Why “Planet of the Humans” is crap

Mostly, Planet of the Humans is just so fucking bad. So bad that its good points are useless. It does have some good points – there seem to be a lot of rock festivals in Vermont that claim, incorrectly, to be running on solar. They totally deserve ridicule. But you would never recommend this film to anyone. You’d be carrying water for the fossils if you did. So it’s a failure on its own terms, since it wants, or pretends to want, to bring the truth about renewables to the green movement.  And it may even, judging from the ending, where both Bill McKibben and the Sierra Club are said to clarify their positions, make us a bit more careful about our tactical alliances. But boy oh boy does this guy—Jeff Gibbs is his name—know less than he thinks.

It’s too bad, because his central complaint, that the environmental movement is looking to green tech to save us, and believing quite a bit of nonsense in the process, is pretty legit, though it’s less legit every year, and you wouldn’t know it from this film.  Anyway, this kind of techno-optimism is and has always been a huge mistake, and it throws us to the mercies of the snake-oil salesman and, in general, to the corruptions of capitalist realism.  This is an excellent point, and it could have been made well.  Gibbs could have built a good bit of teaching around it.  But instead he threw so many cheap shots and so much old news into the bucket that it ruined, and I mean *ruined*, the mix.  The truth is that he doesn’t have the slightest idea about how to make his critique in a helpful way. 

Once you get beyond the pro-solar rock-concert bullshit, Gibbs’ rap against renewables is embarrassingly wrong.  Not all of it, but most of it.  Moreover, it is fantastically dated.  He seems to not even know that the net-energy analysis of renewable energy systems is a thing.  Which is odd, because Richard Heinberg is an expert in this field, and Gibbs embeds him at the center of his narrative. Heinberg, alas, has long been pessimistic about the potential for renewables to produce net energy on the scale we’ll need, and here he says that “we’re getting, in some cases, no energy from these potential options,” which is just what Gibbs wanted. *

Then, unsurprisingly, talk turns to population.  Heinberg’s provides the framing — “There are too many human beings, using too much, too fast” — and then Gibbs takes us off to the Malthusian races, wherein we’re told, by Stephen Churchill (an anthropologist who’s called out as “a scientist”) that “I don’t think we’re going to find a way out of this one.”  The mix goes on, and in it we get exactly one sentence—“our consumption has also exploded, on average ten times per person, and many times more in the western world” — that might in any way be taken as a reference to class, or to class footprints.  As if you could just multiply the number of people by their average impact and, by so doing, get to the fundamental truth of our predicament. 

So Planet of the Humans is a very disappointing movie, given that its heart, or at least part of its heart, is in the right place.  That said, Gibbs—and Michael Moore, who is backing this project—winds up carrying water for  people who want us to believe renewable energy is an illusion, or even a con.  The method is what Dave Roberts calls “hippie punching.”  Gibbs makes a particularly bad bet on Ozzie Zehner, the author of Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism, who is obviously happy to get the attention.   I looked up the book.  It was published in 2012. 

Let me be clear.  Gibb’s critique of renewables is just wrong, and its proportions are absurd.  You would never know that the “gas as a bridge fuel” people are no longer held in esteem.  You would never know that the intermittency problem is being solved, and the storage problem too.  You would never know that the problem of decarbonizing the grid has been front and center on the renewables agenda for decades, and that the electric car people know it all too well.  You would never know that the technology revolution is well and widely understood to be necessary but not sufficient to the green transition.  All of which is to say that this would have maybe been a good movie 20 years ago.  Maybe.

On the other hand, alas, there is another hand.  His critique of biofuels, in particular, is generally spot on.  I was briefly beguiled by the idea back around 2004, when I was paying too much attention to the carbon cycle and not enough to the realities on the ground.  But everyone in the movement knows the score on this today, everybody who’s paying attention that is.  Just like no-one still believes that natural gas is a bridge to transformative decarbonization, except maybe Michael Bloomberg.  And while there are clearly idiot salespeople in the solar movement, it’s not like they’re representative.  Though maybe they are, some of the time.  The business of business, is, after all, business. But the Sierra Club had its reasons for joining hands with Bloomberg in the Beyond Coal campaign, and they were good ones. It used his money to shut down a lot of coal plants. Case closed.

And as for calling Jeremy Grantham a “timber investment billionaire,” spare me.  Watch The Race of our Lives.

The pro-nuke people love the film, by the way.  Gibbs does take one wee little shot at nukes near the end, but he is so obsessed with revealing “the truth” about renewables that he doesn’t think to scope nukes into his critique, which couldn’t bear the weight in any case.   There are lots and lots of people that could have helped him get this right, but he is obviously the kind of guy that doesn’t need any help.  It seems that he wanted to fuck this up all by himself, and he did.   

The really bad stuff comes when Gibbs waxes metaphysical about the root causes of the environmental crisis.  Yes, he fingers capitalism, and at one point he even gets down to fingering *this* capitalism, but mostly he’s on about hubris, and the denial of death, and our inability to manage our own appetites, and so on.  All true, and all more or less beside the point, as he cites them, because the proportions are all wrong.  Such critiques, put to these uses, are par for the course for the old environmentalism, but the old environmentalism is old news.  His pithiest comment about why we are in such deep shit: “it’s us,” and then, “it’s everything.” And then he adds that “the takeover of the environmental movement by capitalism is now complete,” which is so far behind the curve that it’s coming up on its own asshole. 

Bottom line. This movie is a warning.  The generation of environmentalism that Gibbs is critiquing here needs to be put to rest, once and for all. We need a justice-based politics of planetary limits–with just transitions and fair shares all around. And it has to be a technologically sophisticated one.

The orangutan stuff at the end, in the Palm oil deforestation scene, is very, very sad. 

What are we left with? That even Bill McKibben, who has done so much, and in such good faith, can be made to look like shit.  Likewise Al Gore.  And that the Sierra Club, or so it seems from the film, has made a few real mistakes. None of the subtlety is visible here. In fact, Gibbs gets close to charging actual corruption, without a damn bit of evidence. Which makes you wonder what the hell Moore is doing in this mess, which in addition to all its other faults does nothing, and I mean nothing, to encourage either wisdom or mobilization.

As for myself, I think learning is good. There’s a lot to learn. And there’s a lot of bullshit in the world too, and we’re done if we don’t call it out. The good news is that we’re all learning fast, and that good people listen when you call them on their bullshit.  

That’s how you can tell.  

Tom A

***

* In an earlier version of this post, I was too hard on Heinberg’s net-energy work. In particular, I did not take account of his 2016 book, Our Renewable Future, in which he he lays out a pessimistic but fair-minded sense of the net-energy potential of solar and wind, saying for example that:

“We are still at too early a stage in renewable energy deployment to know how much storage and capacity redundancy will be needed, and we are at too early a stage in EROEI studies to be able to judge whether the more optimistic or more pessimistic results for PV are more accurate. However, if it turns out that high levels of storage are required and that the middle-of-the-road EROEI figures for solar PV of 10:1 and for wind of 19:1 (without storage) are justified, then as society transitions away from high-EROEI fossil fuels its overall economic efficiency may decline, as a somewhat higher proportion of produced energy will have to be reinvested into further energy production. This may have implications for the possibility of further economic growth, as we will consider later in this chapter.”

55 Replies to “Why “Planet of the Humans” is crap”

  1. Excellent Analysis. Having seen the film I think you, Tom, have very effectively identified its weaknesses and the mean spiritedness involved. I really thought that Bill McGibbon, Al Gore and Robert Kennedy Jr. were unfairly made to look like jerks. That is clearly unfortunate and misguided to anyone who has been paying attention to the unfolding crisis over the years. The three of them have done so much to devote time to raising consciousness and public awareness on the issues.
    Thanks for taking the time to critique the film.

