The Fox Who Fought Fracking

Photo by Max Sheidlower.

It ends where it begins: with the strumming of a well-tuned banjo.

Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning filmmaker and environmental activist Josh Fox sits backstage at the SUNY New Paltz campus warming up for the latest stop on his Solutions Grassroots Tour, sporting a grey Yankee baseball cap, thick-framed black glasses and some well-earned five o’clock shadow.

For one of more than 15 stops in the state, Josh Fox teamed up with Zephyr Teachout, who ran for the Democratic Party nomination for governor of New York against Andrew Cuomo, to provide New York communities with ways to reduce consumption while raising awareness.

The event, “A Solar Home Companion,” encompassed many aspects of Fox’s award-winning documentary, “Gasland;” his own musical skills highlighted the grassroots issue of hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique in which rock is fractured by a hydraulically pressurized liquid made of water, sand and often undisclosed chemicals, a process recently banned in New York.

“We put out a call all around New York after the statewide ban on fracking,” Fox said. “We wanted to move as quickly as possible to figure out the most responsible way of getting off of fossil fuels.”

The event, hosted by SUNY New Paltz, SUNY New Paltz Environmental Task Force and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), combined storytelling, music and a preview of Fox’s new film on climate change, with community outreach to look at the impacts of fossil fuel development and provide options for developing renewable energy.

March 10 was the second time Fox has spoken at New Paltz. Both times he nearly filled the Lecture Center with community members and students, a fact which Fox described as a crucial part of climate change action.

“The soul of this is about organizing,” Fox said. “It’s about getting people together in smaller groups on their own to take control of their future. I’m here because I believe we haven’t won yet. We can’t say we have won [in the state] and ignore the issues of climate change.”

One ‘New Paltzian’ and environmental activist, Rosalyn Cherry, agreed, highlighting the importance of education on alternative energies.

“I think the key to all of this is awareness,” she said. “To really understand that solar and renewable energy is a real option. I think we all need to have our focus on the possibility of renewable energy.”

According to Fox’s presentation in coordination with renewable energy expert Tim Woodcock speaking for Frack Action, New Paltz is capable of making a large impact on reducing consumption by switching to clean energy sources. If one percent of New Paltz residents switched to renewable resources, 1,218 tons of CO2 would not be emitted in the atmosphere, and $58,869.23 would not be given to fossil fuel companies, but rather to local solar, wind and renewable energy companies, he said.

“If we’re gonna say no, we have to say yes,” Fox said. “We can’t say we’re banning [fracking] and say [energy solutions are] someone else’s problem now.”

Fox said he aims to revolutionize energy on the grassroots level. Toward the end of the presentation, twelve community members and students from the audience volunteered to spearhead efforts in New Paltz for renewable energy alternatives.

“New Paltz is super progressive — New Paltz is awesome,” Fox said. “It is the soul of this; local organizations.”

SUNY New Paltz Assistant Professor of Biology and coordinator of the event Michael Boms said it is not enough just to say what forms of energy should not be used, but also to give multiple alternative solutions, focusing on anything that is non-polluting and renewable.

“We’re not going to focus on just one,” he said. “We can’t have just one. It’s important to know that if we don’t decide on what our future alternative energy source is, who knows, fracking may come back.

He added that it is especially important to focus on renewable energy in a progressive town like New Paltz, with environmental policies recently put into action including a village-wide plastic bag ban.

“Someone’s got to do it somewhere,” he said. “New Paltz back in the ‘60s and ‘70s was a center for these ideas. We’re trying to bring back awareness in the Hudson Valley.”

New Paltz Town Councilman Daniel Torres attended the event in support of these local environmental actions, noting he was always a big fan of Teachout and Fox.

“They’re very progressive,” he said. “I’m happy they’re taking their act on the road and talking about issues that aren’t talked about enough.”

New Paltz Project Coordinator for NYPIRG Eric Wood said he was pleased with the amount of students that came to the event.

“Students have always been at the forefront of successful social movements, such as civil rights and the anti-Vietnam War protest,” he said. “Seeing so many students coming to an event to fight climate change gives me hope that this social movement will be just as successful.”

Fox finished the evening with a duet with musician Mary Doherty, a SUNY New Paltz alumna, with Fox on the banjo and Doherty on acoustic guitar and vocals.