Planet of the Humans: Possibly the Most Important Movie of 2019


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’s Bill McKibben. According to the film, all of those favorites are problematic.

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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 solutionsMoore compared documentarians to doctors who diagnose diseases with difficult or uncertain curesbut 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 uncomfortableeven (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.

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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 suggestionsor if one of the ways listed above is somehow misguided—let me know.

The Traverse City Film Festival has a motto: “One great movie can change the world.”

I hope that’s true.

15 thoughts on “Planet of the Humans: Possibly the Most Important Movie of 2019

  1. Bottom line;

    Agent Smith: “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species, and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed, and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague, and we are the cure.” The Matrix (1999)

  2. You need to look at your entire carbon footprint, best revealed by what you pay to live.

    If eliminating meat from your diet is the #1 priority then I doubt you have much of clue about carbon footprint.

    Look through all you bills and work out what you are paying for. For example, water bill – how often do you flush the toilet, how long is your shower, how often do you wash dishes, how often do you wash cloths. Electricity – where does it go, what remains connected with a steady standby load, do you have electric heating and do you really need it, are all light globes LEDs, do you have more than one on at a time. Transport – do you own a car, do you use public transport, could you simply walk anywhere you really need to go, could you cycle to most locations, do you fly for work or vacations, are the trips really needed.

    If you critically analyse all your expenses you will begin to appreciate more about your carbon footprint. I know people living in apartment buildings that really on heat transfer to/from adjacent apartments for their heating and cooling simply by a willingness to tolerate a degree or two cooler or hotter than their neighbours.

    The whole concept of so-called “renewable” energy is just a means of more wealthy people getting poorer people tp hand over their money. My roof is covered in solar panels; long ago paid for by my neighbours due to government mandated transfer payment and have been providing me free energy for a number of years now.

    • You’re suggesting supporting the green nuke deal?
      Are you going to donate your next 100 generations of grandkids to safeguard the waste for about 100,000 years? I did’t think so.

  3. I have implemented some of the same reductions in consumption here are additional ways.
    – Stopped drying most clothes in a dryer.
    – Buy Used whenever possible
    – Re-Use, give away or donate items before throwing them away.
    – In addition to single use plastics, Stopped using paper plates and paper towels.
    – Limit non natural fiber clothing – almost impossible to eliminate, but people rarely consider the other items, clothing, candles … made Oil or gas Polymers.

  4. It sounds like the film has carelessly embraced conservative propaganda against alternative energy.

    1) “Michael Moore observed that documentary filmmakers are not obligated to offer solutions” however they are obligated to not lie about the real solutions that are actually working today.

    2) “As it turns out, the environmental impact of creating an electric car is massive, and electric cars still largely rely on nonrenewable power sources.” right out of Koch brothers talking points. Yes literally cut and paste. The carbon footprint of a Tesla used anywhere in the USA is less than a Prius, the carbon footprint of a Tesla used in California is less than half that of a Prius, and gets smaller every day.
    “Michael Moore took it even further, arguing that driving an electric car is actually worse.” this is a bald faced lie, Michael Moore should be ashamed of doing the Koch brothers work for them.
    Transportation is almost half of CO2 release. WE MUST cut CO2 by 45% by 2030! Two choices, electric vehicles or severe gas rationing. If Michael Moore advocates the second he should make this clear. No other solution exists!

    What you describe is an ethically criminal piece of garbage. An indication of someone who decided to repeat the talking points of climate deniers instead of doing real research. No wonder no environmental group signed onto this utter un researched trash.

    Sorry Michael Moore you don’t get to hold the future of the human race hostage. Lowering consumption and having less kids WILL NOT SAVE US! Solutions MUST be implemented by 2040 or we kill our children and half the species on earth. I’m sorry if you don’t like those solutions being technological, I’m sorry it rubs you the wrong way. Tough get over it!

  5. My best advice is just to ignore the whole thing and do whatever you want. My own belief is that this whole climate change emergency thing is just a monster-under-the-bed story, that (conveniently for the people who making huge profits from scaring people with it) cannot be falsified for another fifty years. The chances that the planet will overheat and kill millions of people by 2100 (or whatever) is about as probable as the return to Earth of a redeeming Jesus.

    But if is true, there’s nothing that can be done. The only real solution is to abolish modernity, and people will not allow that to happen. No politician could possibly stay in power if he really wanted to outlaw private cars or pleasant houses or consumerism in general. That can’t be done. So forget it. Eat meat, drive and dry your laundry in the dryer. I certainly will.

  6. I’ve been an ecosystem advocate since the age of 14 (I am now 54) in Pacific NW. See Powering down and reducing our footprint at every level is the only way to mitigate the looming disaster. Please do not send funds to the enviro NGO industrial complex like NRDC and others mega enviro NGOs unless you can use your leverage to lobby them to implement real mitigation measures not just greenwashing. Small local grassroots groups like our League of Wilderness Defenders has virtually no funding but can be 100 times more effective than big groups because we are not beholden to corporate foundation agendas (look up PEW and Sunoco Oil). Seek out no compromise small grassroots groups and volunteer with them. Most of us are volunteers even though many of us work full-time on implementing triage and mitigation.

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