  2. You’re critique is right on. If you converted all the horse shit in this movie to actual biomass you could power a city. So how did Michael Moore end up riding this particular horse?

  3. “Richard Heinberg must have been his guide on this, but though Heinberg is a nice guy, this is not his strong suite. He’s a major promulgator of the idea that renewables do not and can not have net energy paybacks.”
    This is a sad misrepresentation of my position. Please get your facts straight. See http://www.ourrenewablefuture.org

  4. California has shown that renewable energy is a viable source of electricity to run a major modern economy. The story of renewable energy really is just beginning. My own city, South Pasadena, is 100 percent renewable energy powered by the LA/Ventura County Clean Power Alliance. Eventually, excess solar and wind power will be put to beneficial use by storing energy at pumped storage facilities on a larger scale and to produce hydrogen, which will be used particularly for transportation. Renewable energy is an unfolding success story in a world full of bad news. It deserves continued support, along with zero net energy construction and retrofitting under a Green New Deal. California has been very busy pursuing these goals. It’s time for the rest of the nation and world to become equally busy.

    I have been working on these issues most of my life and was involved in the late 1980s and 1990s promoting the electric vehicle, solar, hydrogen fuel cell technology, hybrid vehicles, and other environmental technologies for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. They, along with strong regulations, have markedly cleaned up air pollution here, which once was stifling and lung-burning. Progress is possible with concerted effort. Don’t be fooled by Michael Moore.

  5. By the way, I do not concur with the characterization of Richard Heinberg, who clearly has made a major contribution by raising key issues regarding the effort to build an ecologically sustainable society and economy. He consistently offers what I consider to be a constructive and illuminating analysis.

  6. How is this article better? Other than perhaps the article aligns more closely with previously held beliefs…

    It admits Biomass is horrible yet pardons Sierra Club and others for endorsing and continuing to endorse it? Why do they get a free pass?
    The carbon footprint of solar is pretty tough to refute.
    Maybe all the chemicals and strip mining quartz involved in solar are OK?

    What intermittency solutions are there? The author was beyond vague about this. Are we to take his unreferenced claims as gospel?

    I have to say I think this review is as bad as it contends the movie to be, poorly written to boot … unless maybe one is a fan of the author and his name has some equity. I’ve never heard of him.

    I think the bottom line, and this point WAS made by the movie. The elephant in the living room is not energy. Its 7 billion people who think they are entitled to more.

    I think the point that was made, and that I still think is valid, is that green energy as it exists today is not going to save us, not even close. Reducing our populations and undergoing a multigenerational paradigm shift might. What people need to do is stop pinning their hopes and guilt relief on renewables and change their lifestyle, have fewer children and make do with much much less. Can anyone refute that?

  7. to scott sigurdson…

    we agree 100% with your comment that the review by tom athansiou is as bad as it contends the movie to be, poorly written to boot.

  8. A personal interpretation of history is always flawed. What will we do to save ourselves from the difficulties of our own making. Reduce the population, use solar electric hydrogen for transportation and a substitute for fossil fuel burning, develop and install electric,evacuated tube transport world wide, solar electric vacuum distillation of sea water. Pumped storage for electric power (currently 96% efficient), cover the world’s deserts with solar panels and farm beneath them. erase borders so the refugees we have created with rising sea levels will have a way to come to the US and Europe to help solve our problems. Add to the list as your imagination and conscience directs you.

  9. There are certainly things to criticize in the movie, and some of the points made in this critique are justified. However, it largely falls flat on the key elements hat are supposed to invalidate the movie’s arguments about solar and wind. In particular:
    – “He seems to not even know that the net-energy analysis of renewable energy systems is a thing.” ==> Yes, it’s a thing, and it consistently shows that the net energy gain of renewable energy technologies, even if its is rising over time, is and remains lower than the historical values for fossil energy, especially at system level and if taking storage requirements into account.
    – “You would never know that the intermittency problem is being solved, and the storage problem too.” ==> Seriously? Where and how are these problems being solved? I mean, apart from in a few studies by a host of celebrity-seeking academics that are based on purely theoretical and highly questionable models? Where in the real world are these problems being solved at anywhere near the scale required for modern renewables to have a real shot at replacing fossil energy? Another commenter here said that “California has shown that renewable energy is a viable source of electricity to run a major modern economy”. Really? In what parallel reality are you leaving, sir? Renewables represent jut under a third of California’s electricity generation, of which about 23% for solar and wind. This shows that renewable energy can provide a substantial share of an industrialized economy’s power generation, though it comes at a hefty cost to taxpayers and customers, but in no way does it demonstrate that “renewable energy is a viable source of electricity to run a major modern economy”. California’s economy does not run on renewables, not even remotely.

    Overall, the movie is a probably one-sided and might contain some inaccuracies, but it largely gets the big picture right:
    – Renewables are not as “clean” as we would like them to be.
    – Renewable technologies are a product of fossil-fueled industrial civilization.
    – They cannot replace fossil energy at current levels of energy use.
    – Climate change is only one symptom of human overshoot, which is the real root cause of environmental degradation.
    – The belief in “100% renewables” without energy descent, which is inherently rooted in technological solutionism, is misleading and obscures the root causes of the problem and what is really at stake.
    – And of course part of the environmental movement has become captive to corporate interests, and is being used to help deny these root causes and sell “solutions” to the masses while environmental degradation goes on unabated.

    So of course the movie can be criticized, but this particular critique is far from compelling.

    Ah! If only inconvenient truths could always be what we want them to be…

  10. While the film may be aimed at a popular audience rather than a more scientifically sophisticated one, it’s my engineering opinion that Zehner’s analysis is still valid, as well as supported by other analyses that I reference here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333581837_Is_it_true_that_'Small_Is_Beautiful

    “We need a justice-based politics of planetary limits–with just transitions and fair shares all around. And it has to be a technologically sophisticated one.”

    Unfortunately, I don’t see how to reconcile human overpopulation with ecological realities anywhere near soon enough to achieve the ‘just and fair transition’ that many progressives dream of. Back in 1988 I got involved with the Greens, before they were a party, because they were all about integrating social and ecological sustainability. It was probably already too late then, and it’s even later now. Bill Moyer outlined a path that could have worked, but that was then: http://dedevelopingthroughnonviolence.blogspot.com/ . Since then, the soon-to-be-overdeveloped countries have been drinking the capitalist, fossil-fuel-addiction kool-aid, and we – the overdeveloped nations – are still not setting them a good example.

    Now about ‘technological sophistication.’ More overdevelopment is not the kind of sophistication we need. Rather, we need more psychological and spiritual sophistication, a development path that is less materialistic and consumerist. So far, most of what I see happening is progressives expecting to graft our existing fossil fuel lifestyles onto PVs and windmills. Ain’t going to happen. Why? Because you cannot build more than a very few PVs and windmills with the kind of power you can get from them. You cannot mine and refine the metals and minerals that would be necessary without fossil fuels. So we cannot just look at supply replacements; radical change is needed. And systemic change is needed; changes that are small individual changes like marginal recycling and ridesharing are nowhere near enough.

