Planet of the Humans film by Michael Moore - Overall I would say the film is damaging
By Jonathan N Fuller
I've just watched 'Planet of the Humans' produced by Michael Moore and released 4 days ago.
I generally like Moore's material, but not this. Sadly I've noticed that amongst the supporters of the film are fossil fuel industry reps and an old foe of mine - the anti-wind-farm-brigade. Those opposed to wind farms love the film and are promoting it on social media.
The problem is that the film creates a straw-man, which the producer then attacks. I have long criticised the Big-Green NGOs, but this film takes the case against Big-Green too far. It pretends that supporters of renewable technologies believe that wind, solar and biofuels can preserve lifestyles unchanged, but I don't know anyone in Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace or WWF who believes that.
The film, 'Planet of the Humans' quite rightly talks about the ecological implications of three of the renewables and batteries for storing energy, but it concludes they are often worse than fossil fuels. Naturally the shale gas industry in the USA will love this.
But the film is misleading in so many ways that I cannot recommend it, despite the fact it contains one core truth - "infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide". There are lots of powerful visual messages and the film rightly questions how close Big-Green NGOs have got to dirty billionaires, like the Koch Brothers & Richard Branson.
Overall I would say the film is damaging. When it criticises the concrete poured for the bases of wind turbines, it fails to compare that with the embedded energy in an oil pipeline or the concrete in a Nuke. It fails to make meaningful comparisons between the renewables and the various fossil fuels. The movie also attacks battery storage as a means to balance the intermittency of the renewables. Here the film sounds like a Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph assault, pretending that batteries are intended to balance the national grid over weeks or months. Batteries cannot do that; they are meant for balancing short periods of volatility. But you need the full range of renewables and/or 'seasonal storage' in some parts of the world to balance national grids over longer periods.
Sadly the film doesn't understand how national grids, all around the world, work. They are successfully integrating ever greater amounts of the intermittent renewables. And the film doesn't touch upon how micro-grids can help people to become genuinely self sufficient.
Another inaccuracy is the way the film portrays the Sierra Club's stance on burning wood. In the film, a supporter of the Sierra Club is briefly interviewed and says the NGO's stance is nuanced and she says she doesn't know enough about that side of the campaign's work. But the film goes on to attack the Sierra Club for supporting biomass. So I looked up their policies and saw that the policy is indeed nuanced, with a series of statements in this policy document seeking the protection of mature trees & ancient woods. See: -
We here in the UK have long been educated on the false eco-claims made by the supporters of biomass - for example the burning of American woodchips at Drax. But the film implies that the environmental movement supports operators like Drax. We don't. That assertion is flat wrong.
I am also going to criticise the structure of the film. It is disjointed. At 46 minutes in it says the core problem that there are just too many people on the planet and it rightly says that most of us consume too much energy. But it then swings back to the attack upon the likes of the USA's Sierra Club and 350.org/'s Bill McKibben, without analysing the really important issues associated with population. For example, it fails to even fleetingly discuss the huge difference in emissions associated with the world's richest and poorest nations.
It wraps up with incredibly powerful images of deforestation and the desperately sad plight of orangutans. It uses those final images to convey the message that humans are devouring the planet, and everything is hopeless.
It will leave many people depressed, with the feeling that all action is utterly futile. And that is the problem if you are the kind of person who attacks everything, who doesn't realise that 'the perfect is the enemy of the good' and you distrust the motives of everyone, everywhere.
I have long criticised Big-Green NGOs in the UK and so I welcome critical analysis of the actions by our wider movement. And I also want to see robust analysis of claims made about all manner of sources of energy, whether that be the biofuels or, in the UK, sources of energy like tidal power; but this film isn't intellectually rigorous and simply doesn't deliver.
Since the main attack is upon Bill McKibben, here's 350.org/'s initial response to the film: -
I should also add that I noticed an inaccurate claim about Germany. Here's some data that shows the film got that wrong too: -
For those interested in XR, we don't really get a mention - just a banner at 1.16.50 in connection with a protest about Blackrock. So there are no direct criticisms of XR in the film.
Finally, here's the film that I do not recommend: -
From an original facebook post at:
Jonathan N Fuller is not a member of the Green Liberal Democrats
George Monbiot in Michael and Me
"There are real issues and real conflicts to be explored in seeking to prevent the collapse of our life support systems. But they are handled so clumsily and incoherently by this film that watching it is like watching someone starting a drunken brawl over a spilled pint, then lamping his friends when they try to restrain him. It stumbles so blindly into toxic issues that Michael Moore, former champion of the underdog, unwittingly aligns himself with white supremacists and the extreme right."