Do you know about Overshoot? Enviro-problems explained

Interview with Jon Cooksey, Producer and Writer of HowToBoilAFrog Movie

By Luis Fernando Arce, Chief Interviewer, Arbitrage Magazine

Photograph by SFU Continuing Studies via Flickr

A discussion about various topics, with a main focus on the environment. We talked about five main issues that are affecting our world (Peak Oil, Global Warming, Disparity between Rich and Poor, War on Nature, Overpopulation), and which, according to the movie “HowToBoilAFrog”, are all symptoms of a much bigger systemic problem: Overshooting.


First off, let’s get a little bit of information on you. You’re from Los Angeles, right?

I’m originally from L.A. yeah….

And apparently you had an extensive career in Hollywood.  So let me ask you what to me is the obvious question, how come you came from Hollywood to Vancouver?

My wife and I were working together at the time and we were brought up here to run a TV show that was shooting in Vancouver.  Originally, we came for just three months but after three months here, we decided that we’d much better like to be up here in Vancouver, so we moved.

You liked the city better?

I liked the city and the country better, notwithstanding a fascist government.

So you guys have worked on television for a long time. You guys even worked on the Rugrats.  Can you comment a little bit on your television career?

Well, my career started by working on a sitcom done by the Family Channel….We came back to L.A., did some freelance, including Rugrats, [which] I thought was a bore. Then we came to Vancouver…We created Whatnot and it was cancelled in 2006. But I knew of other stuff coming up, and by that point the pressure in my psyche had built up to move me to do something about the broader problem, particularly because my daughter was 12 going on 13 at the time. And I felt that the problem was so urgent, that there was no time to wait for her to grow up and find out…So it was up to me, and it was all downhill from there.

Is that why you got into environmentally-themed programming?

Well, I’d been aware of it in a larger way since maybe 1992. We worked on an [environmentally-oriented] episode for the sitcom we had at the time; I had also read Al Gore’s book by then – Earth in the Balance – and had done a bunch of other research, so I found out about Global Warming and that in ’92 the Earth Summit was going on So there was a lot of that going on.  And that stuff never fit with the stuff I was doing. By 2006, Gore brought out Inconvenient Truth, which built on what he’d written 14 years earlier.

By that time you had already won a few awards for your work though, no?

That’s right. TV work. I felt like I had possibly the connections to get people to help me make something – because I’d never made a movie and movies are not my thing.  And I was going to spend a little bit of time and a little bit of money; five years later I spent a lot of money and a lot of time! By then the movie had changed from what I originally intended to make into something very different.


About the documentary, HowToBoilAFrog


What had you originally envisioned?

Well, I’d gotten to know the guys that use desmobblogs – a website that specifically cites misinformation on Global Warming, and it’s run out of the offices of Jim Hoggan who is a PR guy [Hoggan and Associates] here in Vancouver.  There were some brilliant writers – [among them] Emma Pullman, who’s still there. [Well] I’d gotten to know them and what they were doing: they were doing a sting campaign. The guy Marc Morano, whose now running ClimateDepot.com – he’s the guy who hacked the emails that were released out of context, that whole thing, all that stuff about taking money from the oil companies and the coal companies [and scientific conspiracies]. It was to plant doubt about global warming. So I was going to basically do a smug blog movie:  I was going to do a Satire – that’s where the title came from – basically a satirical handbook for fossil fuel corporations on how to bake the planet.  But the more people I interviewed – in particular Rex Weyler and Anita [M.] Burke – I started to understand they were talking about Systems Theory: about systemic problems. So at that point I realized that global warming was just a symptom of a systemic problem, and that systemic problems were an overshoot, principally driven by overpopulation and overconsumption, amplified by technology.

That is the definition of overshoot, right?

Yeah, overshoot…It still reads at UBC here – U of British Columbia – that working with Mathis Wackernagel actually created the Global Footprint concept. I needed a number. And at the time I think we were 20% into overshoot – we were using 20% more resources than the earth could sustainably provide! Now we are at 50% or more! We are way overcharging the Earth. And that is 6 years later. It jumped from 20% to 30% to 50%. So it’s on an exponential increase, obviously. It’s principally driven by overpopulation and the other main variable is consumption. [pullquote] Obviously, we in the developed world are the consensual drivers, because our consumption is 500 times more than the consumption of the people in Africa. [/pullquote] So all of that was kind of a really new viewpoint to me – I’d never thought about it in that way. And if you look at the wealth of problems, what else are you going to talk about? Well, the oceans are collapsing, and acidifying, and species are going extinct, and we are destroying the food supply, and climate change is killing the wheat fields and blah blah blah…There’s so much shit, and people get overwhelmed and they lose focus. They think this is too confusing; that there is nothing I can possibly do that would change this. And the only way to get around it, in my mind, was to say ‘ok, let’s forget about all those little individual symptoms; let’s talk about the systemic problem of overshoot.’ And I saw things in that light: so then, if that is the problem, what would be a systemic solution?

If overshoot is a systemic problem, why…have I never even heard of the term before? Why do you think that is? That we don’t mention the word ’overshoot’ in the media?

[Laughs] Well, I don’t know, you know. I’d never heard of it until five years ago.  William Catton wrote a book called Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change in 1980, so it’s been around for over 30 years. It’s not a new concept, and I think his ideas were influential with theories about the limits of growth of people, along with Denis Meadows and others. So the concepts are there, and the people that are well aware of the psychology movement were reading William’s book 30 years ago. But I think the news media, even if it weren’t corporately owned, even if the corporations that own the media weren’t trying to prevent them from reporting on deeper systemic issues and just trying to keep us all distracted with the latest shiny objects, the reporters and editors themselves have always been editors who worked in the environmental realm, for instance, who always want the local angle. Because people don’t care…if somewhere in the atmosphere there is x number of parts per million, I care about the ducks sitting down in my stream. So every environmental editor is saying, ‘no don’t give me global warming, give me how it affects the ducks down in the stream.’ And that’s the nature of newspaper reporting in particular.


So I think it’s safe to say that you don’t think our press is free?

I don’t think it’s free or effective. The deeper problem is that those are systemic issues, partly corporate issues and partly journalism cultural issues. But the deeper problems, which you find if you talk to individual reporters is where it all happens, because somebody has to type on the keys. When you talk to climate scientists and writers, they would read all these facts that they knew which was fine. And I would say, ‘wow, I feel despair now, because I have a 13 year old daughter —  or whatever she was at the time —  and you’re telling me she’s going to have a short miserable life?’ They would nod. Then I would say ‘how do you feel about that?’ And they would say ‘what do you mean?’ And I’d say, you don’t feel anything?’ They’d say, ‘well I have to be objective’, which of course is not an answer. I’d say, ‘are you allowed to talk about this at the dinner table?’, and they would say, if they had families if they weren’t already divorced because of the subject matter that they were studying:  ‘no, I’m not allowed to talk about this at home.’ And there is the problem. They’d been trained culturally not talk about feelings, because then they’d be dismissed as being subjective.  But human beings only pay attention to feelings, not facts. So we have a complete disconnect in the news being reported and the way they are reported from the way people are actually impacted by the things that they hear.

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