Planet of the Humans

Planet of the Humans is a 2019 American environmental documentary film written, directed, and produced by Jeff Gibbs. It is backed and promoted by Michael Moore,[3] who served as the executive producer.[4] Moore released it on YouTube for free viewing on April 21, 2020, the eve of the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day.

Planet of the Humans
Planet-of-the-humans.jpg
Directed byJeff Gibbs
Produced byMichael Moore
Jeff Gibbs
Ozzie Zehner
StarringJeff Gibbs
Nina Jablonski
Ozzie Zehner
Richard Heinberg
Distributed byRumble Media and YouTube[1]
Release date
  • July 31, 2019 (2019-07-31) (Traverse City Film Festival)[2]
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

A conclusion of the film is that green energy cannot solve the problem of society's expanding resource depletion without less consumption, which is by definition unsustainable given that the Earth is finite.[clarification needed] The film argues that renewable energy sources, including biomass energy, wind power, and solar energy, are not as renewable as they are portrayed to be.

The film has generated controversy and been criticized as partially outdated and misleading.[5][6][7]

The film was temporarily taken down from YouTube on 25 May 2020 in response to a claim of copyright infringement. The take down was challenged and, twelve days later, YouTube removed the restriction, allowing the film to be viewed again on Moore's channel.[8] The filmmaker argued that the fragment was used under fair use and that free speech was subverted.[9]

Production and contentEdit

The team of Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs, and Ozzie Zehner directed and produced the documentary and finished it in 2019. Its content consists of energy-related footage, street interviews, formal interviews, and archival footage of businessmen and prominent environmental leaders. Footage includes satellite views of America's night skies, construction of a wind turbine, a solar fair, a wind farm construction site, a solar array owned by Lansing Power and Light Company, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, biomass facilities, and public events where prominent environmental leaders were speaking. Interviews were done by a camera crew that identified themselves as being from New World Media during public events. These interviews were preceded by a number of formal interviews with Richard Heinberg, Ozzie Zehner, and Penn State anthropologist Nina Jablonski. The voice-over for much of the film was done by Jeff Gibbs.

ReleaseEdit

The film received its world premiere at the Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) in July 2019.[10] On 21 April 2020, the eve of Earth Day, Moore announced that the film would be available for free on YouTube for 30 days,[11] which was later extended by another month because of high viewership.[12]

In an interview held at TCFF, Gibbs stated that "the film is not expected to be a comfortable beginning to the needed conversation" especially for those who treat solar and wind energy like "sacred cows".[13]

The Films For Action website originally promoted the documentary. After protests stating that "the film is full of misinformation", they removed the embedded link[14] and published a statement[15] listing multiple falsehoods and errors, including statements about environmental organizations and solar and wind power that were outdated or incorrect.[16] On May 7, Films for Action restored the embedded link, stating their concern that "taking the film down in the context of Josh's retraction campaign was only going to create headlines, generate more interest in the film, and possibly lead people to think we're trying to 'cover up the truth,' giving the film more power and mystique than it deserves".[17]

On 25 May 2020, the film was temporarily removed from YouTube due to a copyright infringement claim by British environmental photographer Toby Smith over a 4-second segment Gibbs considered fair-use content.[18] The controversial video had more than 8 million YouTube views at the time. Moore and Gibbs called the move a "blatant act of censorship" and disputed the claim with YouTube. The producers made the video available for free streaming on the competing Vimeo platform.[19]

Factual accuracyEdit

Scientific accuracyEdit

The film uses footage of a solar field that is up to a decade old, which may give a false impression of the maturity of the technologies in the present day.[6][20] One field of solar panels the documentary shows operates with 8% efficiency of sunlight conversion, which is below the typical 15-20% efficiency of solar panels in use in 2020.[21]

The film also includes footage of a 10-year-old electric vehicle being recharged from a grid that is 95% powered by coal. The emissions intensity of electric vehicles varies depending on the source of electricity used to power the grid, however as of 2020, they emit less than internal combustion vehicles in all but a few of the world's regions.[22] As of 2015, electric vehicles emit on average 31% less than internal combustion vehicles for the same distance travelled.[22] The average power grid derived slightly more than 60% of its energy from fossil fuels in 2019.[23][24][25]