    I have outlined a more direct path here: http://bio-paradigm.blogspot.com/
    and here: http://work4sustenance.blogspot.com/

    In addition, this paper outlines various other challenges to sustainable investment: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256048802_Sustainable_Investment_Means_Energy_Independence_From_Fossil_Fuels

    So this reviewer seems to suffer from the same ‘innovation faith’ that got us here in the first place. That’s just business as usual. Even Amory Lovins, as smart as he is, is operating in that arena. But we need radical philosophical change, and that’s not exactly Lovins’ portfolio. I recommend this reviewer make another documentary, based on the work of Charles Eisenstein and Jon Young.
    https://charleseisenstein.org/books/climate-a-new-story/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbfwoaI9zJs&t=3558s

  11. “…maybe been a good movie 20 years ago.”
    Maybe for you.
    Prolly not for todays hordes who still believe in green tech optimism.
    How many people still believe the answer to our problems lies in more green jobs, more economic growth? How many still believe we can continue to grow the economy and our population with innovation and impunity? I know more than a few myself. It may seem dated to you but boy howdy people need to understand our predicament, where we stand, where the lines are drawn, and…
    What is missing is any serious advocacy. What should we aim for?

    “We need a technologically sophisticated justice-based politics of planetary limits–with just transitions and fair shares all around.”

    What!? What does that even mean? Who are you trying to reach?
    How will you convince the population to depopulate, to sacrifice more than they have already sacrificed for Covid19? and as far as they’re concerned they should do it for some distant threat incomprehensible, doubtful and debated?
    The current capitalist cant
    can’t help us there.

  12. Reply to Richard Heinberg;

    My apologies. I did not know about your 2016 book, which I should have done.

    I was responding to the pessimism in your old book “Searching for a Miracle,” (2009) which I have repeatedly heard cited as evidence that renewables “will not work.” And, of course, to the use that Gibbs made of you.

    I did not know about your new book (2016). A quick skim it gave me the following:

    “We are still at too early a stage in renewable energy deployment to know how much storage and capacity redundancy will be needed, and we are at too early a stage in EROEI studies to be able to judge whether the more optimistic or more pessimistic results for PV are more accurate. However, if it turns out that high levels of storage are required and that the middle-of-the-road EROEI figures for solar PV of 10:1 and for wind of 19:1 (without storage) are justified, then as society transitions away from high-EROEI fossil fuels its overall economic efficiency may decline, as a somewhat higher proportion of produced energy will have to be reinvested into further energy production. This may have implications for the possibility of further economic growth, as we will consider later in this chapter.”

    Which is, I think, pessimistic but fair.

  13. The key thing is this: Planet of the Humans get right in all it says about the overwhelming fraud and scam and dismal failure that is renewable power. Not just biofuel, but also solar and wind. A glance comparing Germany’s total failure to lower CO2 output from making electricity significantly (in the view of ALL national and international bodies setting levels of CO2 from making electricity that need to be achieved) … and building of new natural gas and coal sources of electric power… shows that!

    And this review of the documentary is laden with falsehoods use to support a science-denying belief in this failed technology. For example, THIS review of the film asserts:

    ” You would never know that the intermittency problem is being solved, and the storage problem too. ”

    That is 100% falsehood, pure and simple. It is in large part the fact that solar and wind are intermittent on relatively short and relatively unpredictable time scales that make them total failures as possible replacements for dependence of fossil fuel (and make them REQUIRE duplication of electricity generation capacity by building a fossil fuel plant for ever solar or wind farm set up!). There simply is NO WAY to store grid level power for more than a few seconds or minutes worth of time (outside of rare cases of exceptionally favorable geography and hydrology where pumped water storage can be employed… and this is simply NOT available in most places on earth). Only fools and liars claim batteries can EVER (in the next century, at least) produce such… the science and math and engineering make a mockery of such claims.

    But this review asserts articles of faith… lies… told and retold like some matra or repeated catechism by pro renewable types… hoping that saying “storage and “smart grids” will fix the intermittancy problem” will make it so. It won’t. Laws of physics and chemistry don’t give a rat’s ass what on faith renewable promoters believe.

    This apart from the other crippling problems with the fraud and scam that is solar and wind power: Short life of solar panels and wind turbines, the rape of the environment causes by mining stuff for them than installing them, etc.

    Planet of the Humans is to be specially commended for its in depth skewing of Bill McKibben, who has been documented as being a liar and hypocrite numerous times. Not to mention a promoter of factual fraud. Early one one friend of Bill’s reported Bill said to him: “I know nuclear power is a critical part of the solution, but the population I’m trying to recruit to my organization are so opposed to it that it would be financially unwise for me to tell the truth about it”. THAT’s the total abysmal absence of intellectual integrity and rich level of hypocrisy one fines in McKibben. Planet of the Humans is to be commended for exposing this malignant fraud.

    There are indeed things to criticize… things to criticize STRONGLY… about “Planet of the Humans”. For one thing, and most important, it mentions nuclear power only twice, extremely briefly and in passing, and both times negatively. When in fact nuclear power has proven itself overwhelmingly safe, clean, economical, utlra low in CO2 emissions, and in fact THE ONLY alternative to fossil fuel that can successfully and economically replace it AND result in CO2 emission from making electricity so low it’s in the range of what is needed. France demontrated this. So did Sweden. So did the province of Ottowa in Canada. Indeed the ONLY places where CO2 output low enough to really fight climate change have been achieved in large, industialized nations or provinces has been where it’s been done using clean, safe, sustainable nuclear power. Such has never ben achieved… and never can remotely possible ever be achieved… by attempting to replace fossil fuel with “renewables” (solar and wind). Germany illustrates this particularly well. There electricity costs twice as much as in neighboring 89% nuclear France, and there CO2 emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity made are TEN TIMES that in neighboring near all nuclear France. But “Planet of the Humans” is silent about this centrally critical fact.

    I’d criticize Planet of the Humans, also, for having a touch… a brief touch, but still a malignant and vile one… of radiation o phobic hysteria mongering: It mentions uranium and thorium in the talings from mining of rare earth elements to make solar panels and wind turbines as source of harm and hazard when dumped out. This is a contemptible lie. U238 and Th232 have half lives of 4.5 billion and 14 billion years, respectively. Thus are “radioactive elements” that are very close to being NOT radioactive at all. The amount of radioactivity in such tailings from rear earth mining is 1000 to 10,000 or more times lower than the threhhold at which any harm what so ever, however minute, can be caused by radiation. But the anti-nuke liars and hysteria mongers who made “Planet of the Humans” saw fit to include that touch of deceit in their film. I condemn them for that. You folks here should, too. There are plenty of good reasons to condemn the fraud and scam that is renewable power… and the documentary does a pretty good job of doing so for the most part… without telling hysteria mongering lies about radiation.

    For the record… I am a life long mountaineer, backpacker, hiker, cyclist, ri\ver rafter and… in association with such… environmentalist. I’m also life long fighter for social justice around the planet. A far lefist. And I’m a physician (MD), with a science background (degree in biochemistry from Harvard). And a tireless advocate of intellectual honesty / scientific method / use of evidence based science in both science and medicine. Which has made me a strong pro nuclear advoate, and an equally strong opponent of the fraud and scam that is renewable (solar / wind / biomass) power. To the extent Planet of the Humans does a GREAT and accurate and honest job of debunking the myths about renewable power, I applaud it, and recommend it to all. But I’d caution anyone seeing it about its censorship of discussion of and few lies presented regarding nuclear power and radiation, and I’d also caution views about its very false (and in some ways intrinsically racist, actually) Malthusian theory that it presents. The lie that “less is the new more”. Not so, with effectively unlimited power available safely, cleanly, and sustainable near indefinitely (1000 to 10,000 or more years) via mature nuclear fission reactor technology that has been around for the last 60 years… and with even safer (tho more safety is not really needed), more efficient, less expensive, and easy and rapid to produce nuclear fission power from various 4th generation reactor designs to be available in the next 10 to 25 years.

  14. Wow, Tom Athanasiou is really scared! It’s hard for propagandists when the facts get equal time, eh Tom? But don’t worry, those cashing in on the ‘renewables’ scam will certainly help your funding.

