Angela Monti Fox is a psychotherapist and social worker by vocation, but she's also an activist by what you might call an accident of birth -- she's the mother of filmmaker Josh Fox. Fox's 2010 Emmy award-winning documentary Gasland exposed the perils of hydraulic fracturing -- aka "fracking" -- and gave us that unforgettable image of flaming tap water that helped spark the nascent anti-fracking movement.
The natural gas industry has been in damage control mode ever since, flooding the airwaves with feel-good ads touting natural gas as a safe, clean solution to our energy needs. They've also attacked Josh Fox, who continues to expose their misleading claims in his short film The Sky Is Pink (which can be viewed free online) and Gasland 2, coming soon to HBO.
As her son became a lightening rod for the natural gas industry, Angela felt compelled to enter the fracking fray herself. In March 2012, she launched The Mothers Project For Sustainable Energy, dedicated to promoting safe, renewable sources of energy as an alternative to toxic fossil fuels. The Mothers Project is a global coalition of mothers united on behalf of our most vulnerable citizens, the children who can't vote or shape public policy, but who are at greatest risk of harm from all the contaminants unleashed throughout the process of extracting, transporting and burning fossil fuels.
Angela has become a force in her own right, testifying at hearings in communities where the gas industry is seeking to gain a foothold, attending rallies, reaching out to policy makers. In short, she's taken the platform provided by Gasland to help mobilize a grassroots resistance to the extraction of natural gas, whose hazards are only just now beginning to be studied, even as the natural gas industry ramps up production all over the country.
I sat down recently with this dedicated, dynamic mother and grandmother to find out how she came to be a self-proclaimed 'peaceful warrior.' Below are excerpts from our conversation.
Q: When did fracking become an issue for you?
A: Josh is the one who got the offer (to lease his family's land in rural Pennsylvania, for approximately U.S. $100,000), I remember him walking through this door and saying to me, "I dunno, mom, I don't know whether it's God or what, but I've gotta do this." He just had to do something to follow through. The house is very important to us, Josh spent most of his childhood there. We're very connected to that place, and you see that in Gasland.
When we bought that place it was 'forever wild', totally protected. Thirty-eight, forty years later, we're surrounded on our 21 acres by people who have leased their land all around us.
I can tell you honestly that if we lose in the Upper Delaware River, I will be the first one to be arrested. I know my kids would be very upset, but I would do it, there's no question. I would rather sit in jail than watch them come down my road and destroy that house. That's my home. We built that house with our own two hands.
Q: You've got a long history of activism before you took on fracking. What inspired you to first become an activist?
A: I moved to New York to attend City College -- for free! -- when I was seventeen. My first connection to any real activism was the civil rights movement, through my aunt and uncle who belonged to the Marble Hill-Riverdale Association for Civil Rights. I heard Martin Luther King speak to that organization.
And the second was, I married a guy who was dodging the draft. At the time, there were all kinds of demonstrations, I was in school in the middle of Harlem, we were at every protest, we were at the epicenter of everything that was happening, so Josh has it in his blood! (laughs) I was always connected to the underdog.
I'm a feminist, obviously, it was important to me as a liberated woman coming from an Italian Catholic family where I was not even expected to go to school, that was probably the real beginning of my activism, to go and get educated.
Q: How important do you think it is for celebrities to use their clout to raise awareness on these issues?
A: I think it's important, celebrities do get the mass media to pay attention and they have a great deal to contribute, because they can make commercials, they have the money, they should do more.
There have been some beautiful commercials that Josh's company produced with Michelle Williams, she's a great spokesperson, as a young mother. And Mark Ruffalo. There should be more people willing to come out and do commercials for clean air and water, to bring attention.
I would love someone to go to Minisink. This is a wonderful, beautiful town that would be destroyed by this huge compression station that's going up right there in the middle of town, they're fighting it like crazy, asking for a stay.
Q: What are the most critical facts you want people to understand about the risks of converting to natural gas?
A: We are burning more natural gas in New York City. My current campaign involves my concern that natural gas might bring unsafe levels of radon -- an invisible and odorless radioactive gas -- into our homes. January is National Radon Action Month, by the way! The city is investing more money in what will become an antiquated system, and not investing heavily enough in sustainable energy, like solar, wind, hydropower.
Why are we talking about them as sustainables? Because we're not going to run out of sunshine and wind any time soon. But we also can't export it. You're looking at something that is not ownable, and the oil and gas industry is not interested in that.
When you talk about harvesting oil from tar sands, that's scraping the bottom of the barrel. Fossil fuels are going to become obsolete. Natural gas is being sold as a cleaner fuel because it burns cleaner than coal or oil, but we might be poisoning the air to a greater degree than carbon with methane, which leaks during the extraction process. Methane is a devastating accelerant of climate change.
Gasland did not create this global movement, it aided the global movement -- the tap water catching on fire was the shot that was heard around the world. That movie gave people a visual that created in their mind an ability to believe something that is not believable. In other words, water does not catch on fire. It's just wrong. So you look at that image and you're compelled to try to figure out "what's happening here?"
But you cannot see the methane coming out of the stacks, you have to look through an infrared camera to see it. So it looks quite innocent to the naked eye. If you go to Colorado, you see all these wells along the most beautiful areas -- you don't see anything coming out of them without the infrared camera. And in Pennsylvania, the same thing -- if you put on that special lens, you will see gas leaks.
Something has to ignite a fire in the belly. Look at the massive civil disobedience it took to get rid of the draft. Something big will happen that will cause people to rally around the climate change movement.
A version of this interview originally ran on MomsCleanAirForce.