Review of “Planet of the Humans”, a Film Directed by Jeff Gibbs & Michael Moore, Executive Producer.
“Planet of the Humans”, the controversial film on environmentalism, in production for the past several years, was surprisingly released on Earth Day this year. Director and narrator, Jeff Gibbs, has been a collaborator on several of Michael Moore’s documentaries in the past.
In the week since its release, “Planet of the Humans” has been widely criticized as “depressing,” “offering no hope or solutions” to the growing mal-consequences of human-induced climate change. I believe this is a misreading of Gibbs and Moore’s intent, coming from a perspective trapped in a neoliberal worldview that cannot get out of our capitalist economic box.
True, the loosely organized litany of the shortcomings of “green” alternatives to fossil fuel energy can be depressing. However, it is also true that some of the largest and best known players in the environmental movement of the last 50 years, such as the Sierra Club, and the efforts of Al Gore have been compromised and overtaken by Wall Street billionaires in the service of profit.
The answer is not despair or the abandonment of environmental activism but rather a dedicated commitment to reverse the resolute drive for economic growth, an organizing principle of capitalist society. “The Planet of the Humans” is a call to acknowledge the limitations of our world’s natural resources and build a society of cooperation rather than competition to lessen consumption and live more simply. Continued “capitalist growth is suicide,” Gibbs proclaims.
This insane thrust to an unsustainable direction by our national leaders was emphatically punctuated during last evening’s news. Nancy Pelosi, when asked if she was concerned that the four Congressional bills passed thus far dealing with the coronavirus has grown the national deficit by 2.7 trillion dollars to be dealt with by the next generation, was quoted as saying, “We will just have to grow out of it” once this pandemic subsides and our economy recovers.
The Limits of Economic Growth
We are the only species capable of destroying itself. We don’t need to “save the planet,” we need to save our human species from its own recklessness. This reminds me of Walt Kelly’s old Pogo comic strip quote: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
To move forward with any confidence and optimism, we, as a human society, need a serious change in our attitude toward the world around us. Rather than having a disposition of “dominion” over all god’s creatures and a competitive, extractive attitude toward natural resources, we need to work cooperatively at the local, regional and international level to fight to limit growth. We must stop destroying the forests by continuing to support “green”, “renewable” wood-chip biomass plants while people in Indonesia, Africa and South America are dying to protect the forests.
Yes, we must all do our best individually, but we can only arrive at solutions to climate change collectively. We must seriously re-evaluate our place in the world. Unless we change direction to work more cooperatively, the little things we can all do by ourselves are just a distraction. Social “action is the antidote to despair.”
Valid Criticism, Unmentioned Gains
“The Planet of the Humans” is not beyond criticism or without fault. Certainly advances in solar and wind efficiency as well as lower cost and greater long-term reliability in recent years have moved past the documentary’s dated information on these sources of clean power generation.
Distributed solar photovoltaics, most often installed on rooftops have increased efficiency from the 8% the film quotes to 20% with 35% just over the horizon while capacity world-wide has increased massively in the last five years from China to Germany, from Bangladesh to the United States. Yet the costs associated with acquisition, manufacture and installation continue to be half the cost of rooftop systems and have not dropped proportionately.
The high quality and efficient wind turbines produced and implemented today are built to last 50 or more years unlike the poorly constructed, early structures of the 1970’s rusted and inoperable featured in the documentary.
Gibbs and Moore’s exposé of biomass energy and the lunacy of burning wood-chips for power is more on target. I was surprised by the large ratio of investment in biomass energy plants compared to investments in wind and solar that “Planet of the Humans” graphed. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, was an early supporter of replacing oil furnaces with wood-chip burners and even he has denounced burning trees for electricity since 2016.
The opening person-on-the-street question about the remaining lifespan of the human species I found curious. But what I found most over the top about “Planet of the Humans” was the emotionally stirring orangutan film footage used as an allusion to the death of “Planet of the Apes” at the film’s end.
“Planet of the Humans” does not even touch on the gains made in geothermal power, offshore wind turbines, wave and tidal energy systems or advances in the design of net-zero buildings that combine maximum efficiency and onsite renewables. Nor is there any mention of utility-scale photovoltaics and energy storage, (except for one ill-fated implementation outside Los Angeles), or the always controversial implementation of nuclear power.
The answer to slowing and stopping the smothering of ourselves in greenhouse gases, limiting global warming and putting an end to the use of fossil fuels is the smart implementation of an array of alternative, clean fuel sources, not reliance on a few. As our society moves “beyond coal”, reliance on one or two sources of clean energy, in the future, could prove as foolish as relying on oil and natural gas today.
Just as it must be acknowledged that in a transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy, our base industry is still mired in dirty energy practices, so too, this film, years in production, is not entirely up-to-date. This, also, can be changed. One thing we have learned from 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic, habitually repetitive human behavior, given the proper motivation and will, can change quickly.
The scientists have given us an estimate of less than 10 years to half our carbon emissions before a tipping point of no return for global climate catastrophe ensues. There is still hope. Before this pandemic withdraws from its central position in human consciousness, let us at least step back and reconsider that non-essential air flights and internal combustion car trips are just that. We have changed. Let us not turn back to business as usual.
Must See TV
“Planet of the Humans” not only shockingly breaks new ground in its critique of the environmental movement and green energy alternatives over the past 50 years since the first Earth Day, it also pioneers a new distribution channel for featured movies in a time of coronavirus theater closings.
You can find it and screen it for free on YouTube.