    Wrote this to anyone long before Moore’s movie, so my be helpful, avert your eyes, Tom…
    http://tinyurl.com/y65belox

    Dr. A. Cannara
    650 400 3071 (call any time, Tom)

  15. Tom must be desperate to resort to such an offensive tone, or is simply an offensive person.
    Is he threatened by the verity of the film’s message – a documentary, which, by the way, is extremely well crafted, shot and edited for maximum impact?

    He seems ignorant of the plain fact that we are at a crucial junction in considering a sustainable path through the impending horrors of global warming ahead. Gibbs’s film informs us that choosing the tools to mitigate it should clearly avoid wind, solar, and battery sources for their ineffectiveness and environmental harm.

    I’d leave more of a comment for Tom, but as they say, you can’t argue with a closed mind .

    Btw, “Planet of the Humans” is absolute dynamite, and lays out the red carpet for nuclear’s grand entrance – after blowing away all other energy forms (excepting geothermal?)

  16. The problem of transmission limitations from remote renewables sources is not being treated in the Planet of the Humans movie nor in the rebuttal nor in other studies. I do transmission studies and the idea we will be bringing in hundreds of thousands of MWs in to a load area from sources 1000 miles distant is just not going to happen. Projects to do this are conceived and then discarded as not workable for many years now. A few projects make it but the majority are failures such as the Tres Amigas project to connect three regions together is a total waste of money. I was shocked to see the broken mirrors of Brightsource. I wondered what happened and why aren’t they being repaired? The growth in renewables is not accelerating but is slowing down as the transmission limitations kick in and the load areas are having a hard time accommodating the erratic generation of the distant wind and solar sources. My own studies show that about the maximum amount of renewable energy we can add to a system is about 50% of the total energy before major problems are encountered. Massive amounts of storage can increase this but not the seasonal storage problem which remains as a problem with no technical solution, not hydro nor hydrogen. We are going to have to have a totally new technology to make seasonal storage possible. I think the Planet of the Humans is a sobering reality check and even if it has its faults it is not technically incorrect except in the omission of transmission problems, which work against renewables.

  17. While the film may be aimed at a popular audience rather than a more scientifically sophisticated one, it’s my engineering opinion that Zehner’s analysis is still valid, as well as supported by other analyses that I reference here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333581837_Is_it_true_that_'Small_Is_Beautiful‘

    “We need a justice-based politics of planetary limits–with just transitions and fair shares all around. And it has to be a technologically sophisticated one.”

    Unfortunately, I don’t see how to reconcile human overpopulation with ecological realities anywhere near soon enough to achieve the ‘just and fair transition’ that many progressives dream of. Back in 1988 I got involved with the Greens, before they were a party, because they were all about integrating social and ecological sustainability. It was probably already too late then, and it’s even later now. Bill Moyer outlined a path that could have worked, but that was then: http://dedevelopingthroughnonviolence.blogspot.com/ . Since then, the soon-to-be-overdeveloped countries have been drinking the capitalist, fossil-fuel-addiction kool-aid, and we – the overdeveloped nations – are still not setting them a good example.

    Now about ‘technological sophistication.’ More overdevelopment is not the kind of sophistication we need. Rather, we need more psychological and spiritual sophistication, a development path that is less materialistic and consumerist. So far, most of what I see happening is progressives expecting to graft our existing fossil fuel lifestyles onto PVs and windmills. Ain’t going to happen. Why? Because you cannot build more than a very few PVs and windmills with the kind of power you can get from them. You cannot mine and refine the metals and minerals that would be necessary without fossil fuels. So we cannot just look at supply replacements; radical change is needed. And systemic change is needed; changes that are small individual changes like marginal recycling and ridesharing are nowhere near enough.

    I have outlined a more direct path here: http://bio-paradigm.blogspot.com/
    and here: http://work4sustenance.blogspot.com/

    In addition, this paper outlines various other challenges to sustainable investment: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256048802_Sustainable_Investment_Means_Energy_Independence_From_Fossil_Fuels

    So this reviewer seems to suffer from the same ‘innovation faith’ that got us here in the first place. That’s just business as usual. Even Amory Lovins, as smart as he is, is operating in that arena. But we need radical philosophical change, and that’s not exactly Lovins’ portfolio. I recommend this reviewer make another documentary, based on the work of Charles Eisenstein and Jon Young.
    https://charleseisenstein.org/books/climate-a-new-story/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbfwoaI9zJs&t=3558s

  18. You, just like the movie itsself, offer no answer to the issues raised.

    It is not good enough to simply point out problems.

  19. I’m not a scientist, but I find the combination of the film and the article above as well as many of the comments poses very interesting questions for the future of the planet. I have somewhat loosely followed some of the ideas involved in bio mimicry and feel like there is reason for hope in this area. I’m disappointed that it doesn’t come up in the comments and so, am just asking, why not? Is this whole topic (biomimicry) beyond the ken of the green movement at this time? Has it been discredited?

  20. While the film may be aimed at a popular audience rather than a more scientifically sophisticated one, it’s my engineering opinion that Zehner’s analysis is still valid, as well as supported by other analyses that I reference here: https://www.researchgate.net/…/333581837_Is_it_true…‘

    “We need a justice-based politics of planetary limits–with just transitions and fair shares all around. And it has to be a technologically sophisticated one.”

    Unfortunately, I don’t see how to reconcile human overpopulation with ecological realities anywhere near soon enough to achieve the ‘just and fair transition’ that many progressives dream of. Back in 1988 I got involved with the Greens, before they were a party, because they were all about integrating social and ecological sustainability. It was probably already too late then, and it’s even later now. Bill Moyer outlined a path that could have worked, but that was then: http://dedevelopingthroughnonviolence.blogspot.com/ . Since then, the soon-to-be-overdeveloped countries have been drinking the capitalist, fossil-fuel-addiction kool-aid, and we – the overdeveloped nations – are still not setting them a good example.

    Now about ‘technological sophistication.’ More overdevelopment is not the kind of sophistication we need. Rather, we need more psychological and spiritual sophistication, a development path that is less materialistic and consumerist. So far, most of what I see happening is progressives expecting to graft our existing fossil fuel lifestyles onto PVs and windmills. Ain’t going to happen. Why? Because you cannot build more than a very few PVs and windmills with the kind of power you can get from them. You cannot mine and refine the metals and minerals that would be necessary without fossil fuels. So we cannot just look at supply replacements; radical change is needed. And systemic change is needed; changes that are small individual changes like marginal recycling and ridesharing are nowhere near enough.

    I have outlined a more direct path here: http://bio-paradigm.blogspot.com/
    and here: http://work4sustenance.blogspot.com/

    In addition, this paper outlines various other challenges to sustainable investment: https://www.researchgate.net/…/256048802_Sustainable…

    So this reviewer seems to suffer from the same ‘innovation faith’ that got us here in the first place. That’s just business as usual. Even Amory Lovins, as smart as he is, is operating in that arena. But we need radical philosophical change, and that’s not exactly Lovins’ portfolio. I recommend this reviewer make another documentary, based on the work of Charles Eisenstein and Jon Young.
    https://charleseisenstein.org/books/climate-a-new-story/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbfwoaI9zJs&t=3558s

  21. More than any other popular presentation, Gibbs addresses the problem of the externalities that complicate ostensible solutions. The secondary and tertiary elements in the eco-equation too often are found only in the CVs of Board members and Directors. What does Ecoequity’s reveal? I haven’t looked, but, as even too blithe Gibbs behind the wheel reveals, none of us are innocent. Every keystroke is complicit, and the coincidental existential irony of covid shows how ancillaries and corollaries wag the dog. Heinberg is right to be cynical on the virtuous recycle; the physics are not elegant.

