"We cannot have democracy without freedom from fossil fuels"
‘We cannot have democracy without freedom from fossil fuels’
Josh Fox made the documentary Gasland, which woke people up all over the world to protest about fracking. He recently made Gasland Part II, and he talks to us about industry saying bad things about him and toxic money.
A scene from Gasland 2 (© HBO)
It was amazing how interested people were in Gasland'Italic text. Were you surprised? And what did you learn from it?
I learnt that many places have many problems because of fracking. We were surprised that we got into the Sundance festival. We made the film for $2,000 and $3,000 – that was the only money we had. It was really surprising that mainstream cinema accepted the film.
I knew that fracking was happening all across America and companies were planning it all over the world. And that some people were in a total crisis from this new energy development. I think it was a good reaction to how many places right now in the US are in crisis; because of the plans to drill or because of the effects of the contamination of drilling.
Filmmaker Josh Fox (HBO)
I learnt that even if something is very popular, you still have to campaign. We showed 10 or 20 or 30 minutes [of the film] on the side of the road by the Delaware River before it was even finished. We used it to educate people. We’ve never stopped doing that. I’ve done a tour of 250 cities.
The oil and gas industry reaction was not surprising. They said they hadn’t done anything wrong …
Well, I was surprised that they attacked the film. I thought they wouldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t believe they gave so much attention to the movie. Because of them, people watched it who would never have watched it!
Can you tell us how they attacked the film, and how much money the industry probably spent attaching it?
They spent hundreds of millions of dollars simply trying to say the message of the film was not true, in many different ways.
If you search my name or the name of the film on Google, you get their misinformation campaign. They’ve done YouTube videos, they’ve done two feature films, they speak on the news, they’ve make adverts saying how good natural gas is –so it’s not just me that they are fighting, it’s the truth and the science: drilling contaminates people. It will not be easy for them. They want people to industrialize their towns. When you industrialize your town, the quality of life goes. The character and true nature of those areas is gone.
On the internet, people call you a lot of bad names: eg. a liar and a Luddite (a person who is against progress and technology). What effect has this had on the opinion of the public?
I think it makes people doubt; that is their plan. It’s like the tobacco industry. When people showed that the tobacco industry was bad for people’s health, the tobacco industry created false reports. They made universities do false science. They did everything they possibly could in the media to make people doubt. That confuses people.
But I don’t think they’ve reached as many people as the film has, or the clips from the film – people lighting their water on fire. It’s amazing to me that we’ve won this PR (public relations) war. When you look at the statistics in New York, Pennsylvania and California: you see that people really don’t want fracking. People are learning more about what this plan really means. So I don’t think it really works, but it creates delay. Look at what they did with climate change – some people will deny this forever because of what they will get personally. In 2000, the Catholic Church apologized to Galileo. So science is not the problem here. Thehttp://eewiki.newint.org/skins/common/images/button_italic.pngy say the science is not true because it affects the worldview that they support – that we need to be dependent on oil and gas, and that they want to make money. We don’t need that dependency anymore, which is why they are getting so desperate.
They have often said that the facts in the films are not true. You have replied to this in detail in ‘Affirming Gasland’…
And in The Sky Is Pink and in Gasland 2 –we’ve said this again and again. What really matters is that they’re trying to say we are wrong. It’s completely confusing that there are still people who deny this. Bu there are thousands of reports inspired by Gasland, that prove everything that is in Gasland, and there is a lot of EPA [US Environmental Protection Agency] science and other science from official journals which shows that what we reported was the truth. It’s crazy. The film, and the movement around it, and people’s concern has inspired a lot of work. But the game is to create the impression that there’s a debate, so the public doesn’t understand what’s going on.
What effect does fracking have on communities?
Because of drilling, there is probably water contamination, gas migration and more air pollution. This depends on how close you are. There can also be health problems.
You have a total industrialization of those places. You have thousands and thousands of truck trips every single day. So you have more traffic accidents. You have a very high fatality rate of workers in the gas industry - seven times the US average. A lot of that is truck accidents. The community is divided, because there are some people who make lots of money and want the fracking and some people who are really devastated and upset and angry. The community often breaks down.
Lastly, the oil or gas becomes the most important piece of value in your community. That whole reason for your town is to extract oil and gas. Like in the Gulf of Mexico: it is now nothing more than an oil and gas zone. The ecology does not function, the coastline does not serve the public, you cannot eat the fish and seafood, the eco-system has crashed, there are refineries all along the coast, the coastline is bad, and people work in that industry because they have no other choice. You reduce the value of those areas and increase the value of the oil or gas. The schools are now sponsored by the oil and gas companies, the roads and highways are now sponsored by the oil and gas companies, there is nowhere to fight against it. And this is what is so worrying about what is happening, for example in the Colorado River. The first part of the Colorado River is a beautiful area and it’s completely taken over – 8,000 oil and gas wells cut it up, woods are broken up by the pipeline. They store toxic waste behind mountains next to people’s houses. It’s a disaster area.
What message does the story of fracking in the US give about corporate power and its influence on government and democracy?
The second film is really about the contamination of our democracy. It’s about how every dollar that the oil and gas industry has given to our political system has poisoned the political atmosphere. Democracy is the water of our civilization, and when you have all that toxic money running into our state and federal government, you can’t have citizens’ representation; there is no space for citizens. I believe that we cannot have democracy without freedom from fossil fuels, because they control our democratic political systems, not just in the US but in Australia and other countries. In Europe now, the population is a bit stronger. But they are still fighting to be free of the oil and gas in the future. It’s a great struggle, but we have to fight or we’re all in big trouble.
People’s groups against fracking are growing …
And they keep winning, too, by the way.
…reminding President Obama that they do not agree with fracking like he does.
It's a political zoo in the US now - the Republican Party shut down and hijacked the government [This interview was in October 2013 during the US federal government shutdown]. Our movement gave in 250,000 signatures on a petition to get EPA to reopen the investigations in the film. But that petition will not do any good if they don’t re-open the government. That’s been controlled by a very small group of people who are very rich. The gap between rich and poor now, or rich and normal, in America is amazing, and money has so much influence on the political system. A very tiny group of people with billions of dollars are now deciding policy over hundreds of millions of people. This situation must change; it affects every person’s life in some way.
We’ve had some victories in the US, but the political climate is a problem. Now the big businesses have more power and influence than ever before.
People’s movements, community involvement – do they give you hope?
Yes, I’m hopeful every day. The experience of making the films is terrible: I watch people suffer, I watch them lose their lands and I watch the environment suffer. Some of the worst things I have ever seen in my entire life – places completely destroyed and ruined and people who are in situations that are very bad.
But the experience of showing the film is the total opposite. We’ve shown Gasland 2 now in about 45 cities. Mostly to between 700 and 1,000 people –1,700 people came to see the film one night in Pittsburgh. They said that was the largest environmental group in the city’s history.
The feeling of community is developing again in this crisis. The fracking movement worldwide is one big community and you can go anywhere in the world and find people who are fighting the same problems. These are friends, they’re compadres, they’re people who really understand what is happening to you. That is something that gives life a lot of meaning.
Because it’s not just fighting against fracking. Fracking is one of the things that is starting this change. I hope it will take us out of the fossil-fuel era. Because of the values of sustainability, it feels good to participate, it makes you feel stronger. It relates to integrity and honesty, democracy, and respecting the environment long term.
This is a longer version of the interview from the December issue of New Internationalist.
As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/features/2013/12/01/democracy-fossil-fuels-fracking/