Through his cinematic art Oscar-nominated film director and playwright Josh Fox is dedicated to, “making up the next version of America and letting it not be Exon, Mobile, and Shell and Chevron and these people who come to you with deceit and leave you at deceit,” he tells Alec Baldwin at WNYC Studios. He is committed to challenge the common-sense understandings surrounding industry standards by illuminating perspectives much less popularized or better concealed in the name of “industry progress”. More specifically, by drawing attention to the environmental dangers associated with hydraulic fracturing, his work aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Climate Action.

Josh Fox winning a prize for Gasland at Sundance film festival (2010). Image courtesy of WNYC Studios.

Arguably the biggest catalyst in the global anti-fracking movement, Fox’s 2010 Gasland confronts the oil and gas industry by bringing into focus the environmental damage and public health uproar that has remained blurred in the periphery of the rapidly expanding natural gas industry. He begins with a personal memoir of his youth growing up in Milanville, Pennsylvania where the imagery of the Delaware river is central to some of his fondest memories. In 2009, when the state attempts to turn his childhood safehaven into a gas drilling site in exchange for 100,000 USD, Fox picks up his camera and begins documenting what is to become one of the most influential documentaries in the realm of natural gas drilling. He provides a comprehensive overview of hydraulic fracturing covering everything about the industry from its history, its policies, its major stakeholders, to the people affected.

The entire documentary is a thorough dissection of the who, what, where, when and why of the fracking industry prioritizing the perspective of those which are most heavily impacted - innocent citizens and the land. In short, hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, is the process by which oil and gas trapped within bedrock is accessed and brought to the surface. Almost mocking the way in which state and federal agencies are ignoring the environmental deterioration as a result of gas drilling, scenes of Fox wearing a gas mask while simultaneously strumming a playful tune on the banjo are interlaced throughout the film. Fox’s efforts to shed light on the harsh truths behind the gas drilling industry align with the United Nations goal to, “strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.”

A scene from Gasland (2010). Image courtesy of NPR.

In the film’s most striking scene, Fox takes a lighter to water running from a tap causing a large flame to erupt spontaneously in and around the entire sink. What appeared to be magical water, was no magic at all. Rather, it was a sign of the enormously contaminated water wells in the area as a result of fracking. The flammability of the water was indication that the groundwater had been contaminated by the various hydrocarbons and carcinogens that had either leaked through the cement walls of the gas well or entered the groundwater through fracking fluid - at least that is what Fox was implying.

Building off of his monumental 2010 piece, The Sky is Pink (2012) is testament to the fallibility of what comes to be taken as truth in a world motivated by interests of industry in place of the environment. Fox provides insight as to how hydraulic fracturing has remained common practice despite links to groundwater contamination and greenhouse gas emissions.

THE SKY IS PINK by Josh Fox and the GASLAND Team. Image 

The documentary analyzes the levels of corruption that the oil and gas industry is built upon. The color of the sky becomes a central analogy for the means by which industry shapes “truth”. He argues that science and industry are in constant debate over the safety of natural gas drilling and so long as there is debate the media has the power to shape what the majority believes. He draws parallels to the beginnings of the cigarette industry, where large cigarette industries would undermine links to the cancerous and addictive nature of their products - it was only until more scientific studies became public information did people begin to understand the harmful effects of cigarettes.

In the same way, Fox shows how the oil and gas industry uses advertising and marketing techniques to conceal the environmental risks and public health hazards that gas drilling involves. The industry goes as far as funding research to support their means and providing monetary compensation to state politicians to advocate for the industry. This is how Fox argues that the sky can turn pink - the industry can delude people so far as they are no longer able to see the harmful potential of oil and gas drilling – believing the sky is pink.

Finishing the documentary with the line, “Governor Cuomo, what color will the sky be over New York?” Here, Fox challenges the Governor of New York not to accept the policy changes that would otherwise allow fracking to take place in the state.

This choice of what narrative to push to his citizens -  the pink sky being, as according to Fox, the delusions that the oil and gas industries push forth to maintain their environmentally erroneous techniques and the blue sky referring to what Fox holds to be the truth where both public health and environmental safety are in harm's way. He urges viewers to take actions and be more cautious of the information in the media that they may take for commonsense. In this way his work improves, “education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change “ as the UN advocates for.

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