Planet of the Humans
(USA, 100 min.)
Dir. Jeff Gibbs
You’ve got to hand it to Michael Moore. The Oscar winning documentarian has always been provocative, whether he’s exposing the US gun lobby (Bowling for Columbine), big bad corporations (Roger & Me) or the US health care system (Sicko). But he’s never attacked the Left before. In Planet of the Humans, which Moore executive produced, his friend and film collaborator Jeff Gibbs takes on the environmental movement with Moore’s explicit approval.
Gibbs takes no prisoners. This is an all-out assault on the green movement by someone who believed in the cause and now feels betrayed. His main and incontestable point is that by replacing gas and coal with environmentally approved biomass, the destruction of forests became inevitable, since wood is the major element that’s being used in that fuel. But Gibbs goes much farther than that. He attacks solar panels and wind generators as being totally ineffective.
Using the scatter shot, populist approach of Moore, we see Gibbs wandering behind the stage of a huge concert for environmentalism to interview the workers, who claim that the whole show is actually being powered by fossil fuels. How about the solar panels Gibbs sees behind the stage? “They’re enough for one bass guitar,” he’s informed. While the scene is presumably accurate, it’s also true that 60 solar panels can generate 18,300 watts, plenty enough for the band and its equipment.
Gibbs critiques solar and wind power as being intermittent, the old canard against those natural forms of energy. But Gibbs and environmentalists (including me) realize that storage is the answer. Right now, in the US, 800 million-watt hours (MWh) watt hours are stored battery style, and that number will rise to 14,000 MWh within four years.
Gibbs even attacks electric cars because their electricity could be generated by coal or gas. It doesn’t seem to matter that such cars would definitely help the environment. Why, Gibbs and Moore, seem to want to know, aren’t they perfect already?
Gibbs spends most of Planet of the Humans travelling across the US uncovering mendacity in the environmental movement. Accompanied by Ozzie Zehner, the author of Green Illusions: the Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism, the duo gleefully expose the destruction of forests, the apparent ignorance of activists and, in an unsettling conclusion, the killing of orangutans. They take on all of the big targets: Al Gore, the Sierra Club, even Bill McKibben, the New Yorker writer and author of The End of Nature.
Gibbs, Moore and Zehner are right that there should be no sacred targets. The environmental movement’s leadership was wrong about biomass and both the Sierra Club and McKibben have apologized, which is noted just before the credit sequence at the end of the film. In other words, they’re allowed to look bad for most of the doc before they’re acknowledged as having admitted their mistake.
More to the point, Planet of the Humans does show that corporations, including those of the notorious right-wing Koch family, continue to profit from the naivete of the green movement, allowing those who control fossil fuels, which are still needed as the world transitions, to make much more money. It’s always fair to criticize but where the film really feels inadequate is in its overall tone and pessimistic conclusion. Having attacked the green movement for the entire film, it only feels right that Gibbs and Moore should offer some solace or endorse solutions for environmental issues that could destroy the earth. Instead all that we get is a bleak nihilistic ending with a vague hope that things would get better if humanity changed. But if you attack the ones trying to make change, who’s left. Only Moore and Gibbs know: or perhaps not.
Planet of the Humans is available for free on YouTube.
Acknowledgment: Films for Action’s article Skepticism is Healthy but Planet of the Humans is Toxic offered facts that informed this article. And thanks to Mark Achbar.