Michael Moore’s Gift to the Fossil Fuel Industry

Source: Tedglick.com

Photo by MuhammadRizwanNazir/Shutterstock.com


Jeff Gibbs’ and Michael Moore’s movie, Planet of the Humans, released publicly via Youtube on Earth Day, must have “made my day” for the executives in the board rooms of Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP and all the other fossil fuel corporations. But before getting into all of that, let me list the parts of this disturbing movie that were OK or even good.

-It is good that it is critical of methane gas. Oil, coal and gas are all disasters for the planet and its many life forms. Those environmentalists who continue to support gas as a “bridge fuel” to a clean, renewable energy future are essentially science deniers. This is the case because of the many studies going back years that show that the production and burning of methane gas, these days mainly fracked gas, is a definite negative for the climate.

-It is good that it is critical of biomass, the cutting down and burning of woods and forests. Studies going back years have shown that this is not a viable, renewable alternative to fossil fuels. Although new trees can grow back and, over time, replace the natural sequestration of carbon dioxide lost by the cutting down of mature trees, the fact is that in most cases the amount of time it will take for that to happen, many decades, makes this a non-viable option given that we have only years, not decades, to turn around the climate emergency.

-Planet of the Humans is also critical of biofuels, and I agree that the production of industrial biofuels and corn-based ethanol is problematic. Doing so removes land needed for food production to feed the world’s peoples and is, practically, not much of a contributor to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

-The film references overpopulation, overconsumption and endless economic growth as fundamental issues which need to be addressed if we are to save the earth’s ecosystems. These are all legitimate issues, and I have often heard or read about overconsumption and the economic growth issue in my 17 years as an active participant in the climate movement. There is much less about overpopulation, which I do consider to be a legitimate issue.

It’s not overpopulation that is the cause of our crises; it is the rule of the fossil fuelers and their allies in the corporate class that is the cause. But since we want all people on earth to be able to live decently, not in poverty, it is a real issue as to how the growing world population is going to be fed, clothed, housed and provided medical care and decent-paying jobs given the earth’s finite resources.

But the film’s negatives far outweigh these positives.

A big negative is the propagandistic way that Gibbs and Moore make their case.

This is not a documentary. It is a movie created to advance the moviemakers’ view of the world as far as the climate/environmental crisis.

What is that world view? These are the main aspects:

-wind, solar, battery storage and electric cars are fake solutions being pushed by greedy capitalists solely to make money
-Bill McKibben and 350.org, Mike Brune and the Sierra Club, and Al Gore are collaborators with these greedy capitalists in this scheme
-“environmental leaders are leading us all off the cliff”
-the major issues we should be dealing with are overpopulation, overconsumption and endless economic growth
-we are “not going to find a way out of this one,” meaning our planetary existential crisis
-we need to “come to terms with death”
-it’s not greenhouse gases that are destroying the planet, “it’s us”

Gibbs/Moore’s attempt to portray wind, solar, battery storage and electric cars as sham alternatives to fossil fuels (and nukes, which, surprisingly, they barely mention) has been effectively rebutted by Ketan Joshi in this critique. The essence of Joshi’s critique is that the moviemakers portray these renewable options to fossil fuels as they existed 8-10 years ago, and a great deal has changed since then, both in terms of their rapid spread and penetration into the energy market, the dramatic decrease in price and in terms of improvements in efficiency and longevity. None of this—none, zero—is presented in this movie. It is truly disgraceful.

Then there’s the corruption issue, focused on McKibben, Brune and Gore.
Gibbs/Moore have used only snippets of public appearances by the three of them combined with voiceover commentary or juxtaposition with other snippets that show them in the worst possible light. It is in no way an attempt to be objective.

McKibben is the one I know and have worked with the most. Certainly there are grounds for constructive criticism of some of his past positions regarding biomass, though he, as is true of others, has changed his position as scientific studies have shown it to be a false solution to the climate emergency. And he’s not perfect. But for the last 15 years Bill has given a great deal of his time and energy, including several civil disobedience arrests, all for no or little pay as far as I know, doing all he can, as best as he can, to help build a climate/climate justice movement that can prevent full-on ecological and social devastation as we pass climate tipping points. Michael Moore, in particular, owes him an apology for the despicable treatment given him in Planet.

