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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