As 2015 goes down as the world’s hottest year on record and the East Coast continues to dig out from one of its worst snowstorms in history, we look at the new documentary by Josh Fox. In How to Let Go of the World (And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change) Fox travels the globe, from New York City to the Marshall Islands and China, to follow the struggles of communities fighting the impacts of climate change.
In one scene, a group of Pacific Climate Warriors chant, "We are not drowning, we are fighting." Fox’s new film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and airs on HBO this summer. His other films include Gasland, the documentary which first exposed the harms of the fracking industry and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Amy Goodman: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The death toll from a record-breaking snowstorm that pummeled the Eastern Seaboard has risen to more than 40. In Washington, DC, federal government offices remain closed again today. The House of Representatives has postponed all votes this week. Snowstorm Jonas was the single biggest snowstorm on record for at least six locations across the East Coast, including Baltimore, Maryland and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The highest total snowfall recorded was 42 inches—or three-and-a-half feet—in Glengary, West Virginia. The Weather Channel’s lead meteorologist, Michael Palmer, said, "It’s likely to go down as one of the most impressive blizzards we’ve seen on the Eastern Seaboard in recorded history."
The record snowstorm in the U.S. came as parts of Asia also experienced record-cold weather. Hong Kong experienced its coldest day in 60 years Sunday. Islands across Japan also experienced their coldest days in decades, with one island, Amami Oshima, receiving snow for the first time in 115 years. In Vietnam, farmers are grappling with the coldest winter in more than 40 years.
Meanwhile, a new study suggests warmer water temperatures are causing the seas to expand twice as fast as previously thought, leading to greater sea level rise. The study in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also found sea level rise varied by location, with the Philippines experiencing sea level rise at five times the average global rate.
Well, we turn now to a new film that’s premiered at Sundance—it’s on climate change—from Josh Fox, director of the Academy Award-nominated film Gasland, which exposed the dangers of fracking. This new film is called How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.
Josh Fox: Can a person stop a wave? Could you stand on the shore and stop a wave from crashing? What are the things that climate change can’t destroy? What are those parts of us that are so deep that no storm can take them away?
Amy Goodman: That’s the trailer for Josh Fox’s new film, How to Let Go of the World (And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change). Josh Fox joins us here in Park City, Utah.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!
Josh Fox: Hi, Amy. It’s good to be here.
Amy Goodman: Hey, Josh. It’s great to be with you. So talk about your travels around the world for the last three years.
Josh Fox: Well, this film starts with me in my own backyard having won against the fracking industry—well, not just me, but all the movement—and realizing that even though we could—
Amy Goodman: How did you win?
Josh Fox Well, through a whole lot of creative protest, the threat of civil disobedience en masse, educating the Delaware River Basin Commission about how dangerous and contaminating the fracking process is. And since that’s the watershed for 16 million people, finally, after years and years of campaigning, they relented and took the river basin off the table. So that was a huge victory. As many people watched in Gasland, the fear was that the watershed would start to get drilled.
But then realizing, as I see the ecosystem collapse under the weight of climate change, the hemlock forests being eaten by a parasite that’s advancing because the temperatures are warming, that we could lose everything in our region to climate change and then, just a few months later, New York City getting the same wake-up call with Hurricane Sandy, that these extreme weather events will continue to get worse, as you’re seeing with this incredible, crazy snowstorm, only a few weeks after we had 60-degree temperatures on Christmas. The extremes of weather—
Amy Goodman: Right, the hottest Christmas on record.
Josh Fox: Right.
Amy Goodman: And the effect of this snowstorm?
Josh Fox: Yeah and the extremes of weather change with climate, right? So, that led me to a real discovery that we are so late in this game. We’ve already warmed the Earth by one degree. We have another 0.5 degrees already in the pipeline. And at two degrees warming, we’re talking about five to nine meters of sea level rise being engendered. That is lethal for New York City. That’s a—and Philadelphia and Washington, DC, Boston, Florida, San Francisco. So, looking at this from the perspective it’s already so late in the game—many would say too late to avoid some of the most destructive aspects of climate change—that sent me out on the road from this place of really deep despair to find all the things climate can’t change.