A pie chart is shown in the film with total battery storage compared to yearly energy use, which is a factor of thousand higher. The filmmakers suggest that this amount of energy storage is needed to make sure intermittency of renewables does not lead to power outages. In reality, battery storage is only part of solving intermittency, and using a mix of different energy sources reduces the need for batteries.[26]

The film claims the carbon footprint of renewable energy is comparable to fossil fuels, when taking into account all different stages of their production. However, a large body of research shows the life-cycle emissions of wind, nuclear and solar are much lower than fossil fuels.[20][27][28]

In a letter, filmmaker and environmental activist Josh Fox and academics including climate scientist Michael Mann have asked for an apology and a retraction of the film. They claim the film includes "various distortions, half-truths and lies", and that the filmmakers "have done a grave disservice to us and the planet by promoting climate change inactivist tropes and talking points".[29]

Claims about the environmental movementEdit

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which was mentioned in the movie, responded to the allegations: "it implies that UCS took money from corporations profiting from EVs, without (again) stopping to check the facts, or reaching out to UCS about it. It wouldn't have been hard, either way, to discover that UCS doesn't take corporate money at all".[30]

Environmentalist Bill McKibben responded to claims made in the documentary about him and the organization he cofounded, 350.org:

"A Youtube video emerged on Earth Day eve making charges about me and about 350.org — namely that I was a supporter of biomass energy, and that 350 and I were beholden to corporate funding, and have misled our supporters on the costs and trade-offs related to decarbonizing our economy. These things aren't true."[31]

In Rolling Stone, McKibben continued: "the filmmakers didn't just engage in bad journalism (though they surely did), they acted in bad faith. They didn't just behave dishonestly (though they surely did), they behaved dishonorably. I'm aware that in our current salty era those words may sound mild, but in my lexicon they are the strongest possible epithets."[32]

ReceptionEdit

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 65%, based on 23 reviews, with an average rating of 6.29/10.[33] As of May 13, 2020, it had been viewed more than 7.5 million times on YouTube.[29]

Dennis Harvey in Variety claimed "Gibbs' dull monotone makes him a poor narrator", "there's nothing particularly elegant about the way Planet of the Humans arrives at its downbeat thesis," and "though well-shot and edited, the material here is simply too sprawling to avoid feeling crammed into one ungainly package."[34]

Gary Mason at The Globe and Mail referred to the film as "The Michael Moore-backed film enviros are dreading".[35]

The Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial page wrote of the movie, "Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Moore critique wind energy for requiring enormous amounts of copper and rare earth minerals. Wind farms also require developing large tracts of land. Solar energy gets dinged for its dependence on mining coal and quartz. ... electric cars sound great, but they depend on the fossil-fuel-powered electrical grid."[36] University of California Professor environmental policy professor Leah Stokes, at Vox Magazine wrote that the movie undermines the work of young climate activists and that "Throughout, the filmmakers twist basic facts, misleading the public about who is responsible for the climate crisis. We are used to climate science misinformation campaigns from fossil fuel corporations. But from progressive filmmakers?"[37]

Dana Nucitelli of Yale Climate Connections claims "The film's case is akin to arguing that because fruit contains sugar, eating strawberries is no healthier than eating a cheesecake.[28]

The Post Carbon Institute, a sustainability think tank closely connected with interviewee[clarification needed] Richard Heinberg, published a podcast that critiques the film's flaws.[38]

For Resilience, Heinberg has also written: "[The film] starts a conversation we need to have, and it's a film that deserves to be seen." and "Mainstream enviros will hate this movie because it exposes some of their real failings. By focusing on techno-fixes, they have sidelined nearly all discussion of overpopulation and overconsumption."[39]

Emily Atkin, environmental journalist for The New Republic,[40] described the documentary as "an argumentative essay from a lazy college freshman".[41]

