Josh Fox, the director of Gasland, shares his experience of battling long-term effects of Covid-19, describing it as a constant internal battle.
After the debut of his Academy Award-nominated film Gasland, Josh Fox faced intense pressure from the fossil fuel industry.
During a span of five or six years, he recalls being labeled as the top enemy of the public. He was closely monitored while travelling throughout the country and faced arson and ongoing death threats. The film also faced intense negative publicity, specifically directed towards him.
In 2008, Fox was sent a letter to the house his father constructed in the upper Delaware River Basin in the US. The letter came from a natural gas mining company, offering him $100,000 to lease 19.5 acres of land.
Rather than accepting the funds, Fox embarked on a journey throughout the United States with a camera to witness the impact of shale gas drilling on other communities. He soon found himself in a fierce battle for survival. The locals showed him water that was fizzy and bubbling, and even water that could be ignited. In his documentary Gasland released in 2010, Fox revealed the harmful effects of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, which included air pollution, contaminated groundwater, chemical harm to animals, and illnesses in humans.
The film received widespread praise and sparked a global movement against fracking. Its follow-up, Gasland Part II released in 2013, featured the successful Bentley blockade, which effectively stopped gas drilling in Australia’s northern rivers area.
The reason for Fox’s presence in Australia is not related to his tireless efforts in climate activism (although that is always on his mind). He has come to attend the premiere of his documentary, The Edge of Nature, at the Byron Bay international film festival. As a fast-talking New Yorker, he passionately shares information while sporting a straw hat and keeping his banjo close by on his hotel bed.
During the pandemic of 2020, Fox sought refuge in a small shack in the Pennsylvania forest, where he had spent his childhood. His only companion was a banjo, as he battled severe neurological symptoms caused by long Covid. Cut off from the outside world, he relied on a battery and a small solar panel for electricity during his nine-month stay. One particularly dark night, he questioned his brain’s ability to function as he spoke into his camera.
The movie opens with a rapid succession of visuals and a shocking speech about the condition of the world in 2019, prior to the period of lockdowns known as the “anthropause.” During this time, 2.09 billion birds mysteriously disappeared, one-third of all animal species were at risk of extinction, and 17% of global wildlife had vanished due to increasing climate emissions. Just when the environmental crisis seemed overwhelming, a deadly and debilitating virus emerged, further exacerbating the situation. The protagonist reflects on how unaware they were of the privileges they had before their self-imposed isolation. The contrast between their current state and their former way of life is profound.
In the woods, he resided in a state of intense feverish visions, as he described in the movie: “The virus ravaged my mind, jumbling and confusing my synapses.” Fox battled with difficulty breathing and uncontrollable blinking. Medical professionals were unable to diagnose his condition.
While coexisting with a hardworking group of beavers (“I adore those beavers”), and other untamed creatures in the wilderness, he aimed to improve his well-being and overcome the negative effects of noise and violence on his mental clarity. His goal was to reach a state of healing that would allow him to continue his battles.
Gasland unintentionally turned Fox into an advocate for environmentalism as he challenged the influence of wealthy oil corporations. In contrast, The Edge of Nature portrays a distinct battle. “The battleground was within my mind and body, encompassing both mental and physical realms. It was also spiritual and emotional.”
The fox always felt a sense of belonging in the forest because he was constantly surrounded by nature. He found solace in conversing with the stars, talking to the frogs, and listening to their mating calls. This helped him gain a deeper appreciation for the changing of seasons, realizing that there are more than just four, but rather at least twelve in his mind.
One evening, he hears the sound of gunfire and becomes scared. He explains to the camera, “This was a warning for anyone within hearing distance. This is what a bear, a deer, and those being hunted hear and flee from.” The guns prompt him to reflect on human aggression and the lasting impact of past generations, such as his grandmother who was the sole survivor of nine siblings during the Holocaust, and his grandfather who lost his entire family.
He reflects on the brutality of the past (“The foundation of America is rooted in genocide and slavery”). Additionally, he considers the impending death to come. “The impact of climate change is a form of genocide, and it is the most significant one yet,” he tells me. “And it’s not just affecting us, it’s affecting every living being on this planet. We are facing a potential extinction event.”
After spending time in the forest, he came to the realization that we cannot fully heal ourselves unless we also take care of the planet. Every decision we make must consider the well-being of the planet. It is important to recognize that nature has the power to heal us, just as we have the ability to heal it – it is a mutually beneficial relationship. What benefits the environment also benefits us.
Fox continues to experience some symptoms occasionally, but he reports feeling significantly better now. He is unsure of the exact cause of his improvement, as it remains a mystery. He dealt with these symptoms for 16 months, but found that spending time in nature greatly aided in his recovery from PTSD and other effects of long Covid. His activism for the environment is what ultimately heals him. His film serves as a plea for increased focus, resources, and research on long Covid, a condition that affects numerous individuals.
While residing in the forest, he gained insight into humanity’s ultimate responsibility as guardians of the Earth. “The forest relies on us. We possess the knowledge of how to promote biodiversity and sustain ecosystems.”
He gazes up at the clear blue sky in Byron with a sense of amazement. “You rarely see such blue skies in the US, except during the pandemic,” he remarks. “Covid is the only instance in human history where we successfully decreased emissions to meet the goals set by the Paris climate agreement. There are valuable lessons to be learned from that experience. The Earth was trying to communicate with us and we must heed its message. Nature essentially grounded all of humanity and urged us to reflect on our actions.”
According to Fox, the documentary Gasland, which first aired on HBO, would not be chosen for US television at this time. He describes the media climate as extremely restrictive and challenging, but he has not let that deter him from taking on powerful adversaries. Despite any trauma he may have faced, it seems he enjoys the battle. He firmly believes that no challenge is too great and draws strength from being on the right side of the issue. Fox has discovered that by coming together and organizing, they hold a significant amount of influence. He emphasizes the importance of having faith in their collective power.
Fox doesn’t claim to have all the answers. He is motivated by questions, the biggest one being: “Can we do this?”
“I am aware that movement is the source of power,” he expresses. “At the moment, we are facing challenges and enduring suffering. This film serves as a tribute to those movements, conveying the message that we need to heal and move forward. We have the ability to connect with the earth, which has the power to transform our death into life in a miraculous way. We have a choice – to acknowledge this reality or to disregard it and continue fueling Elon Musk’s rockets, driving our SUVs, and spending excessive time in front of screens.”