In How to Boil a Frog, documentarian (and comedian) Jon Cooksey sets up an effective way to address environmental issues: outline the problems first, but then offer viable solutions to them. He sets up five problems before suggesting we all can work together to solve them. He first highlights overpopulation as an environmental problem that isn’t addressed because of religion and sex. Secondly he highlights the war on nature, catastrophe that is destroying oceans (with gyres and plastic plankton) and fish, trees, animal species, land and air. The third problem is the conflict between rich and poor, an issue conservatives argue we can’t address because any action might hurt the economy. The fourth problem Cooksey addresses is peak oil. According to Cooksey, oil production has reached its peak, and now extracting oil takes as much energy as the energy the oil produces. The last of these problems is perhaps the overarching repercussion of each: global warming.
For Cooksey, individuals can address all of these problems by making a few lifestyle changes. He tells us to drive past Exxon/Mobile gas stations because they have produced more than three percent of global warming since 1982. He tells us to change our “life bulbs” instead of our light bulbs, as Al Gore suggests, cutting our own emissions in multiple ways (stop eating beef because they cause more than ten percent of global warming, have no more than one child, buy used, and live in smaller dwellings with locally grown produce. Most importantly, however, he tells us to make trouble by posting video of environmental disasters on YouTube (or making movies like his).
In Fall and Winter (2014), director Matt Anderson “makes trouble” like this by laying out the long history of environmental exploitation at the root of our current global eco-crises, including not only peak oil, but also peak soil and water that may result in world-wide starvation and drought. Like Cooksey, Anderson takes a human approach to environmental catastrophe that puts solutions in the hands of humanity rather than its institutions.
( Monsanto phosphate plant and slag pour site near Soda Springs, Idaho.)
Fall and Winter presents a strong argument not only for the human causes for current eco-disasters, but also for their solutions. Most notably, the documentary elucidates how our farming practices have depleted our topsoil by drawing on the expertise of environmental journalist Richard Manning, whose book Against the Grain: How Agriculture has Hijacked Civilization offers strong evidence for the failure of our current emphasis on monoculture.
What sets Anderson’s documentary apart, however, is the recurring image of Hopi spiritual leader Thomas Banyacya’s address to the United Nations, a speech that like Anderson’s documentary, blames Westerners’ interpretation of civilization for the environmental disasters we now face. According to Banyacya’s own English translation,
Hopi in our language means a peaceful, kind, gentle, truthful people. The traditional Hopi follows the spiritual path that was given to us by Massau'u the Great Spirit. We made a sacred covenant to follow his life plan at all times, which includes the responsibility of taking care of this land and life for his divine purpose. We have never made treaties with any foreign nation, including the United States, but for many centuries we have honored this sacred agreement. Our goals are not to gain political control, monetary wealth nor military power, but rather to pray and to promote the welfare of all living beings and to preserve the world in a natural way. We still have our ancient sacred stone tablets and spiritual religious societies, which are the foundations of the Hopi way of life. Our history says our white brother should have retained those same sacred objects and spiritual foundations.
Near the end of his short presentation, Banyacya explains the choices world leaders should make for the survival of themselves and their planet:
Nature, the First People and the spirit of our ancestors are giving you loud warnings. Today, December 10, 1992, you see increasing floods, more damaging hurricanes, hail storms, climate changes and earthquakes as our prophesies said would come. Even animals and birds are warning us with strange change in their behavior such as the beaching of whales. Why do animals act like they know about the earth's problems and most humans act like they know nothing? If we humans do not wake up to the warnings, the great purification will come to destroy this world just as the previous worlds were destroyed.
Fall and Winter documents the “loud warnings” Banyacya notes, but it also illustrates ways humans can “wake up” and change their worlds: sustainable housing, farming, and lives. Grace Lee Boggs, an activist, writer and speaker for labor, Civil Rights, and Environmental justice issues highlights the need for individual responsibility emphasized by both these films. Her work for Detroit's DETROIT SUMMER program for community gardens and youth education illustrates such an ideal. Fall and Winter and How to Boil a Frog suggest we follow her and Cooksey's examples and "make trouble" in a way that works for us.