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Review: How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change (2016)

How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change (2016)

Directed by: Josh Fox

Premise: Documentary filmmaker Josh Fox travels the globe in search of the ways climate change is impacting different groups of people and how local activists are trying to preserve what is left of their way of life.

What Works: How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change is a bold movie within the genre of environmental documentaries. A lot of these films, the most successful being 2007’s An Inconvenient Truth, are designed to inform and to inspire activism and hope. The subtext of a lot of these documentaries is a populist and democratic ideal that if we all just work together we can stop the worst effects of climate change while maintaining our standard of living. How to Let Go of the World offers a different vision. The picture begins with Josh Fox celebrating an environmental win against hydraulic fracking in his home in Pennsylvania. Fox soon discovers that the natural environs of his home are still in peril because of climate change related phenomena that are the fault of much bigger industrial forces throughout the world. How to Let Go of the World begins by acknowledging that we have already passed several climate thresholds and humanity has put enough greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere to irrevocably impact the future of this planet. It is a sobering point of view and it allows Fox to take a mostly fresh look at humanity’s relationship with the environment. Fox sets out to different locales around the globe and studies how climate change impacts different groups of people. Throughout his journey a familiar theme emerges. How to Let Go of the World explores several different situations but the common denominator is environmental activists coming into conflict with political and industrial power. Indigenous people in Ecuador defy petroleum workers backed by armed government troops. In America, activist Tim DeChristopher stopped the sale of federal land to private fossil fuel companies and was later prosecuted by the government. This film includes an extraordinary sequence in which Pacific Islanders blockade coal ships with their kayaks. And while covertly filming the pollution in Beijing, Josh Fox is tailed by Chinese authorities. Out of these sequences emerges a critique of consumption and the way industrialized society conceives progress. Furthermore, the film articulates the idea of “moral imagination” in which people and societies must rethink the ethics of their relationship with the planet and each other. That is ultimately what Fox means by “letting go of the world.”

What Doesn’t: The full title of this film is How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change. The first part of this movie assembles an unflinching look at the realities of the environmental crisis without the misplaced hope that other films on this subject tend to fall back on. But documentarian Josh Fox mostly remains tethered to the predictable beats of climate change documentaries like the destruction of the Amazon, the melting glaciers, and the impact of superstorms. The movie doesn’t quite live up to its title and provide a radical vision of how the world is changing and will change in the years to come and what that will mean for humanity. Fox can’t help but provide a rosier conclusion than the scientific testimonials in the first half hour of his movie would suggest. How to Let Go of the World also suffers from the weaknesses of Fox’s other documentaries. Some of the montages are too long and the thesis gets diluted as the movie goes off on tangents. The narration of How to Let Go of the World is well written but, as in GasLand, Fox is not very good at delivering it. His voice is too soft and the narration is sometimes muddled in the soundtrack.

DVD extras: None.

Bottom Line: How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change is an ambitious documentary about humanity’s relationship to the planet. Despite its shortcomings, the film provides a fresh take on the climate crisis and revises the way we think about human civilization and the ethics of how we regard the environment.

Episode: #662 (August 27, 2017)