Planet of the Humans takes on green capitalism

The Earth from space. PHOTO: from Planet of the Humans press kit
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Introduced on Earth Day 2020 by Executive Producer Michael Moore and Director/Writer Jeff Gibbs, this bold exposé of the pitfalls of “green” energy immediately ran into a buzz saw of criticism. It was even censored by YouTube for a short time after a British photographer sued over copyright of four seconds of his work used in the film. If provoking reaction was the goal, this movie has been remarkably successful!

The documentary does a good job in highlighting real issues. It is, however, short on tangible solutions, or even a pathway to solutions, which is puzzling and unsatisfying.

Gibbs dramatically exposes solar, wind, and biomass as using massive amounts of fossil fuels and natural resources from manufacture to disposal, causing massive destruction of habitat. He reveals biomass as primarily burning trees. He says that humans are “too many using too much too fast.” We must “rein in our ability to consume.” Better technology will not save us.

Greenwashing profits. The film maintains there is no energy source that is fossil fuel free. They need backup for intermittent wind and solar, and all use fossil fuel in construction and transport. “We may as well burn fossil fuels in the first place,” said Ozzie Zehner, U.C. Berkeley author of Green Illusions. Germany claims to be 50 percent clean energy, but is actually replacing coal with wood for biomass burning and liquid natural gas from the U.S.

Eco-heroes and nonprofit groups have been co-opted by corporate investors and their greenwashing, Gibbs explains. The Moving Beyond Coal campaign of the Sierra Club receives money from natural gas investors who profit as coal plants are closed and replaced by gas. Koch Carbon (owned by reactionary political fund-raiser Charles Koch) builds solar panels and greenwashes its image by investing in solar funds. Sierra Club sells solar panels on its website. Grassroots activists are dedicated to ending fossil fuel use, but corporations are profiteering behind green energy campaigns.

Finally, Jeff Gibbs states that the real problem is humans — overconsumption and overpopulation on a finite planet and the unending growth inherent in the profit system. He adds, “There is a cancerous form of capitalism ruling the world” and that “green” industries follow the same model — grow or perish.

Overconsumption of natural resources by factories making unnecessary products definitely contributes to global warming, but the movie doesn’t really explain this. It argues that there are no technological solutions and fails to promote socialism’s planned economy, which doesn’t require growth. The viewer is left wondering if all we can do is commit mass suicide — not the way to push the environmental movement forward! Ending with a graphic scene of orangutans suffering and dying in a clear-cut forest, but no remedies for this horror, the film left this writer angry and frustrated.

Another problem is Gibbs’ assertion that overpopulation is a cause of climate change — a view that is often associated with right-wing attacks on immigrants or calls for forced sterilization of people of color. Gibbs never explains how to slow population growth. This is puzzling because it’s a subject that has been heavily researched. For example, numerous studies have shown a correlation between increased education and/or economic advancement for women and lower birth rates.

Many reviewers condemn this film — complaining about broad overstatements and the use of outdated statistics. They defend the leaders that Gibbs exposes as co-opted. Other reviewers laud it as a needed wake-up call for the climate movement.

Missed opportunities. The movie points out many valid pitfalls of “green energy” and does expose the influence profiteers have over alternative energy leaders and groups. However, Gibbs refuses to deal with the real problem — capitalism — and offers no answers.

And there are solutions: slash the U.S. military, which is the biggest carbon polluter on the planet; invest in better mass transit to take cars off the roads; replant forests; eliminate factory farms, which use huge amounts of petroleum products and look to indigenous and permaculture methods.

In Ecosocialism: The Solution for Survival on Planet Earth, FSP leader Steve Hoffman contends that decisions about energy manufacture “must be in the hands of people who actually give a damn about the fate of the planet.”

Hoffman goes on to explain that we need to nationalize the entire energy industry under workers control. It’s time to take profit-making out of research and production and give workers, scientists, and communities control over decision-making.

These are the kinds of ideas missing from this movie. And it’s just too bad.

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