    Imperative is legal action to reduce emission to only the necessary. A class action under construction: suit against organizations that, despite climate and environmental evidence, promote recreational burning of hydrocarbon (eg, yacht clubs, road race associations, snowmobile and motorcycle clubs). Cause: their consumption for pleasure shows criminal negligence. Research proceeds.

    Gibbs comes closest of any popular work yet to aligning with that imperative, and we thank him for that.

    .

  22. Having read the opening blog post here I have two questions for Tom Athanasiou:

    1) Would you agree that some environmental organizations and high profile individual figures active on environmental issues can be and have been corrupted or influenced by funding or other formal relationships with private, for-profit corporations and/or wealthy individuals?

    2) Do you think that environmental organizations of all sorts, including EcoEquity, Earth Island Institute, and 350.org, have an obligation to be transparent about their funding sources, along with other formal relationships with private, for-profit corporations and/or wealthy individuals?

  23. In all the back and forth critiquing of the sciences and solutions proposed, the imperative to act successfully and in time to prevent irretrievable catastrophic changes is missing!

    The best Environmental proposals irrelevant if the bus has left the station.

  24. Reply to Murial Strand — I do not moderate comments. I deleted nothing.

    Reply to Kelvin Sherrah — Yes, and Yes.

  25. There is a rule for respectful discussion we follow in the DSA: assume good faith. Maybe because I know something about Tom’s values and politics this is easier for me (we’ve had our disagreements) but it would be a good rule to follow in this thread. And even though the film is sloppy in places, I’m going to apply the same rule to the film makers and producers. I believe they also wish to see a more equitable, sustainable world- like most of us.
    I appreciate the fact that the film has the courage to take on some sacred cows and their basic argument rings true- the environmental movement has failed to save the environment and the climate movement has not stopped emissions from rising. Green capitalism, as Richard Smith has written, is a God that failed. The story of unlimited resources is over.
    I would hate to see the discussion devolve into the simplistic- “technology: good or evil?” I believe renewables will be part of the future mix, despite the very real issues highlighted in the film, but energy will not be produced at “current levels” (despite Jakobson’s rosy models) Systems will need to be re-ordered so that GDP growth is no longer an imperative and culture will need to shift so we learn to make do with less. Rich nations will have to assume most of the burden and extractivism someday remembered as an ugly detour.

  26. Thanks David Jones, well said.
    There’s some reasonable perspective in the review but delivery is poor and closed minded.

    I agree with the (somewhat unsurprising) conclusion above:
    “Bottom line. This movie is a warning. The generation of environmentalism that Gibbs is critiquing here needs to be put to rest, once and for all. We need a justice-based politics of planetary limits–with just transitions and fair shares all around..”

    However, I stand to question “..and it has to be a technologically sophisticated one”.
    There’s so much scope yet for individuals to change their perception and expectations of energy use.

    The important note that’s being presented here, and which I find rather refreshing as far as media goes, is the need to universally use LESS.

  27. Tom, your analysis reminds me of the line, ‘ignorance drawled and spat out melon seeds’. You are one ignorant man of privilege that can’t see past your arse. Wake up dude…. time is short now….

  28. What’s not mentioned explicitly is that renewable energy has low energy returns. That’s because, as correctly shown in the documentary, extensive amounts of fossil fuels are needed for mining, manufacturing, and even shipping of not only components needed for renewable energy but also for most manufactured goods and food obtained from mechanized agriculture and processing. That’s why, as the documentary also shows, the world population together with resource consumption shot up after WW2, given extensive use of oil for industry worldwide plus the Green Revolution.

    Overall, when one considers both energy and material resources, the ecological footprint needed for the current world population to avail of basic needs (like that of an eco-village) can barely be met by biocapacity. Meanwhile, that population is set to increase further, with more people joining the world middle class, which means a much higher ecological footprint.

    This point is important because that should have been the main topic of the documentary: limits to growth. It hinted at such as it referred to fish stock depletion and others, but in the last points of the feature, but it spent too much time focusing on renewable energy.

    In short, the world faces limits to growth, as seen in peak oil, peak mining, peak fishing, etc., not to mention biocapacity vs. ecological footprint. Environmental damage and global warming are related predicaments which make matters worse. Add to this low energy returns for renewable energy, and the conclusion of the documentary stands. The bad news is that most people won’t choose to have less or no children and won’t consume less, especially given the fact that many are part of developing countries and want greater prosperity.

  29. Here’s what’s the near end game looks like for electricity production: coal plant practically non-existent, existing nukes with life extended as long as economically possible, a trivial number of new nukes deployed, gas infrastructure maintained as reserve, a reasonable amount of battery storage mainly for the grid services that they supply and vast amounts of renewables.

    This is based on two principles : all grids are oversized for reliability no matter whether they have renewables or not, they have supply equal to peak load plus a safety margin. IIRC the UK has about 75 GW of supply, peak demand is about 55 GW and average demand is 35 GW.

    This means that renewables will generally be over producing electricity. This can be used to electrolise water to produce hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel itself, but requires special infrastructure. So it makes sense to combine it with CO2 e.g. by the Sabatier reaction to produce methane aka natural gas. This can be used in existing infrastructure, which will keep the morons who have been building gas fired generating plant happy as they will be paid to keep their plant in reserve. Don’t get overexcited about that: capacity payments are nothing controversial.

    The methane can also be used to synthesise more complex hydrocarbons. This is all early 20th century science.

    BTW until methane synthesis gets really going, then the gas infrastructure might need to keep a few days of fossil natural gas in reserve. Not a big deal: 5 days reserve equates to a more than 98% reduction in fossil fuels.

  30. Absolutely agree Scott .

    Maybe the author can also acknowledge that the world NEEDS oil and gas? Any evidence to prove otherwise? Could it be that this film just made a waste out of what many have dedicated their life too? Could it be that facts don’t care about emotions?! I love that a lefty just took out leftist hypocrisy…. it’s fantastic. Get politics out of climate control and focus on FACTS!

  31. This film is a crafty piece of propaganda. That there is truth in it does not change its essential orientation–smear green energy–and anyone who has worked in the field. In the age of fake news, Gibbs et al are
    taking a page from Breitbart’s how to dossier on smearing Hillary.

    None of what Tom has said is an excuse for obfuscation of the facts or to deny or conceal in any way the larger problems at hand. Human beings (and human culture) are part of a 4 billion year co-extensive line of countless interplays of co-evolutionary events, both living and non-living. To be worth our salt, we must study to understand how all this has registered to make what is the truth of this world today and thereby, yes, begin to work towards creating a new paradigm for human culture (as an aside I’d say ours began with cogito ergo sum–the triumph of individual personhood…definitely something that must needs replacing). But to have any chance to do that, we have to give up the addiction to fossil fuels and the complex (military, economic, industrial, etc, that extends from the ponderous use of them. We can’t do that by simply shooting the imperfect voices who have begun the work of replacement. (Do we hate feminism because of some blunders about prohibition or some deep misunderstandings about genetics?) This film makes its first line of business to go after these people and to ridicule their mistakes in order to disparage the whole effort. That direction play fulfills the hopes of the fossil fuel industry itself and wittingly or no makes the mockumentary a tool for the worst form of propaganda. J’accuse!