Environmental journalist Brian Kahn in Earther wrote that the filmmaker's choice to have "mostly white experts who are mostly men" argue in favor of population control gives the film "a bit more than a whiff of eugenics and ecofascism. [...] What's most frustrating about Gibbs' film is he walks right up to some serious issues and ignores clear solutions", Kahn concluded.[42] InsideClimate News concluded that the movie "will almost certainly do far more harm than good in the struggle to reduce carbon emissions".[43] Jacobin wrote that the film "embraces bad science on renewable energy and anti-humanist, anti–working class narratives of overpopulation and overconsumption", concluding that by "focusing on industrial civilization and 'overpopulation' as the cause of environmental problems, Moore and Gibbs distract us from the real problem: the untrammeled market."[44] Ted Nordhaus, an environmental policy writer and proponent of nuclear energy and industrial agriculture, noted that the bias in portraying renewables in the film "is a mirror image of the misinformation that the anti-nuclear movement has trafficked in for decades" and concluded the overall message of the film is neomalthusian.[45]

In The Guardian, George Monbiot wrote: "The film does not deny climate science. But it promotes the discredited myths that [climate change] deniers have used for years to justify their position. It claims that environmentalism is a self-seeking scam, doing immense harm to the living world while enriching a group of con artists". Its "attacks on solar and wind power rely on a series of blatant falsehoods".[46] Peter Bradshaw wrote for The Guardian that, despite its criticism of key environmental leaders, the video refrained from criticizing Greta Thunberg, a long-time advocate of such technologies. Bradshaw called the film "refreshingly contrarian."[4]

Laura Schmidt, founder of the Good Grief Network,[47] wrote "Planet of the Humans has triggered a vast polarization amongst those of us working towards a livable future."[48]

Adrian Hennigan, features editor at Haaretz,[49] called Planet of the Humans a "provocative documentary about how capitalism has destroyed the environmental movement." and stated that "This cri de coeur from American producer-composer-editor Gibbs may lack balance and counterarguments, but it convincingly makes the case that “less must be the new more” if humankind is to have any chance of not being wiped out due to overpopulation and overconsumption."[50]

Nonfictionfilm.com editor-in-chief, Matthew Carey,[51] wrote: "Films about environmental issues have long been a staple of the documentary form, a genre that in recent years alone has brought us Before the Flood, Chasing Ice, Chasing Coral and, of course, An Inconvenient Truth. But those documentaries arguably pale in importance to Planet of the Humans"[52]

Julie Ann Grimm of the Santa Fe Reporter[53] praised the film, saying "There’s a fine line between delusion and illusion. And both are part of the myth of a “clean energy” that magically lifts humanity from its crash course with the planet. Rather than drastically reduce our consumption of resources such as water, fossil fuels and hard-rock minerals, humans are more content to seek technological fixes that won’t work anyway. That is the thesis of Planet of the Humans. Move over, Al Gore. Henceforth, Earth Day belongs to Jeff Gibbs."[54]

Producers' responseEdit

Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs, and Ozzie Zehner responded to the critics on an episode of Rising.[55][56] In the interview Gibbs states that

"we don't attack environmental leaders. We need our environmental leaders." Gibbs also states that "We went to great pains to show you what's happening in the field of solar and wind. And many of our experts are in the solar and wind industry". In summarizing his primary intent for making the movie, Gibbs states that "I wanted to spark a holistic discussion about all the things we humans are doing and whether these green technologies were even going to solve climate change let alone all the other things happening around the planet."

When pressed in the Rising interview about accusations that the film presents a Malthusian point of view, Gibbs responded that they never used the term "population control" and are not in favor of it, and added that a recent UN study on the extinction crisis also mentioned population growth and economic growth as the primary drivers of the crisis.[57]

Jeff Gibbs has said that the film is designed to prompt discussion and debate beyond the narrow issue of climate change and to look at the overall human impact on the environment, including issues such as human overpopulation and the contemporary extinction crisis in which half of all wildlife has disappeared in the last 40 years, and whether green technology can solve these issues.[58]

Old footage responseEdit

On 18 May, Gibbs replied directly to the accusations of using "old footage" arguing that while most of the footage was shot in 2019 and 2020, the videos of the popular solar festivals were shot twice, in an interval of 10 years, and usage of diesel generators was observed each time. He explained that the solar farm in Michigan they filmed continues to operate at 8% efficiency and will continue for decades and that manufacturing of panels will require mining non-renewable resources. He also accused the "eco-industrial complex" of attempting to "choke [the producers] to death", instead of "self-reflection".[59]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit