It’s astounding, and discouraging, how much abuse substitutes for argument on Twitter, in YouTube comments, etc., and how much of the abuse is mindlessly obscene. It bothers us even when the target is someone we didn’t particularly like up until two weeks ago and still don’t. So with regard to the ongoing controversy over Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans we’d like to ask that if you thought Moore was great until two weeks ago don’t suddenly start calling him an idiot and vice versa. We ourselves said the film has some strengths and some weaknesses. But there’s nothing positive to be said about the argument over it degenerating into a paranoid brawl over who’s a sellout to rapacious capitalism. Moore says it’s the renewable energy folks. His critics say it’s Moore. Can’t they debate the issues instead of attacking each other’s motives?
In a scathing letter, Josh Fox of Gasland demanded that distributor Films for Action take the documentary down because “The film touts blatantly untrue fossil fuel industry talking points” and “employs specious techniques of misinformation to deliver a deeply cynical and erroneous message.” Erroneous? We’ll believe it when wind and solar make money without subsidies. But cynical? Michael Moore? A shill for the fossil fuel industry? We only wish Moore were a shill for industry, or productive human enterprise in general, instead of his obscure utopian vision in which people either don’t work or they do but they don’t earn anything in the process.
Moore is worse than a hypocrite. He has always had an ugly habit of thinking there’s a giant conspiracy out there and that the many problems that afflict humanity are generally the product of conscious malevolence. Especially by the hated capitalists now apparently burning up the planet they live on for money that will burn up along with them.
This sort of indictment totally misses the point, and not only because it portrays the conspirators as simultaneously brilliant and idiotic. What people call the “capitalist system” has the enormous strength and potential weakness of fundamentally being not a system but the absence of one. When just about everyone is free to seek opportunities to trade things they don’t want for things they do, or trade things they want (like their time and effort) for things they want even more (like food or a car), you have capitalism, unless and until other people who hold political power come up with a system to try and stop it, from minor individual annoyances at one end like marketing boards all the way to communism or fascism at the other.
Under capitalism, people sell what others want. Including bitter critiques of capitalism and environmentally conscious products. And this arrangement works so well precisely because it’s not one unified thing. It’s a set of rules that protects diversity by decentralizing decision-making authority, including in shops and theatres, where a vast array of people compete to satisfy their fellows.
Thus Naomi Klein’s No Logo became a best-seller and indeed a very lucrative and trendy brand because a publisher thought it would sell, and was right, and because a great many buyers lacked a sense of irony at least about their own conduct. Just as Michael Moore got rich critiquing getting rich. (For more on this general topic see The Rebel Sell by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter). Here as so often, capitalism feeds the mouth that bites it.
That mouth also snarls, and the habit of finding the vast right-wing conspiracy and unmasking it has ugly practical as well as moral consequences. Eric Worrall wonders “In the wake of harsh allegations of green corporate greed made in the documentary “Planet of the Humans”, who will Greens sacrifice to restore public confidence?” and says “Bill McKibben and the Sierra Club appear to be the leading contenders.” But in Rolling Stone McKibben hit back at Moore and hit back hard. Some of what he says addresses substance. But much of it trashes Moore as a deliberate liar and “carnival barker” and a bully. Which to some extent he is. But surely it would be less brutal and more constructive to sacrifice bad ideas rather than bad people.
To anyone given to conspiracy theories, we issue two warnings. First, do not assume people can contrive, execute and conceal such a scheme effectively over many years if what you do see about them leads you to doubt they could organize a brawl in a saloon. Second, Susan Sontag’s tart “I envy paranoids; they actually feel people are paying attention to them.” (OK, three warnings if you visit our site: We delete comments that espouse conspiracy theories. And if it makes you think we’re part of “Them”, complain to the aliens running the show. But be warned that their complaints department is not very customer-friendly. We also delete obscenities no matter how original the spelling, and including acronyms.)
Is everything in Planet of the Humans exactly right and up to date? Probably not. Is there enough there to force a rethink of alternative energy? Yes. Is there enough there to frame it as a vast capitalist conspiracy? No. Is there enough to make Moore part of that conspiracy? Of course not. He doesn’t even need the money.
In turning on a new target, Moore has done some valuable work. But he has also kept some very nasty habits that are as unattractive now as they were in his earlier films. And in turning on Moore, his critics have done the same.
Others have not. For instance Films for Action initially responded to Fox’s letter by denouncing and withdrawing his film. Then they thought better of it and put the film back up along with an explanation that they don’t want to give the film the added cachet that comes from a campaign to ban something, that on reflection they think it has both strengths and weaknesses, and inviting viewers to make an informed judgement. Which seems the right approach. (And follows the key “Dracula effect” argument in favour of free speech: sunlight destroys evil.)
At CDN, we do our best to argue facts and logic, and in our comment section we delete anything we notice that is obscene, libellous or just plain paranoid. (And to repeat, the ban on vulgarity is not a challenge to spell it in some new way.) We invite you to join us in lighting a candle whenever possible and cursing the darkness creatively rather than crudely when absolutely necessary.