  32. Thanks, Tom, for your answers to my questions. I guess I should have included a third and fourth question, as follows:

    3) Do you think Bill McKibben and 350.org meets that reasonable standard of transparency in disclosing funding sources,

    Based on Bill McKibben’s published “response” to this film, he complains of its unfairness in depicting him as a supporter of biomass as a renewable energy alternative to fossil fuels, citing articles he published in 2016, 2019 and 2020 critiquing it. Based on the content of this film, it would appear that this means that he moved dramatically from being a full-throated advocate to a careful critic without ever publishing a mea culpa or acknowledgement that he himself had been not just wrong but disastrously and consequentially wrong on a fairly important issue. I have really respected Bill’s work and leadership for many years, but this mis-step on biomass strikes me as a massive one that has been essentially papered over. Meanwhile, an entire sub-industry of biomass energy generation has emerged and continues to do actual damage to the work of transitioning to energy sources that reduce GHG emissions and mitigate climate damage. As such,

    4) Is it not reasonable to expect a leading figure such as Bill McKibben to offer his followers (myself included) more than just a quiet and unannounced shift of position on such an important issue? Why should it take a film like this for so many of us to learn about this ugly set of details?

    Most of us are non-specialists and are forced to rely on more technically trained specialists, including yourself, to sort out these details for us. Part of that task involves us sorting out which of these technical specialists can be trusted to remain independent of any funding sources (transparently disclosed) and to be honest and forthright about their views and any changes in those views. I for one am deeply disappointed to have learned that the trust I had placed in Bill McKibben and the 350.org organization may have been in error. (Unless, of course, your or anyone else can point to evidence or information that has not been published or made widely available that can set the record straight on this – I remain fully open to that).

  33. This flawed film is nevertheless a valuable contribution to the public discourse on environmentalism. It’s main thesis is that modern environmentalism is a failure. Many environmentalists concur, and while we may differ somewhat on the way forward, we probably all agree that we need more public discussion of these matters. Kudos to Gibbs and Moore for raising the issue.

    Contemporary mainstream environmentalism has degenerated into advocacy of technological solutions to climate change, narrowly understood as a matter of inefficient resource use. What environmentalism needs to become (again?) is a comprehensive critique of human overpopulation, overconsumption and overdevelopment and a movement aimed at creating societies with fewer people, more protected areas, and economies that support limited numbers of people comfortably rather than in luxury.

    The film is arguably unfair to Bill McKibben and the Sierra Club. But Bill and Michael Brune (SC executive director) are environmental leaders who are leading the movement astray.

    The film arguably gets the importance of quickly transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy drastically wrong. But contemporary environmentalists get the same issue wrong by inflating the importance of this transition, and failing to fit it in a larger context of limiting human demands on nature.

  34. I am glad that I am not alone in finding this film to bee terrible in content and form. From a film making points of view, it is a disaster. Michael Moore should take his name off it. It stands out in sharp contrast to all his other films. Also, I had never heard of Jeff Gibbs until this film showed up. I also know Tom Athanasiou to be a solid critical thinker on environment. He lectured my class at UCLA long ago and I still recall every detail of it.

    From the content point of view….
    I hope you don’t think that I can’t appreciate the good discussion on the contradictory nature of the renewable energy technology as a “sector” in the modern capitalist system, and the way in which energy is manufactured and distributed. I do and I am glad this film does a good job of x-raying that part of “renewables”. But this is a terrible film that makes one or two very good points and otherwise is in the gotcha genre like James O’Keefe and his takedowns of progressive orgs. In the end it does the whole misanthropy thing. Humans suck, they kill everything, end of story.

    I would be the last person to ignore commodity chain analysis and the linear economy. So I have never been a Pollyanna about solar and wind. But I never thought “green energy would save us” so the whole premise of the film is that too many people think it will and that they needed to be learned up on how it won’t. The critiques of the biomass and other renewables are so old hat that they are in my text book. But here we are invited to the “revelation” that biomass is too broad a category to be of any use and worse, that it IS the fossil fuel industry come back lie a Frankenstein.

    When the film said Michael Moore, I thought it was “the” Michael Moore. But it’s not. It’s Jeff Gibbs. Had Michael Moore made the film it would have delved deep into the corporations and the lobbyists and subsidies and investments and the system that shapes policy even when it’s supposed to be the “good” policy, like addressing climate change and GHG emissions and fossil fuels. It’s not that film. It’s a film that sets up a straw man, takes easy pot shots at greenie icons and leaves you where?…

    I got suspicious about this film with the gratuitous swipe at Bill McKibben where a local activist claims he does not care about wilderness destruction as long as it’s for renewables. For me, it started to go downhill from there. But I did not know that taking on Bill McKibben was a major part of the movie.

    At the halfway point they dust off Thomas Malthus and chalk it all up to human population. Up to this point the film is not about human population, demography, fertility or the geography of human population growth. The piece jumps right in with a disingenuous link with no prior discussion. The US population growth rate has been below (replacement, 2.0 TFR) since the 1970s). The US consumes most of the world’s energy at <4% of the global population, But raising this bugaboo in the middle of the film speaks to its poorly organized intellectual base and argument. Consumption, a central problem in the energy mix is not in fact discussed at all. It is taken as a given.

    The political problem with the film is its attempt to paint all assessments of the energy issue as equally wrong. Hence “the left thinks we can solar panel our way out of this mess and keep everything pretty much the way it is”. I don’t know anyone who thinks that, and I am as left as you can get. The straw man helps the film maker carve out a political space that pretends to be independent, yet It falls into psychologism and literary references (Camus and death) and avoids any realistic or natural (material) view. Suddenly we are in the lofty world of ideas.

    Then the film attacks full frontal Bill McKibben and 350.org. There is the whole direction of the film. Again the pivot is biomass and the contradictory role as a so called “renewable.” My environmental science class hears all about the problem of burning trees and calling it renewable and has for ten years. I’m glad Vandana Shiva was in it. But the accusation that the environmental movement in the persons of Sierra Club and Bill McKibben "has made a deal they should not have made and are leading us all off the cliff” is quite a charge. Greenwashing is not news to most of us. But the idea we can’t “blame it all on population because the billionaires donations won’t allow it” is rich. The Amazon part is disingenuous to put it mildly, juxtaposing Gore and Branson with tribal people being annihilated. And then it amped up to animal slaughter and wanton cruelty in Borneo and Sarawak. They found every button and pressed it even though the connection had been lost five minutes earlier. If you’re a vegan you’re gonna hate Bill McKibben. Good job Jeff Gibbs!

    I have nothing against getting some people off their pedestals. Al Gore, McKibben, Sierra Club, Vandana Shiva, Amory Lovins, Michael Pollan, Paul Hawken, David Brower, Ed Abbey are all fair game, yes to a point. But where did this film leave the viewer? What was the agenda of the film maker? Well, they go after NRDC (the org suing Trump over environmental laws), The Union of Concerned Scientists (full disclosure I am a member), Sierra Club, Treehugger.com, 350.org very effectively. And that doesn’t begin to look at WWF and EDF Conservation International, International Rivers, Survival International, and all the BENGOs (big environmental non-governmental organizations), that are tainted with corporate finances. I have to agree that capitalism has eaten the environmental movement for lunch (a major point in the film) but this film fails to take on the task of exposing that worth any depth. I cannot bring myself to the conclusion that they are all corrupt and not worthy of support (or donations?) Or that “awareness alone can bring the transformation”. That’s what Jeff Gibbs leaves us with, like "it’s not the CO2 molecule that’s destroying the planet, it’s us”. Right, let’s all jump into the existential angst of a petty bourgeois intellectual as the yardstick for evaluating what to do next.

    I’d rather read McKibben in the New Yorker.

    George

  35. It is intrinsically racist to call for “LESS”. Not to mention ignorant of the facts of what technology can sustainably cleanly safely provide, without any significant harm to the environment, atmosphere, climate, human health, etc.

    A billion people in Africa today are without electrical power. The arrogant racists who say “we need to produce and use less” would condemn them to a continuation of being without washing machines, radio, television, the Internet, and the myriad of things that improve our health and life so massively.

