April 23, 2020
Humans are like cockroaches. We need fewer of them. That’s the fundamental message of Michael Moore’s new documentary, Planet of the Humans.
To be sure, there is plenty to admire in Moore’s 100-minute documentary that was released on Tuesday on YouTube. Directed by Jeff Gibbs, the film skewers some of America’s most prominent environmentalists and environmental groups. But the film, which had more than 960,000 views by Thursday morning, is also unremittingly pessimistic. It offers no clues as to how we humans, all 7.8 billion of us, should be meeting our needs for energy, food, and shelter.
It starts with “people-on-the-street” interviews, asking them “how long do you think we humans have?” The response that sets the tone for the next 99 minutes comes from an unnamed young woman who says people are “like cockroaches” and that “no matter how much damage we’ll do, enough of us will survive to procreate and keep it going.” That introduction segues into a brief history of the environmental movement, including an obligatory nod to Silent Spring author Rachel Carson who says “unless we bring these chemicals under better control, we are certainly headed for disaster.”
Gibbs then tells his own story about “becoming a tree hugger.” He begins reporting on environmental issues and then, in a moment of clarity, asks himself “why are we still addicted to fossil fuels?” That leads to the meat of the film, where Gibbs systematically debunks every “green” technology. (Moore, the executive producer, does not appear in the film.)
In Lansing, Michigan, at the unveiling of an electric vehicle made by General Motors, Gibbs finds that the EV is being charged by a grid that gets 95 percent of its electricity from coal. He visits a solar project that covers an area the size of a football field that only produces enough juice for about ten homes. He visits a wind project being built in Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont where the top of a mountain is slated to be clear cut to make way for massive wind turbines. This, Gibbs says “is mountaintop removal for wind instead of coal.”
If there’s a star in the film, it’s Ozzie Zehner, the author of the 2012 book Green Illusions, who accompanies Gibbs on a tour of power plants and explains that it is “an illusion” that renewables are “replacing coal or any fossil fuels.” Standing in front of the Ivanpah thermal solar project in California, Zehner explains that the sun is renewable, but “solar arrays are not.” The bottom line, says Zehner is “We are being fed a lie.”
The longest section of the film focuses on the lunacy of using biomass to generate electricity. In doing so, Gibbs exposes the two-facedness of Bill McKibben, perhaps the most famous environmentalist in America. Gibbs shows McKibben, the founder of 350.org, extolling the use of wood to generate power, saying that the technology “can happen anywhere…and it must happen everywhere.” He later catches up with McKibben at a climate protest to ask him about the issue, but rather than address the question, McKibben says that he puts wood into his stove at home “almost every night in the winter,” and then waves off Gibbs saying, “I don’t know. That’s not what today is about.”
In addition to McKibben, Gibbs also ridicules the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Al Gore, Vinod Khosla, Elon Musk, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who declares that once you build a wind project, “it’s free energy forever.”
While Planet of the Humans provides a welcome – and much-needed exposé on the myths of “green” energy – in the end, it merely reprises a belief that has defined modern environmentalism for decades. The film, which could easily have been 20 minutes shorter, concludes with this bit of Malthusianism: “We humans must accept that infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide,” Gibbs says in his dirge-like monotone. “We must accept that our human presence is already far beyond sustainability and all that that implies.”
That line would have been right at home in Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book, The Population Bomb, which, by the way, was published by the Sierra Club. It also sounds like it could have been written by Thomas Malthus himself, who predicted mass starvation in his An Essay on the Principle of Population, way back in1798.
Gibbs also toes the line on energy. Sure, he lambasts renewables, but he dares not mention that hydrocarbons are crucial to human flourishing. He also completely ignores nuclear energy and the undeniable fact that a dramatic expansion of nuclear will be needed if we are to have any hope of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In short, Gibbs reveals himself to be little more than another doomsayer. And he does so despite the fact that more people are living longer, healthier, freer lives than at any time in human history. What we need now, particularly in the middle of this deadly pandemic, aren’t more prophets of doom and despair. Instead, we need an environmental ethic that is pro-human, pro-wildlife, pro-land-sparing, and yes, pro-energy and pro-nuclear.
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