Critics need to provide evidence that errors about large scale renewables in 'Planet of the Humans' were made. In fairness, we need facts.
Without these clear statements, it looks like the documentary got it right.
The documentary could have gone into the threat to raptors, bats and the cumulative and irreversible harm to human health from industrial wind turbines, but perhaps there will be a sequel.
People need to know the deception regarding this harm . They need to see how cover ups have consistently been orchestrated.
At this point, this actually may need to be done by criminal investigators.
Perhaps the documentary should have been name "Inconvenient Truth-The Sequel." There is much to recommend this movie, warts and all. The real underlying message for me is not so much "Capitalism vs. the World". That is a mere diversion. Short of communism - tried and failed- there will always be those who seemingly gain more than a fair share from society in this industry and others. The real message here is that the currently proposed "green solutions" are unsustainable as truly green for many reasons. There are others if one is a supplicant to the more dire aspects of AGW theory....(more hydro/wave options; nuclear); sadly the Green folk have painted themselves in a corner on those. In the knee-jerk reaction by those who were to some degree exposed in this documentary, one senses that Hell hath no fury like a green movement scorned.
The main error I saw was the part about the life span of solar panels. They now run 20+ years in most cases. Overall, the main positive I saw was the highlight of the sourcing of materials for wind turbines and solar panels. When comparing solar to fossil fuels the fossil fuel extraction and processing is always included in the environmental analysis. For perhaps the first time the sourcing of materials for solar and wind turbines and their environmental impacts are covered.
Now we need a comparison on the environmental impacts of recyling/disposing of wind turbines/solar panels vrs. reclamation of a coal mine.
Josh Fox's argument was that Moors examples and facts were out dated. This ignores the energy density / storage capacity / instant demand non availability of so called "renewable's" and the need for "burning and turning" back up power.
Hypocrite??? Hmmm........I wonder. Possibly everything he's done is pure Capitalistic - make a buck and apparently he's made lots. A Leftist Cinematic Provocateur. No matter what in this age if you have an opinion, any opinion - sombody will hate you.
I have seen this film, Michael Moore appears nowhere in it, the main protagonist is green extremist Jeff Gibb. The film is doomsday laden, depletionist & Malthusian, a profoundly anti-human work. Statistics are presented misleadingly as half truths to pedal the big lie. At one point, a graph is shown purporting to show that the world amount of agricultural land has peaked & is now falling, in order to insinuate Lomborg's 'Litany' that we have gone beyond our limit & things can only get worse in the world. That fact that more people in the world are better fed than ever before & starvation is declining tends to indicate that area of agricultural land is not really an important factor. Perhaps, which is not mentioned in the film, what is important is how efficiently we use that land, better measures would be, for example, to show how world grain production has increased & the price has fallen. Another graph purports to show that our consumption has sky rocketed over a very short period of time. A trick is used here where the x-axis is compressed which of course causes a terrific increase in the steepness of the graph. In the case of generating power by burning wood, no attempt is made to distinguish between sustained artificial plantations of trees for the production of building materials, furniture & paper & primaeval forests, leading to the idea that the world is currently being rapaciously deforested by man. Most of the primaeval deforestation of the planet was carried out hundreds & thousands of years ago & is now happening at a negligible rate compared to what has gone before. In the discussions of renewable sources of energy, no figures are given to demonstrate that these sources produce the same or more CO2 than fossil fuel ones would, for example, we know that a wind turbine requires CO2 to be emitted in its construction & erection, but it was not demonstrated by supporting figures whether the generation by a fossil fuel source of an amount of energy equivalent to the energy output of these turbines throughout their whole service life produced more or less CO2 than the quantity produced in building the turbine. The implication was that wind turbines produce just as much or more CO2 than fossil fuels for the same amount of energy produced. It would have been better to use figures.
I had to laugh at the electric car. Of course the electricity comes mainly from fossil fuel operated power stations! That's a no-brainer. What was not mentioned was the fact that it is intended eventually to replace fossil fuel generated electricity with renewable sourced electricity.
Then we have the supposed hijacking by capitalism of all these 'renewable' energy sources & the making of money out of. Gibb saw it as a desperate & impossible attempt to try to maintain mankind's consumption & unlimited growth & called for a simplified lifestyle as the only workable answer. I saw this view point of Gibb's as sour grapes that 'capitalists' were making money out of 'his' ideas. I am sorry to seem to be playing Devil's advocate sometimes here in this comment, but ultimately the film is not on our side & is virtually useless. It is a piece of bare-faced climate alarmist propaganda for the cause of extremist solutions. I could write much more but will anybody read it?
There is an excellent review of the Moore movie and critique of his neo-Malthusian worldview by Pierre Desrochers at the American Institute for Economic Research - https://www.aier.org/article/michael-moore-acknowledges-there-are-no-alternatives-to-energy-reality/
If market prices were allowed to operate, then we might get a sensible evolving mix of energy technologies. I wonder for instance if solar panels on my roof, along with batteries within my house might provide disaster redundancy and resiliency for my personal life. Having lived through several major extended power outages, they are not pleasant. As the addition of inter-mittent solar and wind power to the grid makes it less reliable, the risk of major outages rises.