Exec. Producer Michael Moore, Director Jeff Gibbs, & Producer Ozzie Zehner did something that’s never been done before. They made an environmental film that dares to critique the modern environmental movement. “Planet of the Humans” warns that infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide, with or without green energy industries, like wind and solar.
In one eye-opening scene, the documentary shows 500 year old yucca plants being decimated to make room for solar panels, which are themselves made using fossil fuels and a variety of toxins. It’s a compelling story. But many people just don’t want to hear it.
Leah C. Stokes, an assistant professor of political science, wrote a scathing review in Vox, repeatedly accusing the film of being fake news.
riddled with errors…very little evidence…loose relationship to facts…peddles falsehoods…several factual errors…gets basic energy facts wrong…
However, Stokes fails to identify a single fact that the film got wrong.
Lying About Lies
Reading Stokes’ article, one would think the film presented old data as new data. That’s not the case. The film includes several scenes documenting the history of the green energy industry, such as the premiere of the Chevy Volt in 2010. It’s obvious these events occurred in the past. That’s what documentaries do, document the past. Nevertheless, Stokes proclaims she’s “not even sure it should be classified as a documentary.”
Commenting on the 2010 Chevy Volt scene, Stokes writes:
Early in the film, Gibbs goes to see an electric vehicle demonstration. He concludes they are dirty because they probably run on coal.
In reality, Gibbs doesn’t “conclude” anything here. Rather, a board member of the local power company explains 95% of the local power comes from coal. So clearly, the Volts ran on electricity powered by coal. Stokes gives absolutely no evidence to refute this yet goes on to say “it’s not true”.
Except it’s not true. Two years ago, electric vehicles already had lower emissions than new gas-powered cars across the country.
Stokes points out that since 2018 electric vehicles in the US have produced less CO2 emissions than traditional cars. But if you dig in to Stokes’ own sources, you’ll see that the reduction in CO2 emissions is primarily due to the fact that the US has increased production of natural gas, a cleaner fossil fuel than coal in terms of CO2 emissions (but not without its own problems). Therefore, as the film explains, electric cars are still being charged with fossil fuels.
The film gets backlash for not showing how renewable energy has become much more carbon efficient over the years.
It quotes efficiency for solar PV from more than a decade ago. And it doesn’t mention the fact that solar costs have plummeted since then, and that we’ve learned how to get more wind and solar onto the grid.
That’s fair criticism but it’s also not what the film is about. “Planet of the Humans” argues new technology won’t save us from all the human caused changes our planet is suffering from. We simply need to consume less. A lot less. But the profit motive doesn’t want that to happen.
Big Green Money
Stokes rejects the film’s suggestion that environmentalists driven by the profit motive may be “leading us off the cliff”.
The evidence for this assertion? The Union of Concerned Scientists’ support for electric vehicles. And Sierra Club’s promotion of solar. And the fact that 350.org has received funding from environmental foundations. I fail to see how any of these facts are problematic.
It’s as if Stokes didn’t even watch the film. She asks for evidence but ignores all the disturbing examples of hypocritical behavior presented.
One of the most outrageous scenes captured was at an Earth Day Concert with Gwen Stefani & Usher. The crowd goes wild when Earth Day founder, Denis Hayes proclaims, “We powered the entire event with solar energy!”. But the filmmakers discover the concert is actually being powered by diesel generators backstage.
Likewise, the film reveals that Sierra Club actively hid the fact they received $3 million from billionaire Jeremy Grantham, the world’s leading timber investment advisor — advising not to preserve forests, but to cut them down.
Another revelation was that less than 1% of the 350 Club’s recommended “Green Century Funds” was invested in renewable energy. The rest was invested in things like oil and gas infrastructure companies, Coca-Cola (the largest creator of plastic pollution), and big banks including Black Rock (the largest financier of deforestation on earth).
Burning Animals & Plants for Fuel
Biomass is fuel derived from plants and even animals. It’s marketed as renewable energy but that’s not really true. Stokes criticizes the film for dedicating so much time to biomass and accuses the film of obscuring facts for not mentioning how low biomass consumption is in the US.
The largest share of the movie’s scorn goes to biomass — generally, burning wood — which supplied less than 2 percent of the US electricity mix last year. But the filmmakers obscure that fact…
However, rather than focus on US consumption of biomass, the film is concerned with the increased production of biomass globally. After all, the environment is a global issue.
The film explains that biomass makes up nearly 70% of global renewable energy consumption. And while the US consumes little at home it has been producing and exporting it in record amounts across the globe. Stokes didn’t mention any of that in her article. So according to her own standard, Stokes is guilty of obscuring the facts herself.
Racist, Sexist, Baby Killers
Stokes falsely accuses the film of advocating for population control and then compares the filmmakers with hate groups.
The film Moore backed concludes that population control, not clean energy, is the answer. This is a highly questionable solution, which has more in common with anti-immigration hate groups than the progressive movement.
Nowhere in the film does anyone even mention population control, much less advocate for it. In fact, the filmmakers are against population control. Producer Ozzie Zehner is recorded saying clearly, “I’m not for population control”. He goes on to explain that if societies deliver human rights (healthcare, education) population growth will take care of itself. “If you look in China, the lowest birthrate is in a place where the one child policy does not apply, in Hong Kong”.
Director Jeff Gibbs explained on Rising, “We never use the word ‘population control’. We’re not in favor of population control. We merely point out — as there was a U.N. study that came out 1 or 2 years ago that points out — that the doubling of our human numbers and the quadrupling of our human economy is the prime driver of extinction on our planet.”
It’s a blatant lie to say these filmmakers are promoting population control. Nevertheless, Stokes pushes the smear even further, accusing the film of being sexist and racist for “pushing population control”.
When this message is promoted, it’s implying that poor, people of color should have fewer children…Not to mention the fact that pushing population control is completely disrespectful of women’s reproductive autonomy.
Stokes also takes issue with the film’s experts being mostly white men.
Notably, almost all the “experts” featured in the film are white men.
I doubt the orangutan who had his home chopped down by humans cares about the skin color of those speaking on its behalf.
Despite accusations of racism and sexism, the film’s thesis is perhaps best expressed in the movie by environmentalist (and woman of color), Dr. Vandana Shiva: “I think the big crisis of our times is our minds have been manipulated to give power to illusions. We shifted to measuring growth, not in terms of how life is enriched, but in terms of how life is destroyed.”
A New Hope
Unless we dramatically curb our consumption of the planet’s resources, life on Earth as we know it is doomed. That news can be painfully demoralizing. But it doesn’t have to be. If we can rapidly reorganize society to respond to coronavirus, surely we can act quickly and boldly enough to address our environmental issues too. Gibbs says “if we get ourselves under control, all things are possible”.
Sadly, rather than share this hope, critics like Stokes would prefer to bury it.
My only hope is that this film will be buried, and few will watch it or remember it.