Updated: Apr 30
I watched Michael Moore’s new movie - twice. It’s called “Planet of the Humans” written and directed by Jeff Gibbs. It should have been entitled, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but I guess that moniker had already been taken. It is, at best, a disjointed attempt to convince us that we can’t be saved from the disaster of climate change by renewable energy. We have to do it ourselves. Along the way they seemed determined to destroy the “illusion” of the wind and solar industry, and a few reputations as well.
The information on the renewables industry is dated, incomplete and, at times, grossly misleading if not flat out wrong. Orchestrated conspiracy theories are manipulated to convince us that the ‘environmental royalty’ is on the take and selling us out, and the worthwhile points the movie makes are buried under a slag heap of ridiculous theater.
Scene One - The theft of Earth Day: 60s style hippies sing on stage and a couple dozen barefoot longhairs dance in the grass while stealthy sleuthing unveils the truth. Although promoters have told the crowd the event was totally powered by solar energy there are only enough solar panels to power the stage and it’s not working very well. Need we say more? He comes full circle at the end of the movie to show nothing has changed except the intrusion of big business.
Scene two - Jimmy, John and the hard hat: Two guys roam around in the forest whispering as they find a secret facility designed to destroy the north woods. A guy with a hard hat on and a walkie-talkie finds them and calls for helicopter gunships.
Scene three - The mayor and the solar furnace: A visit to the pilot test site of the first SEGS solar furnace in Daggett, CA. They make it appear to be a second Area 51 lockdown. A “impromptu” visit to the solar field reveals disaster. OH MY GOD! The mirrors are broken, and the solar furnace isn’t working! Who knew!! Someone should tell the major.
There’s more but you get the point.
Then we have to deal with the historical evidence of the wind and solar folly. After combing through decades historical film clips what do they come up with? Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor, a clip from the introduction of the Volt in (2010), a new and very dated Lansing solar system from whatever year. They claim solar panels last for ten to twenty years before they need to be replaced and are only 8% efficient, that electric cars are powered by coal, exhibiting no awareness of the improvements in power generation and electrical grids. There is a conspicuous lack of dates and names and places throughout their journey. The bottom line seems to suggest that the cradle to grave carbon footprint of a renewables is equal to or even greater than that of a fossil fuels all things taken into consideration. Their proofs are drawn from past struggles by the fledgling industry with no regard to current realities nor any consideration of future promise.
I check one more time to see if this movie was made in 2010. No, it was 2020.
Along the way they construct some pretty fancy conspiracy theories. Let’s throw some people under the bus. How about the Sierra Club, Al Gore, Bobby Kennedy and Bill McKibben just for starters. The charges reek of inuendo. One wonders what they are charged with much less whether they might be guilty and maybe they are??? When in doubt destroy some reputations. This segment was cheap and beneath them. I found it all very distracting.
Moore and Gibbs act surprised and scandalized that power and money would find ways to into all energy sectors. Since when has this not been true. Frequently, I have heard it said that the fossil fuel industry should change direction and invest in renewables. The problem is that their actions will continue to be guided by profit rather than concern for the environment so having the renewable energy industry coopted by the fossil fuel industry is, indeed, problematic. It seems to me that social distancing between the two is desirable if not downright necessary.
Whether that’s achievable is another question. That is not to say the renewables industry doesn’t suffer from the same gold fever. Our current economic system which treasures growth and profits above all things and creatures is not an ally in this struggle. Pointing out these issues is easy. Solving them not so much. At one point I thought Gibbs was going to call for a zero-growth economy. Good luck with that.
Somewhere in this mishmash there are actually legitimate stories to explore and issues to consider. We can’t be saved by renewable energy alone. True. There are serious problems with the influence of the rich and powerful in the energy industry. True. There are too many of us consuming too much, too fast. Absolutely true! The fundamentals of our economic system can only lead to more global environmental and human destruction. Hooray! Right on!
Moore and Gibbs finally seem to find their focus: The fundamental causes of climate change and environmental degradation; greed and overpopulation. There were 2 billion people when I was born and 8 billion people 74 years later. If there is a real benefit from this movie it would be to change the narrative concerning climate change focusing more on our consumptive ways and the destructive demeanor of our economic and political systems. I’m all in on that. For me, however, the disingenuous attack on renewable energy robs “The Planet of the Humans” of its soul.
One of the great ironies is that what were considered promising alternatives to fossil fuels just a few years ago are now anathema. I think most environmentalists would admit to some degree of discomfort when it comes to a discussion of using biomass as fuel. I found the information in the film both interesting and disturbing. The early promise of biomass has proved a failure.
We are now almost at the end of the movie but not before the obligatory clip of a horse and a cow in a meat grinder. (That should be enough to cover both the factory farm/meat industry and animal fat fuel as well.) Finally, the film ends with truly disturbing images of an orangutan struggling to survive the human destruction of its habitat. After watching that I was indeed angry. However, it wasn’t just the insensitivity of the human race but the tomfoolery of “Planet of the Humans” that was driving my ire.
This film is so far behind the technology and science of renewables like solar, wind, electric vehicles, geothermal, hydrogen, wave technology, etc. that you have to wonder if these guys have read or researched anything since 2010. Maybe current information didn’t serve their purpose. While Moore and Gibbs have serious and important points to make, they can’t resist the call of Vaudeville.
The film is almost criminally short on suggestions to right the wrongs. On the other hand, I do believe deeply in the message that comes near the end of the film. We must control ourselves in our own lives first before anything can happen. This is a grass roots movement at the core. Our awareness comes first. Social action and political resolve will follow.
How could Michael Moore produce such uneven project? I have my own conspiracy theory. He was given big money by the Heartland Institute, the fossil fuel industry’s beacon of disinformation, to take down the renewables industry. Big oil, I’m sure, couldn’t be happier with the results. He definitely earned his money. No. I’m just kidding. There is a simpler reason. Sensationalism, conspiracy and innuendo sell better than fact, research and integrity. The National Enquirer found that out decades ago.
Then again, maybe Michael Moore is just getting a little lazy.