Is there a problem with some in the environmental and climate movements being too tied in with capitalists who are out to make lots of money on solar, wind, battery storage and electric cars?

Yes, of course. Is it true, as Gibbs/Moore say, that “the takeover of the environmental movement by capitalism is now complete?” No, absolutely not.

Where is the main leadership in the climate/climate justice movement coming from today? It’s from young people, including many people of color, from the individuals like Greta Thunberg and the many groups which make up the global climate strike movement. Who led the three days of action last week, April 22-24, such as the 72-hour Earth Day Live 2020 livestream? It was young people again, supported by older people.

And who is responsible for the emergence of the idea of a Green New Deal, not exactly a pro-capitalist concept? The Sunrise Movement, made up of and led by young people, whose mid-November, 2018 sit-in inside Nancy Pelosi’s office launched a mass movement which continues and which is our movement’s North Star.

Are the moviemakers on to something when they target overpopulation, overconsumption and endless economic growth? Yes, but they’re not exactly the first ones to identify these as issues. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, over 50 years ago, wrote and spoke often about the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.”

Gibbs/Moore make no mention anywhere of racism or militarism, by the way. The absence of any acknowledgement of the role and the reality of the anti-racist climate justice movement in the film is a glaring and inexcusable weakness for a film which purports to be presenting an overview of the movement to save the earth and its people.

Michael Moore should be ashamed of himself.

Ted Glick is the author of the forthcoming Burglar for Peace: Lessons Learned in the Catholic Left’s Resistance to the Vietnam War. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at htt

1 comment

  1. Sergio Grancagnolo May 9, 2020 1:59 am 

    Dear ZNET, does your choice of publishing this post will serve the cause of doing good to the planet earth?

    I think everybody agrees on the enormous damages that industrial civilization is causing to most places via mining, farming, building factories and cities, connecting them with all form of transportation, etc.

    Let us get to the solar/wind/battery technological solutions. Does the author realizes that any solution that uses even a tiny fraction of fossil fuels or any other resource will have to be multiplied by a growing number of humans, in an economy based on growth, with growing per-capita energy consumption? And given that electricity it is only a fraction of the total energy used in our society (consider e.g. fossil fuel based heating and transportation), that means that electricity production based on renewable sources does not have only to substitute fossil fuel based electricity production, but also all the rest. And all the devices that are and will be connected to the grid, are they going to be produced also on renewable sources? The conclusion would be, that even if there would be a 100% clean form of energy, the manufacturing, usage and disposal of all the rest would continue planet destruction.

    The underlying assumption here is that industrial civilization can fix all this in the long term, so what looks like “less” damage (from solar and wind energy capturing devices) seems acceptable, even if this movie shows that it should not be acceptable at all. Nowhere fossil fuel corporations are justified for what they do, but on the long term, companies using other technologies (including hydro and nuclear) will be harmful anyway. Even if they are not equal in the amount and type of damage, their existence is based on fossil fuels. How many solar panels would be required to build another solar panel from scratch, without any fossil fuel? The take home message is that to save the planet none of them should be used.

    As correctly pointed out in the movie, overpopulation becomes a problem when peoples are fed by unsustainable, fossil fuels based, industrial agriculture – limited by the way by several other factors, like available phosphorus, arable land, water, and topsoil depletion.

    In this context, overpopulation means overshoot: the capability of the land to sustain the peoples living on it, it is artificially increased by importing external energy, resources, and food. Lacking any controlled and peaceful successful attempt – population will have to collapse to a number reaching an equilibrium, in some way at some point in the future. Cynically it can be seen as a problem that fixes by itself.

    Peoples with diets based on locally available food, produced on locally available renewable inputs, in equilibrium with the land they insist over, should be fine. How many they can be on earth it is hard to say, but we can look at the past pre-fossil fuel era to get an idea. At that time the planet was much more rich in natural resources, less polluted and not undergoing fast climate change.

    An issue it is to define what it will mean live decently in the planet left to future generations, for which poverty definition might be quite different than today, as well as the meaning of being fed, clothed, housed and provided medical care, and the relevance that could have a paid job.
    Today these are mainly based on monetary value, but human happiness could indicate if it is really a decent life that is being carried on.

    Starting to say the truth about what it is really possible with a sustainable use of resources might help guide peoples to take best decisions on what they can expect and they can do to get decent lives while also letting nature to start regenerating.

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