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Planet of the Humans is a well meant but inaccurate mess

Planet of the Humans argues that our current capitalist system cannot co-exist with truly sustainable living. It’s a messy, questionable work, one that uses flimsy sources for information and promotes outdated myths, but there are threads of truth throughout that open up the conversation of green energy.

Michael Moore’s latest documentary, directed by Jeff Gibbs and surprise released on YouTube last month, is an all-out attack on the green energy organisations that have been developing alternative energy sources for the better part of two decades. Planet of the Humans makes the case that green energy is actually making our climate protection efforts worse rather than better.

Jeff draws on a variety of examples including solar power and wind turbine farms to demonstrate his point as he ventures across America, chatting to climate change campaigners, organisation leaders, and the ordinary citizens affected by the construction of sustainable energy powerhouses. The underlying message is a solid one; capitalism, in all of its excessive, unrestricted horror, cannot continue in its current form if we have any hope of beating climate change.

The numbers back this argument up. Global consumption was steadily rising by around 3% until the coronavirus outbreak, which caused last month’s air pollution levels to fall to their lowest since 2006. Meat consumption has continued to rise by an average of nearly 2% per year and the agriculture industry is still expanding, despite the rise in veganism over the last decade. Our insatiable appetite for growth has seen our global carbon output accelerate, despite all of the campaigns and initiatives that have provided us with supposed solutions and alternatives.

All of that is fine and dandy, and I think most of us can agree that the way we operate as a species is not sustainable if we want the planet to remain habitable. Where Planet of the Humans stumbles is on its portrayal of green energy companies, who are presented as self-serving scammers that only seek to profiteer off of the public’s moral urgencies, and its ancient use of data to suggest that renewable energy is a worldwide delusion.

Using outdated information to misrepresent modern climate initiatives

There are elements of truth to this narrative, of course. Many of these organisations such as the mentioned are funded by fossil fuel companies, and big oil brands such as Shell continue to invest in green initiatives in minimal amounts for public relations purposes rather than to actively change the way they do business. We should be sceptical of these types of practices and be mindful of where the money to fund green energy comes from.

But Jeff Gibbs attacks the wrong areas of the climate change issue and shifts blame away from places it should go, such as oil firms, the Trump administration, or the agriculture industry. Instead, he vilifies well-meaning green campaigners and implies that creating alternative energy solutions is doing more harm than good due to excess fossil fuel use. Dramatic footage of shattered solar panels and out-of-use wind turbines are used to demonstrate this point but, put simply, nearly all of Jeff’s reasoning is outdated.

Using renewable energy was inefficient in its infancy, but to suggest that it is a waste of effort and a pointless crusade that only benefits billionaires is silly. Jeff uses a solar installation in Michigan as an example, but the farm shown was built in 2008, and is around an eighth as efficient as a more recent one in the same area. Elsewhere in the film he visits a supposedly destroyed old solar farm, which he neatly calls the ‘solar dead zone’. This is actually the Solar Energy Generating System in California. There’s nothing there at the time of filming because it was in the middle of being upgraded to new, efficient solar panels. These are cheaper, have no emissions, and are all functioning today.

Planet of the Humans also uses creaky, grimy looking wind turbines to hammer home the idea that wind and solar farms are really just evil pillars of deception, but the ones used don’t even exist anymore. They were torn down eight years ago and the land is now used for farming. All of this outdated information and imagery makes Jeff’s arguments feel redundant, and undermines any gravitas that might come with Michael Moore’s seal of approval.

Review: Michael Moore's Planet of the Humans by Rupert Read and ...

Reaching short-sighted and ill-informed conclusions

It’s not just the muddled issue of renewable energy that makes Planet of the Humans difficult to take seriously, either. After presenting all of these inaccuracies and outdated clips, Jeff eventually concludes that overpopulation is the biggest problem with regards to climate change, and that a ‘drop off’ has to happen in order to allow us to continue life as we know it.

This solution wilfully ignores the relation between population density and consumption rates, whereby countries with the highest populations and the least growth are the ones producing the most emissions.

To blame population growth almost exclusively is lazy, and belittles how damaging the richest countries such as North America (which produces nearly a fifth of all global emissions) are to overall climate change impact. It shifts focus over to poorer areas of the globe and diverts responsibility off of western nations, which probably explains why the film has been lapped up by far-right commentators who would usually scoff at Michael Moore’s work from afar.

It’s easy to see why Planet of the Humans has caused so much fuss with climate scientists. The film is currently unavailable on YouTube due to a copyright claim and the rampant misinformation and outdated sourcing muddies all of the valid points that exist in this work.

A muddled mess of misrepresentation

Trying to cover this nearly two hour ordeal of a film for a review has been complicated and conflicting.

While yes, Planet of the Humans uses outdated information, perpetuated myths, and goes on a rampage against the wrong people, there is some good at its core. I agree with Jeff’s notion that the way we live today cannot continue into the future indefinitely.

We should be thinking more about how to use less, rather than trying to preserve the rate of consumption we have right now. The solution is to lower our emissions across the board, not use a combination of green and fossil fuels to maintain a standard our planet can’t cope with. This idea that minimalistic living is more beneficial for the planet is something I can get behind in full force, and this is the strongest aspect of Planet of the Humans.

It’s everything else that surrounds it that causes grief. Why does Jeff use examples of solar energy inefficiency that are outdated? Why does he ignore Trump’s monstrous attempts to completely derail the progress made on climate change initiatives and instead opt to look at population control as the answer? Why are green campaigners targeted in this film, many of whom do not profit off of the funds their organisations receive, rather than big oil firms such as BP and Shell? Why are the successes of replacing fossil fuels in countries like Germany misrepresented or ignored entirely?

Greenwashing is an issue that I’ve written about before (don’t get me started on the world’s biggest plastic producer Coca Cola trying to push environmentally friendly branding) and it’s important not to jump into green energy solutions without some degree of scepticism. But to suggest as Jeff does that the entire industry is just an exercise in delusion is short sighted, and gives fuel to the far right climate change deniers that I suspect he despises.

Planet of the Humans is an outdated mess with a ton of inaccuracies. It’s clear that the film has been in development for a long time, and uses decades old information and attitudes that do not represent what is actually happening in the climate and alternative energy industry today. There is meaningful dialogue to be had around our rate of growth and our hesitance to minimise our consumption rates, but it is not through this film.

out of 5

Planet of the Humans is inaccurate and based on outdated material.

Though there is some truth to the core message beneath it all, Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs latest lacks the credibility needed to be taken seriously. As it is, it's misinformed and treats a complex subject with haphazard clumsiness.


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