By Sage Birchwater —
Has filmmaker Michael Moore, the darling of the progressive left, gone rogue? His Earth Day, April 22, 2020, release of Planet of the Humans received immediate backlash from the global environmental community. Many were furious at his trashing of the decades-long efforts by the climate change activists to move away from fossil fuel dependency and into more earth-friendly renewable energy sources.
The film, directed by Jeff Gibbs and produced by Ozzie Zehner, suggests that green energy is a scam. This message stood the alternative energy movement on its ear. Maybe that was the filmmakers’ intention.
Unlike his previous films, like Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine, and Sicko, Moore makes no cameo appearance in Planet of the Humans. He leaves the narration and talking head action to Gibbs and Zehner. But his role as executive producer wasn’t lost on his base of supporters chomping on the bit for his next evisceration of the system.
Most weren’t prepared for what they got.
Moore, in iconoclastic high gear, defrocked and vilified the efforts of green movement activists like Bill McKibben, Al Gore, and Robert Kennedy Jr., exposing inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and subversive links between Big Green and Big Money. The film makes the claim that renewables are not sustainable and ultimately are dependent on Big Oil, coal, and gas.
Canada’s Green Party Leader Elizabeth May waded into the debate, calling the film “dreadful, ill-informed, and unhelpful.” She said it could set climate action back.
She criticized the film’s assessment of renewable energy technology as outdated by at least a decade.
Energy specialist Ketan Joshi calls the film “toxic misinformation on par with the worst climate change deniers.”
Rock icon and environmental crusader Neil Young says the film destroys Moore’s credibility. He is confident whatever damage this film caused in the short term will ultimately bring to light the real facts, “which are turning up everywhere.”
Some activists called for an outright ban of the film because it promotes lies and misrepresentation of the current state of the alternative energy movement.
Tim Hjersted, director and co-founder of www.filmsforaction.org, took a different tact. He supports critical engagement with the film “through the lens of media literacy.”
What does that mean, exactly?
Simply said, it’s about acknowledging the film’s merits as well as its flaws and not being too quick to shoot the messenger.
For example, he says the film gets it right saying that humanity needs to get rid of its delusion that renewables will be able to power our industrial society at its current levels of production and consumption. Raw materials feeding society’s insatiable appetite is unsustainable. Period.
According to Hjersted, civilization needs to power down as well as switch to renewables.
“Renewables plus dramatically reduced consumption of energy and resources is the solution,” he says. “That’s the most important takeaway from the film.”
Hjersted begins his review of the film with a quote from master of etiquette, Arthur Martine: “In disputes upon moral or scientific points, let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So, you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument and gaining a new discovery.”
Despite its many flawed details, Hjersted says the film is asking us to come to terms with some difficult realities we are avoiding.
“Sustaining industrial civilization’s infinite growth on renewables is neither desirable nor possible,” he says. “There’s a need to power down and for ‘degrowth’.” But how do we get there?
I first learned of Planet of the Humans from a trusted friend in Ottawa Valley who sent us a link to the film by email. Initially,I was in shock after watching it. Then I was outraged.
After taking a deep breath, I started checking out the reviews and commentary by other trusted sources.
There’s a poignant section in the film about biofuel energy production, and I sent a link to the film to members of our local group Rail Ties Be Wise. For the past four years we have been working together to oppose Atlantic Power Corporation’s plan to burn rail ties in its biofuels plant in Williams Lake.
Initial reaction from our group was predictable. Anger, disgust, and disillusionment.
Michael Moore has a recklessness similar to Donald Trump’s in his use of distorted facts to get his point across. This can work against him and cause critics to throw the baby out with the bathwater and distrust everything he has to say.
The film gets one thing right: we can’t continue on the way we are going. The green movement crawling into bed with Wall Street, which demands ever-increasing profits and consumption to survive, just continues our spiral to oblivion.
So how do we move forward in this age of coronavirus to keep the earth habitable? Can we rein ourselves in? If so, how?
By all means check out Planet of the Humans, but also log on to Tim Hjersted’s review of the film and follow some of the various links he provides to learn more about “power down” and “degrowth.” Also, check out other films he has highlighted that offer hope in a positive green direction.
Planet of the Humans can be viewed here:
Sage is a freelance writer and lives in Williams Lake with his partner, Caterina. He has been enjoying the rich cultural life of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Coast since 1973.