    Given that mature technology (“gen 3”) nuclear fission power plants (of the sort that have been been operating for the last 60 years) have proved they can produce all the power the world needs, cleanly, sustainably, economically and overwhelmingly safely… with CO2 output per kW-hr below the level all agree is needed to address global warming… and ONLY nuclear power can do this… and can do this for the next 1000 to 10,000 or more years… the call for “Less” is nothing other than a luddite, racist call, that flies in the face of what is easily demonstrated as safely and cleanly obtainable.

    And that’s without getting into the even MORE safe, more efficient, and MORE sustainable 4th generation nuclear reactor designs that are around the corner (on a time frame of 5 to 15 years) … because some run off thorium, which is 4 times more abundant than uranium.

    And it’s without getting into the possibility that uranium could be economically extracted from sea water (something being worked on now in China and elsewhere). Which, if achieved, would guarantee nuclear power for more like a million years.

  36. Ironically, the author wrote in the first version of this article:

    “… but though Heinberg is a nice guy, this is not his strong suit. I once asked Amory Lovins what to make of Heinberg’s argument, and he said, diplomatically, that his numbers were out of date. And this was some time ago.”

    A character assassination which, after being called out by Heinberg, was changed because the author had overlooked Heinberg’s 2016 book, and based himself on his 2009 book. Talk about being out of date.

    The way he rewrote the paragraph (the original is still on earthisland.org) shows how desperate he wants to talk Planet of the Humans down. Now Heinberg is no longer just a nice guy that has dated ideas, now he’s “an expert, but alas he is pessimistic. Exactly what Gibbs is looking for”.

    This is one of many reviews that reacts overly emotional. Just repeating over and over how bad and dated something is, doesn’t sound very convincing.

  37. Hi Tom, you seem downright indignant. Do you have a single piece of data on Al Gore or Bill McKibben that can stand against the claims made in the film?

  38. Gunny. As Tom points out this is a great piece for those that have searched endlessly to discredit anyone for their cause.
    Ralfy Mann says “What’s not mentioned explicitly is that renewable energy has low energy returns”. It is to this point that I ignore all the personal attacks on Tom , or his review, and can only come to the conclusion that someone I enormously respect, Moore , has been involved in making a documentary worthy of being called CRAP. Mann is right that one would come away not thinking that renewable energy had low returns , because anyone I talked to came away believing the video suggested it had ZERO returns. Based on many half truths (to be kind) , one would be excused for believing everyone in green energy was there for personal gain, and that other than profits, there was no gain to be had.
    As for those suggesting nonsense like the critics are ” scared , indignant , rude and generally crying because the game is up” Please , you sound like the same con artists floated by big tobacco in the 80’s and 90’s as they continued killing people by convincing them all the naysayers had alterer motives.
    I know Moore is not in it for money or fame…..why he would attach himself to this is a total mystery. Maybe he had a stroke or lost a bet…..lol

  39. Albeit acknowledging there are some embellishments, I find the movie spot on. Human kind currently excrements an order of magnitude more waste, most significantly CO2, than our planet Earth can recycle. No technology of any sort can resolve that, but that is exactly what the major environmental groups, e.g. Sierra Club, are green touting. Why? I don’t know; one needs to ask them. The Only solution is for people is to massively plant trees, proceed to reduce their energy consumption by 90% (i.e. instead of alternative energy, we need to realize the alternative to energy, and yes that means our lifestyles must radically change), quit buying non-essential stuff (particularly stuff from China), and most important of all is to quit making babies!

  40. Robert I agree with your point that we are screwing the planet, and by we I mean the people we need to stop. However , the video should have touched on some bright spots. Such as it appears carbon capture plants have some real potential based on the science as I know it. No one wants to stop at pulling the carbon out and using it as well, but if it is truly a big net positive then it is a step forward vs backwards. It would take a lot of them, but as one person pointed out, not as many as the electrical power plants that are already in existence. If carbon capture is also a failure in the making, they should have told us that as well.
    Just an opinion !

  41. Murray,
    There are many technologies that help with reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and also several technologies that help reduce with other world pollution problems as well, and we should do those things where it makes sense to do so. Yes, carbon capture is one of them. I’ll go on to say even bio-mass plants given that enough trees can be grown to support these plants in a sustainable way are ecologically viable. However, all these technologies should they ever be fully implemented will not come close to offsetting the pollution created by the world’s current energy demand. In the case of bio-mass plants not enough trees can be grown on this planet to supply the energy currently used. (Current plants are too big.) Also, all these green technologies when implemented on a necessary scale will create their own environmental problems. Pushing CO2 into the ground at the rate we are producing it will upset the ground. Basically, and speaking as an engineer who has studied the subject for many years, there is no alternative to carbon fuel other than to dramatically reduce consumption of our energy in general. That is the jest of Michael Moore/Jeff Gibbs’ movie. There is this notion out there that we can keep on living like we are if only “green technology” can be put in plase. That is not true. The human race is simply way, way, way out of line.

  42. Please don’t be shy about bashing Heinberg. He is a doom and gloom obsessed apocalyptic thinker/preacher who egregiously cherry picks data to support his totally fallacious obsessive-compulsive world view. He cannot even be credibly called an analyst.

  43. Dear Mike;

    Actually, the reason I rewrote the section on Heinberg is that he wrote me to point out the 2016 book. Which I then quoted in detail. Sorry, but I have read three of his books, and I did not think I have to study the whole opus to have an opinion. I really did ask Lovins for his view, which he gave, diplomatically and publicly.

    By the way, having now had a chance of looking at the 2016 book, I am not particularly impressed. It’s solid, but very pessimistic, and I can’t see that it does a proper life-cycle analysis. At the end of the day it’s view of the potential of renewables strikes me as being both wrong and counter-productive, though it is taken as gospel in some circles.

    I’m collecting pointers to the net energy debate — Josh Fox has one on his Nation review and Alan Weisman just sent me another:

    “The substantial carbon investment in building wind turbines and solar panels is certainly true: Ken Caldeira and Nathan Myhrvold once wrote a detailed paper (Environ. Res. Lett. 7 – 2012) calculating the amortization of carbon inputs of renewable infrastructure to be 40-50 years before truly carbon-free energy results. (I’m not sure what it is for nuke plants, but surely significant.) But as you point out, renewable technology now takes these realities into account, and, such as in the area of storage, keeps improving.”

    I have to say, the tone of many of these comments is strange. I seems like my great sin is to not believe that we are doomed.

  44. The fundamental flaw in the movie that destroys it is that it assumes that where we are now is where we want to be. No one is happy with where we are. We can’t just flip a switch and be ecologically sound. It’s a learning process and it’s an ongoing process. The good things will be replicated and improved upon and the bad things will be abandoned. And yes. There are con men out there that will sell people on snake oil. We have to do something about them too. The movie just shits on everything even trying to be green as failure. And that’s just disingenuous. I’m incredibly disappointed that Michael Moore allowed his name to go on this. It’s just a horrible horrible mess of misinformation and what in a few instances seems to be intentional misdirection.

  45. Seems to me many of Moore’s assertions have not been addressed in this film review. Way to light on specifics and more concerned with name calling. I believe each assertion in the film needs to be specifically addressed point by point before we try to easily sweep in under the popular green carpet movement.

  46. Life from personal through family experience, religion, the corporate and military worlds, and–as above so below,–above all (or below all?) the unified world of politics and finance… has left the young on which we project so much of our hope, preternaturally cynical. It’s without the experience to justify it except experience of television, movies & music videos. The ever-more certain & ever more horror-stricken awareness that they’ll gain that experience very soon strikes the elders too, with paralyzing horror. In a world of very briefly rising XR/AOC/Sunrise-kindled hopes, the imminent crushing of young people overwhelms our ability to draw normal breath.

