing this. At the North Dakota pipeline (where Deia Schlosberg, producer of this documentary, was arrested for being a journalist – which is another story…); at Queensland, Australia; and here in the UK, in Lancashire, where the British Government has given fracking the go-ahead, in direct contravention of the community’s own wishes.

They are fighters. Warriors. United armies of angry, shattered, ignored, undermined, ordinary people. There is no violence. There is peaceful, righteous indignation. And it is shared. And when it is shared it becomes more powerful, a force – like the sea – that cannot be turned back, that cannot be contained or controlled.

And that is the message of hope. 

Don’t try to save the world by yourself. Let’s do it together.

Picture courtesy of Twitter/@LETGOANDLOVEdoc

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