I was silent during the post-film Q&A. Like many in the audience, it took some time for me to emotionally and intellectually process the information I had just received.
In the fight against climate change, only a few things offer comfort: the semi-frequent construction of wind farms, the increasingly busy solar panel market, and the slow-but-steady decline of our dependence on coal.
But what if those things were not helping us? What if they were, in fact, causing new problems? What if our current green solutions were just as black as coal?
That is part of the thesis of Planet of the Humans, the directorial debut of Jeff Gibbs, a longtime environmentalist and activist who has produced a number of Michael Moore’s documentaries, including Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. The film details the clandestine corporate takeover of the green movement, and it pokes some painful holes in so-called green technologies, namely solar, wind, and biomass. Gibbs narrates the film with a smooth voice—steady and unassuming—but his observations and assertions are devastating. “Green” alternative energy sources are the primary targets of Gibbs’s critique, but the thoroughness of Gibb’s analysis makes collateral damage of many favorites of environmental activists: Elon Musk’s electric cars and gigafactories, scientists who advocate for animal-based alternative energy sources, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and even green activism icons like Vice President Al Gore and 350.org’s Bill McKibben. According to the film, all of those favorites are problematic.
Planet of the Humans had its world premier just days ago at the Traverse City Film Festival in Traverse City, Michigan. I was able to attend the second of three total screenings during the festival. Here is the film’s description in the festival’s program:
Perhaps the most provocative film we’ve shown in our 15 years, Planet of the Humans dares to say what no one will—that we are losing the battle to stop climate change because we are following leaders who have taken us down the wrong road—selling out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America. This film is the wake-up call to the reality we are afraid to face: that in the midst of a human-caused extinction event, the so-called “environmental movement’s” answer is to push for techno-fixes and band-aids. It’s too little, too late. Removed from the debate is the only thing that MIGHT save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption. Why is this not THE issue? Because that would be bad for profits, bad for business. Have we environmentalists fallen for illusions, “green” illusions, that are anything but green, because we’re scared that this is the end—and we’ve pinned all our hopes on solar panels and wind turbines? No amount of batteries are going to save us, warns director Jeff Gibbs (lifelong environmentalist and co-producer of Fahrenheit 9/11). This urgent, must-see movie, a full-frontal assault on our sacred cows, is guaranteed to generate anger, debate, and, hopefully, a willingness to see our survival in a new way—before it’s too late.
In the post-screening Q&A, Michael Moore observed that documentary filmmakers are not obligated to offer solutions—Moore compared documentarians to doctors who diagnose diseases with difficult or uncertain cures—but director Jeff Gibbs seemed certain that unfiltered human consumption is our primary problem, making reduction our primary goal. Green technology and environmentally sensitive billionaires will not save us, but we can help ourselves by drastically changing what we consume and how much of it we consume.
Drastically. The solutions implied in the film are not easy, and they will make a lot of people uncomfortable—even (and perhaps especially) environmental activists. A portion of the film criticizes electric cars, using Tesla and the Chevrolet Volt as examples. As it turns out, the environmental impact of creating an electric car is massive, and electric cars still largely rely on nonrenewable power sources. At one point during the Q&A, an attendee asked hopefully if driving an electric car, though perhaps not ideal, was still at least better than driving a non-electric car. Gibbs shook his head, and Michael Moore took it even further, arguing that driving an electric car is actually worse. He noted that, in addition to the negative environmental impact of purchasing and owning an electric car, owners of such cars live under the delusion that they are doing something substantially good, allowing themselves the luxury of believing that the world might be saved by Tesla and other companies.
And that’s just the start. The construction of solar panels requires a large amount of coal; wind power has a huge carbon footprint; and biomass—”organic material that comes from plants and animals” (primarily trees) that, when burned, creates energy—is neither an entirely renewable energy source nor a practical alternative to coal. It does not produce nearly enough energy to effectively replace coal, and it depletes our supply of trees (which are needed to fight climate change). And, according to the documentary, the green movement’s embrace of solar, wind, and biomass solutions is largely the result of corporate influence. Money. The environmental movement has been corrupted by greed. Planet of the Humans is quick to note that the infamous Koch brothers supply some of the materials used to create solar panels.
In other words, all of our technological solutions to climate change aren’t solutions at all—they’re just different problems. And that is disheartening. Overwhelmingly so.
So, as Gibbs implies, we are left with one option: drastically reduce how much we consume.
I have decided to start in the following ways:
- I will stop eating meat in order to reduce my environmental impact and my contributions to high-impact food processing industries.
- I will order less items online to avoid the environmental impacts of packaging and transportation.
- I will stop using single-use plastic bottles for beverages (and other consumables when possible) and instead use washable containers and non-disposable water bottles.
- I will, as best I can, grow my own vegetables on my apartment patio to lessen my contribution to the carbon footprint of grocery stores. And I will buy local whenever possible.
- I will donate to thoughtful environmental organizations. As of now, the Natural Resources Defense Council seems like a good choice (and I invite you to correct me if that assessment is incorrect).
- I will continue to search for other (and perhaps better) ways to lessen my environmental impact. If you have suggestions—or if one of the ways listed above is somehow misguided—let me know.
Planet of the Humans is not currently available on any streaming service, and the filmmakers have not yet scheduled a theatrical release. But during the post-screening Q&A I attended, Michael Moore emphatically promised to make the film available to as many people as possible. So set up a Google Alert and tell your friends. This is a movie you need to see.
The Traverse City Film Festival has a motto: “One great movie can change the world.”
I hope that’s true.