Local action, global movement
Climate activist, filmmaker stops in Chico to support county ban on fracking
Within the climate change movement, Josh Fox is a rock star. A preeminent figure in the opposition to fracking and horizontal drilling, he directed the acclaimed 2010 documentary Gasland, which famously starts with a man turning on his faucet and igniting water that’s reportedly contaminated with fracking chemicals.
The film drew mainstream media attention to fracking—the controversial practice of injecting a cocktail of chemicals, water and sand underground at high pressure to extract deep-rock oil deposits that are otherwise inaccessible—and the public health and environmental concerns associated with groundwater contamination. He followed up with Gasland Part II in 2013, and is now on a 100-date international tour to promote his new film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change. After the film premiere in Chico on Saturday (May 14), he’ll stick around for a Q&A alongside fellow climate activist Tim DeChristopher (aka Bidder 70).
While filming How to Let Go of the World, Fox traveled to 12 countries on six continents to shed light on climate change from dozens of human perspectives.
“The film doesn’t tell any half-truths, pulls no punches,” he said over the phone. “It tells us, in no uncertain terms, that we’re far too late to be dealing with this problem, but then it reaches into the depths of emotions of people when they’re getting that diagnosis.
“When you realize how bad off things are, it’s extraordinarily upsetting,” he continued. “What saves us is love, but in order to feel that, you need to feel the pain of it. … This movie is about staying awake and emotionally engaged.”
He’s stopping in Chico because he considers it a “hot spot”—mostly because of Measure E, which, if approved by voters on June 7, would ban fracking in Butte County.
“We’re doing the tour to energize the movement against fossil fuels,” Fox said. “We’re going places that are in the thick of the fight, whether it’s a fight against oil pipelines, bomb trains, offshore drilling, onshore drilling, fracking or mountaintop removal for coal.”
Bringing the film to Chico is also a way to tie local action—i.e., the efforts of Frack-Free Butte County, the grassroots group behind Measure E—into the broader, global movement, Fox said.
“Climate change is not one huge worldwide battle, it’s thousands of local fights that have to be won,” he said. “When we ban fracking, we keep so much carbon and methane and other greenhouse gases in the ground.”
It’s been an uphill battle to ban fracking locally. After introducing a ballot initiative to do just that, Frack-Free Butte County overcame a legal challenge in 2014 from the political action committee Californians for Energy Independence, Including Energy Producers, which spent $116,238 to stop it. The challenge was based on technicalities such as phrasing, font size and bolding of certain passages. However, a county judge ruled the petition complied with the state electoral code and ordered the county to move forward with the process.
The County Clerk-Recorder’s Office validated almost 8,000 signatures on the petition, enough to take it to voters that November. The next day, however, the Board of Supervisors was confronted with opposition the fractivists believe was orchestrated by well-financed fossil fuel interests. The panel voted 4-1 to take the initiative under study for 30 days, making it impossible to approve it in time to appear on the November ballot.
The supervisors later directed county counsel to draft a ban on fracking internally. “As far as we can tell, county counsel wrote a very good ordinance,” said Ken Fleming, a member of Frack-Free Butte County. But the supervisors ultimately voted it down in February 2015, instead directing county staff to craft an ordinance calling for conditional-use permits so each proposed project would be considered on an individual basis. Months later, the board passed an ordinance that bans the storage or disposal of fracking waste, but not the practice itself.
Meanwhile, the fractivists moved forward with their own ordinance, which is back now as Measure E.
Supervisor Doug Teeter, who is vying for re-election on June 7, opposes Measure E. During the District 5 candidates forum on May 2 hosted by the League of Women Voters of Butte County at Paradise Town Hall, he said the initiative may potentially expose the county to litigation from the oil and gas industry.
“I think it’s clear that it’s poorly written,” Teeter said over the phone. “If the county got sued, how much taxpayer money are we going to spend on that?”
Rather than an outright ban, Teeter favors considering each project on a case-by-case basis under the current permit system, which mandates public notice and disclosure.
“Quite frankly, the first case might uncover that it’s completely unsafe and a ban would be warranted,” he said, adding that the permitting system leaves the door open should an oil or gas extraction method be proven safe. “Technology changes and, in the future, there probably will be alternate means.”
As for the chances of Measure E passing on June 7, Fleming and Dave Garcia, a founding member of Frack-Free Butte County, are optimistic based on expressions of support across political parties.
“My wife has been out knocking on doors with a 91-year-old woman who says she’s voting for Donald Trump but supports Measure E,” Fleming said. Also, Frack-Free Butte County’s recent outreach efforts in Oroville—generally not considered a progressive burg—have been overwhelmingly well-received, Garcia said.
Regarding a potential lawsuit against the county if Measure E is passed, Fleming posed this question: “What’s the cost to taxpayers if, suddenly, our aquifers are polluted?”