    Or is that just the fire season beginning early again? \

    The worst thing for it is the betrayal of those we trusted.

    Moore hasn’t just destroyed their ability to trust him, he’s destroyed much of what little there was of their ability to trust at all. Those with reasonable expectations that IF we could overcome the insanity of the lunatic right wing duopoly party (and believing, beyond all their brief experience that we could) we could save at least some of what we love, now may give up and search for personal aggrandizement. We still might save what’s necessary to preserve civilization, but how many will still be able to summon that dangerous hope for themselves or the world? Moore needs to enter a period of isolation, mourning and reflection; losing–just as a side effect—75 pounds, and come out chastened, apologetic, wiser, Buddhist monk-like, and dedicated to helping the transition to a psychologically and ecologically regenerative civilization.

  47. The very idea of carbon offsets is a joke because the damage is already done! This movie was trying to highlight the hypocrisy of our current situation. The idea of extracting our way to climate safety is a delusion. Capitalism and sustainability are simply incompatible. It’s time for a paradigm shift.

  48. I watched Planet of the Humans last night and read several critiques, including this one. I think some of the criticism is fair, but the one thing that I don’t hear from the environmental movement is the problem of overpopulation and overconsumption, which to my mind exacerbates every ecological, economic, social and political issue we face. This film addressed that, while other environmental documentaries have not. Increased numbers of humans means more consumers and a cheaper labor force which explains why banks, billionaires and their corporations don’t have an interest in discussing it. Try calling sociopathic leaders like the current leaders of the Republican party on their bullshit as this critique suggests and see if they give a damn. They’re just going to keep doing what they do–enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else–unless we stop them.

    Technological solutions to environmental destruction are part of the solution, but not the entire solution. Getting people to understand that putting wealth and profit above principle, conscience and the limits of our planet is a good thing. There are other species that have every right to thrive here as we do. If we forget that, nature will take care of the imbalance and it won’t be just or fair; increasingly destructive fires, hurricanes, floods and pandemics are testament to that.

    My wife and I do our small part by driving an all-electric car, generating power from 18 solar panels on our home, recycling everything we can and using only LED lightbulbs. I am 99% vegan other than an occasional piece of salmon, and I think that if we were not eating animals, I doubt the coronavirus would have jumped as easily as it did from animal to human. This film addressed the truth that it’s not only fossil fuels that are the problem, there are other equally serious concerns including animal agriculture, mining, deforestation, overconsumption and overpopulation that need to be addressed.

    Technology saves lives, enhances life, makes life more enjoyable and interesting. It also has given us the means to make nuclear bombs, bio- and chemical weapons, and has polluted our air, water, soil and atmosphere. Capitalism and Wall Street largely (with exceptions) seem to not know, or not care, about these distinctions. Maybe the problem is more about caring than technology.

  49. I watched Planet of the Humans and the take home message for me was ‘buyer beware’. When it comes to such important technologies it is essential to ask the hardest questions, demand all the data, read between the lines and insist on responsibility for both social and environmental consequences. Population growth and consumption are drivers of both social and environment destruction including climate change/global warming. Another pernicious driver is the socioeconomic context of profit-driven capitalism that is based on individualism, greed and limitless growth. Infinite material growth in a materially finite system is not possible. I contend that growth is a euphemism for more and more is the universal drug of choice for all addicts. Perhaps the film should have been titled Planet of Confusion: The United States of Addiction and Land of Denial.

  50. I don’t agree that this doco is crap, for the simple reasons that it raises some fundamental questions AND some troubling – let’s call a spade a shovel – corruption… Hello Al…
    The suggestion by some , who obviously didn’t quite catch the end, that this is pessimism embodied is just crap. Looking at reality does disturb those who cannot see past the tip of their noses, but there it is: people in general need to change radically their idea of what lifestyle should be and what their aspirations are.
    If that doesn’t happen – and I for one fully agree with Moore – then it ain’t some cheap green talk that’s going to take us out of the dead end we’re in. It’s undeniable.
    Is it possible? Probably not, but the fact remains.
    Is it “pessimistic”? Well looking at humans spending more on weapons than on schools, I can see very little to be “optimistic”about. Just a quick glance at the current administration’s rethoric will convince anyone with a brain that things aren’t exactly looking great…
    People have become lazy, it’s a fact, and unless they are prepared to revolt, it will be more of the same disasters and destruction we are notorious for.

  51. I appreciate this forum.  I learned a lot particularly regarding the complexity of net energy returns and costs. I could have done without the personal attacks on the reviewer. But then that’s is the unfortunate nature of social media.  I did, however, read the more substantive arguments when they existed even by those that must resort to personal attacks.  I also note with equal parts mirth and irony that probably everyone commenting here (myself included) is very happy to have their “essential” electricity to pontificate on this forum.

    To me this film just misses the mark. First, in its assertion of the problem; that renewable industries are no better than fossil fuel industries. Second, in its vague, fuzzy, implied solution; population control to downsize energy consumption.  Because of these flawed premises this poorly constructed film avoids the world’s primary energy use contradictions like the plague.  Rather than focus on the fossil fuel industries it goes after renewables with a vengeance.  That renewables are the biggest greenwashing propaganda lie of our times.  This is supposed to land as a shocking new truth that almost no one is aware of.  It landed with a big thud and a long yawn to me.

    Of course, there are many contradictions within the renewables movements.  This film cherry picks a few of the worst highly centralized examples of renewable energy like the awful, massive, centralized solar projects in the Mojave desert.  Duh, that’s the way capitalism operates.  But decentralized, solar panels on residential rooftops is a very smart ecological thing to do for home energy use. This film makes no distinction between those two things. Of course, renewable energy is preyed upon by capitalist opportunists. What isn’t?  But is renewable energy our primary energy contradiction? Not even close.  It doesn’t even pass the laugh test. The film has absolutely no idea what a primary contradiction is.  When you decide to attack Bill McKibben (350.org) instead of the fossil fuel industries this is someone completely and utterly lost. There is a reason that Breitbart and the right wing fossil fuel industry love and promote this film.

    Obviously, massively reducing energy consumption especially in first world countries is the root of an effective solution.  This requires a difficult and complex kind of social re-engineering of everything from transportation, commercial and residential building design, the notion of unlimited airline and car travel, etc.  Basically, the notion of growth in general and growth in energy production in particular has to be put to rest.  Capitalism is an economic system fundamentally based on continued growth.  So that is the primary contradiction.  Too bad the film only makes a passing reference to the real root of the problem.

    Instead this film is incredibly reactionary.  The source of problem (and thus the root of the solution) is overpopulation.  Indeed, the number of people on the planet is way more than it can sustain within our current, insane energy and commodity use patterns. One possibility would be to reduce the number of people consuming.  But how to go about changing that without authoritarian population control methods?  No one seems to be able to answer that question without resorting to deeply racist and reactionary policies. There happens also to be another approach though; reduce overall consumption itself.  As many have noted in their critique’s of the film, energy consumption is vastly disproportionate toward wealthier, low birth rate countries. So any implied notion of population control beyond its reactionary application is not even an effective solution to the nature of contemporary energy over-consumption.  

    I find it sad and completely off target that Gibbs and Moore chose to go down these roads.  Especially given the many more relevant and interesting primary contradictions they could have chosen instead for a film.  I just hope that not too many others join the fossil fuel industry in championing this deeply flawed and reactionary film. It is in the fossil fuel industries interest that you do so.    

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  53. The point my friends is simple and can cut through all of this: there are too many of us, we consume too much and it has to stop or we are doomed. Stop making babies. Stop shopping. Stop driving. Grow your own food. Stop taking so damn many showers and recycle water. Just stop over-consuming. That is the point.

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