And what those are, are civic virtues, courage, democracy, love, human rights, resilience, creativity, innovation. And so that led me all across the world to six continents, 12 countries and places like the Amazon with indigenous environmental monitors or the Pacific Climate Warriors who are blockading the coal ports in Australia to stop their islands from being submerged by sea level rise, people speaking out in China for human rights and against climate change, at peril of being imprisoned. So these were the things that are incredibly emotional, in some cases spiritual, ethical examples of people who never say die, who are the most inspiring individuals I’ve ever met—a couple of them sitting right next to me here on this show, which I’m so excited to hear what they have to say. But that as late as it is, we have to inspire within ourselves a sense of generosity, community, these civic virtues that we’re going to need if we’re going to win any of these climate battles, but we’re going to need them even more if we start losing.
Amy Goodman: Well, Josh, before we go to our other guests in studio, climate activists from around this country, I want to turn to a clip from How to Let Go of the World (And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change), where that group of Pacific Islanders you describe, from nations including the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, set out in hand-carved canoes to blockade one of the world’s largest coal ports in Newcastle, Australia. This clip is narrated by Josh Fox. It begins with the Pacific Climate Warriors chanting, "We are not drowning, we are fighting."
Pacific Climate Warriors: We are not drowning, we are fighting! We’re not drowning, we are fighting! We are not drowning, we are fighting!
Josh Fox: Before I say anything else about this sequence, you should probably know that the downside of what we’re about to do was, you know—this is the short list: drowning, arrest, run over by boats, all kinds of sharks, jellyfish, getting punched, sea creatures, drifting away in currents out into the Pacific Ocean, cultural disrespect, big waves. Well, you get the idea. I’ll just say, this was the closest I’ve ever been to feeling like I was in that last scene in Star Wars. We didn’t know what would happen, but a massive coal tanker entered the port, to be greeted by seven hand-carved canoes from the Pacific Island nations and by dozens of Australian kayaking protesters flooding the channel. Nothing like this had ever happened before, tiny canoes like little X-wing fighters up against the Death Star, Australian police swarming in jet skis, intentionally trying to capsize boaters. The first confrontation was upon us: A huge coal ship was leaving port.
I mean, this is amazing. This has actually worked. They’ve actually stopped the coal ship.
I can’t really describe the feeling of watching people in hand-carved canoes, threatened to be sucked under by giant tugboats pulling these ships out to sea. It was true bravery.
Pacific Climate Warriors: We are not drowning, we are fighting! We are not drowning, we are fighting! We are not drowning, we are fighting!
Josh Fox: This was where the protest tipped out of the symbolic and into something actual. This was the fight. This was how you stop a wave from crashing and destroying your home, pulling your family out to sea. This was how you do it.
Amy Goodman: A clip from Josh Fox’s new film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change. Josh?
Josh Fox: "We are not drowning, we are fighting." This could be an anthem for New Yorkers, for Philadelphians, for people in San Francisco. And I think a lot of times when you talk about climate change, you don’t know how to fight. But what we’re going to do with this film, before it goes on HBO in the summertime, is tour it all across America to a hundred of the hotspots, like you see in the Port of Newcastle, but in America, where people are fighting pipelines and power plants, compressor stations, LNG terminals, mountaintop removal, fracking, tar sands—all the places where the fossil fuel industry is invading America. That’s called the Let Go and Love Tour, where we work directly with communities to provide them with renewable energy alternatives on the ground and also mobilize. So, you can learn more about that at our Facebook page or we actually are running a Kickstarter campaign to help us get all across America.
Amy Goodman: Well, we’re going to talk about ...
Josh Fox: Yeah.
Amy Goodman: ... the 100-city tour and about the activism that our guests today are involved with, whether we’re talking about the connections between—well, how climate change affects people differently depending on their socioeconomic status or learning about people, environmentalists on trial and what’s happening to them in this country. We’ll be joined by Aria Doe and Tim DeChristopher in addition to filmmaker Josh Fox in a minute.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.