Climate & Environment Reviews

The Crank Aesthetic of ‘Planet of the Humans’

A review.

Yesterday I watched Planet of the Humans, Jeff Gibb’s expose of the green energy movement which has caused a few ripples, partly due to the fact that Michael Moore is an executive producer on the documentary which gives it more of a platform than it might otherwise have had.

The short version: Poorly researched, badly argued, and frankly it’s not even particularly well made. If there is a case to be made this is not the way to make it.

Quibbles: If you’re going to have a narrated documentary on a crucial topic for the future of humanity why not choose a narrator whose voice is not a relentlessly flat monotone. They went to all the effort of making an intricate meal but then just slopped it into a bucket.

More generally the whole film has something I’ll call a “crank aesthetic”. From the vox pops with randoms standing on a hillside who say things like “Oh, this company director is corrupt. At least that’s what I heard.” (not an exaggeration) to the experts sitting in front of bookshelves just simply saying “there are too many people” and then cut to something else (not an exaggeration) to the bizarrely conspiratorial thread where people like Al Gore are painted as consciously working to destroy humanity for unknown reasons based on the film makers’ unwillingness to understand arguments they don’t agree with.

In fact the crank aesthetic is reinforced with extraordinary bad faith arguments which cannot be the product of anything except dishonesty. For example painting outspoken critic of biomass Bill McKibben as a supporter of biomass who personally financially benefits from it is just a lie. Not a mistake. A lie, born of refusing to see anything except what they want to see.

Early in the film we are treated to a number of “engineers” saying things like “you can try to power your home through solar panels but the sun doesn’t shine all the time, does it?” and “these wind turbines cost a lot to make, but sometimes the wind dies down, so you might as well have used fossil fuels” and “this eco-festival was unable to provide all its own power with portable solar and wind and had to rely on the grid as a backup”.

This begs a number of questions but the one that looms largest for me is… Do the film makers think there are human beings who don’t know this? In their mind’s eye are there hosts of people putting up solar panels who are unfamiliar with the concept of night time?

There is a debate to be had on topics like the embedded carbon in “carbon neutral” infrastructure, especially in some of the early mega projects, and the difficulties involved in the storage of energy – but this ain’t it. Not by a long chalk.

I mean if you want to discuss how efficient trial solar panel projects were 15 years ago please feel free but best not to represent them as examples of what is happening now. Time has not stood still and the technology has developed partly due to a necessary learning curve that involved early, imperfect, projects.

Occasionally someone makes a valid or interesting point, in just the same way that a person who knows nothing about a subject who rambles on for over an hour and a half will, from time to time, say things that are completely correct. It doesn’t make them a great conversationalist though, does it?

There’s a five second segment where someone says that focusing on energy production ignores the fact that we can’t go on living the way we are now. Yes, but it’s this film that focuses on production without discussing how society needs to change, not the environmental movement.

A lot of people have responded to the documentary by saying how depressed it made them, due to its extreme pessimism around energy production solutions. Personally it depressed me because some people will think that because it’s a film endorsed by Michael Moore then its arguments have some substance.

by Jim Jepps

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