No we’re not talking about eco-tourism to an endangered rainforest or glacier dwindling to a sad little puddle. We’re referring to Michael Moore’s new documentary Planet of the Humans. Every revolution devours its children, and Moore is about to be a large meal. He is not our favourite filmmaker but his new movie blows the lid off the green energy movement with astonishing gusto and reveals it as the scientific and economic scam it is. For which Moore, as Executive Producer, and Jeff Gibbs as Director, face “cancellation” as the green mob succeeded in convincing the distributor to yank the film (though they have since relented and put it back up). Green politics being what it is, there are some lines that simply cannot be crossed, and Moore’s film, released free on YouTube ahead of Earth Day and quickly garnering millions of views, ran over them with a biodiesel-powered bulldozer.
There is much to like about Moore’s new documentary, and much to dislike. To start with the positives, it is technically a finely crafted piece of work: well-shot, well-edited, compellingly paced and so forth. A model for documentary-makers, in fact.
Also, it exposes the sad reality of green energy with devastating impact. The detailed critique of would-be green energy schemes is framed in the movie by two amusing anecdotes of hipster eco-music festivals supposedly powered by “100% renewable energy” at which Gibbs wanders behind the stage and both times discovers the diesel generators that are the real source of power for the lights and sound system.
The various supposed technologies of the future cannot survive without subsidies and fossil fuel backups; the latter by necessity being operated so inefficiently in the presence of intermittent wind and solar that there’d have been fewer greenhouse gas emissions if we just used fossil fuels on their own. To point out the inefficiency of all this is not being cold and heartless. We are talking about harm to people and the environment from these wasteful windmills and solar panels.
Some of the stuff not to like in the documentary is a strength not a weakness. It deliberately exposes the enormous financial hypocrisies of those who support alternative energy. (And has a lovely clip in which Bill McKibben claims not to remember who his big funders are.) But it also accidentally exposes the hypocrisies of its Deep Ecology opponents, by showing them discoursing elegantly on the need to end our way of life from within air-conditioned or centrally heated, comfortably lit buildings surrounded by petroleum products from smart phones and computers to desks, buttons and plastic containers.
Something genuinely not to like is that the documentary is neo-Malthusian and anti-human. As Robert Bryce put it irritably in Forbes, at bottom Moore thinks “Humans are like cockroaches. We need fewer of them. That’s the fundamental message of Michael Moore’s new documentary, Planet of the Humans.”
The anti-human finger-wagging is even more tiresome coming from someone whose game of exposing hypocrisy in others is so easily turned on himself. Those who denounce our species as being far too numerous and rapacious owe us an answer not only to the obvious question “Then why are you here?” but, in Moore’s case, “Why are you so rich and fat?” Michael Moore is clearly very fond of the abundant food our horrible civilization furnishes even to its most acerbic critics, and has an estimated net worth of $50 million and a $5 million house, and evidently intends the mass die-off he wants to see happen to be visited on people other than himself, preferably one presumes after he has lived out his days enjoying the luxurious benefits of industrial civilization.
On the other hand, gall has its virtues. And indeed another admirable feature of the documentary is that it exhibits a quality much needed in the modern era as always, namely courage. Moore must have known he was putting the cat among the pigeons. And while to some extent he may be suspected of simply enjoying annoying people for money, he picked a brave target in this case.
Possibly it required more courage than he realized. As someone firmly on the left since he was just an aspiring maker of the low-budget indie Roger and Me, he may not have understood how vicious some of his fellow travellers are. Among those now howling for his hide is Josh Fox, whose 2010 assault on fracking Gasland pushed the boundaries of factual accuracy beyond the breaking point, and who is spearheading the movement to get the documentary withdrawn. (Indeed there is no guarantee that the link we posted above will still work by the time you read this; if it does and you’re interested we suggest downloading a copy for future reference.)
Another who piled on savagely was Michael Mann, or in Anthony Watts’ phrase “serial ringmaster Michael Mann… provides the entertainment”. Mann tweeted that “Only in the Trumpian era of gaslighting could a progressive filmmaker produce a polemic premised on the absurd notion that ultra right-wing plutocrats are secretly funding the effort to end our dependence on fossil fuels. And get progressives to actually fall for it.” (Mann also seems to have tweeted that Moore was “mansplaining” and then, as he has a strange habit of doing, retweeted himself.) But this “nothing to see here” attitude won’t do, philosophically or practically.
Even the Guardian ran a positive review of the documentary that included “All the green, liberal A-listers – Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Van Jones, Robert F Kennedy Jr – are attacked in this film as a pompous and complacent high-priest caste of the environmental movement, who are shilling for a fossil fuel industry that has sneakily taken them over.” And it actually chided the director because “for all his radical bravado, Gibbs does not dare criticise Thunberg”. In the end, the Guardian isn’t quite sure what to make of it, saying “Gibbs doesn’t mention nuclear and – a little lamely, perhaps – has no clear lesson or moral, other than the need to take a fiercely critical look at the environmental establishment. Well, it’s always valuable to re-examine a sacred cow.”
Precisely. In showing courage, chutzpah or some combination of the two, Moore has forced a great many people to confront something we skeptics have been saying for decades: If the climate crisis is as bad as the alarmists claim, the solution isn’t simply a few toy renewables, it will take drastic measures with drastic consequences to implement the policies they favour. It will take an economic shutdown like we have imposed for COVID-19, only one that will never end.
If you doubt alarmists really believe the crisis to be this serious, look no further than Greta Thunberg’s latest video showing a family going about its morning business in a house that is gradually being engulfed in flames. Of course like much alarmist agitprop it backfires since the family’s indifference to the fire (and the cheesy special effects) creates the sense that it’s somehow not harmful, or even real, and thus they have learned to ignore it.
Now it is important to stress here that whether your house or entire planet is in fact on fire has nothing to do with how much you’d prefer that it not be, or how hard it would be to extinguish the blaze. The science of climate change does not change one whit, in either direction, just because you discover something nasty about the economics of various policies advocated to deal with it. If you imagine a scale with the costs of “business as usual” on one side and the costs of the Green New Deal on the other, the discovery that the weight of the GND is far higher than you thought does not change the weight of “business as usual” by one ounce. Something important does change, though. And not just something psychological.
Discovering that “net zero” really does mean going back to living in caves off moss and twigs forces green advocates to take another look at the severity of the problem. It’s one thing to plump for trendy “climate solutions” when you think they’re costless or even economically beneficial. But when you discover that they are economically ruinous and worse for the environment, it surely forces you to ask just how bad living with climate change would be.
Maybe Moore himself will reconsider his views when he sees where they lead. Or when he realizes that many of those who adhere to the ideology he has long espoused have no desire to debate him, only to censor and cancel him. But even if he doesn’t, others are bound to because Moore’s alternatives don’t look good at all.
There is a nasty side to the man, including his view that his fellow humans are basically a swarm of rats. Not that people aren’t capable of horrifying cruelty. But the same species that can pollute a river until it catches fire, and stage genocides, will also produce a 3D-printer prosthetic for a duck that lost a foot, rush into a burning building to save a stranger, and risk death to smuggle Jews out of Nazi-occupied Europe.
To someone like Moore, it’s skin-crawling that retailers would offer Earth Day sales on ecofriendly products. (Though it’s fine that they pay hard currency to see his films.) To others, it’s a sign of the ingenuity of humans at their best, meeting real needs in creative ways. And maybe when you see that getting rid of affordable, reliable energy would amount to genocide, you consider options. Including, dare we say it again, nuclear?