Review of Planet of the Humans (2019)

Moving picture, 100 minutes

Seen in 2020.

I saw the 100-minute version on Michael Moore’s Youtube channel, released there in 2020, revised with a series of postscripts to imply that the targets of the film backed down from their stated positions because of the film.

Primarily criticism of biomass and biofuel as unsustainable sources of energy for environmentally friendly purposes, due in part to lax regulations permitting large-scale logging (just for burning) and the admixture of shredded tires, toxic old railroad ties etc. in US biomass plants. Secondarily, accusations against the mainstream US environmental movement including Al Gore, the Sierra Club and Bill McKibben as sellouts to this industry. Tertiarily, more general criticism of the marketing hype for wind and solar energy with respect to the demand-curve problem, efficiency, wear and tear, etc.

If it had not been for the total absence of nuclear energy, this would have seemed honest. It’s traditional stuff, advocating a voluntary reduction of the human population and a reduction in the footprint and material intensity of the economy. These are the same messages that have dominated the deep-green movement since the 1960s, and the arguments from energy efficiency and density have also been well known for decades. As a film, it’s a rhetorically effective reformulation of the old ideas for the post-Obama era, with relevant basic journalistic investigative work—some of it literally behind a scene on a stage—and unapologetic images of animal carcasses being shredded for biofuel etc. However, Gibbs does not confront any of the reasons why the same ideas failed in the past, or how they too have been co-opted. More problematically, some of his points are essentially purity tests. For instance, he dismisses electric cars as a sham because electricity can and does come from anywhere, instead of comparing total lifecycle emissions analyses against fossil-fuel vehicles, or looking at technological development. For context, see for instance Scott K. Johnson’s review for Ars Technica here or George Monbiot’s Guardian column here.

moving picture non-fiction