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Planet of the Humans (2019)

3.5 ·
28

A Note from Films For Action (Last Updated 5/26): Since the film was taken down from Youtube we have replaced the video with a mirrored version.

While we believe the film is worthy of a good critique, we don't support the campaign to have the film removed from Youtube, and we definitely don't support abusing copyright law (in a clear case of 'fair use') to accomplish that goal.

Please join us in promoting critical engagement with the film. Our full statement is below:

When Planet of the Humans first came out, we added it to the site before watching it because we trusted Michael Moore's track record of releasing quality films that are factually accurate. After we watched it, we had issues with the film but assumed it was factually accurate, since Michael knows his films will be rigorously fact-checked.

While the film makes many important points, we are disheartened and dismayed to report that the film is also full of misinformation (12345678) - so much so that for half a day (on April 24th) we removed the film from the site.

When Josh Fox first contacted us to discuss the problems with the film,  we were initially convinced by his argument to "retract" the film, as a journalist would do for a misleading article. Ultimately, we decided to put it back up because we believe media literacy, critique and debate is the best solution to the issues with the film.

Taking the film down turns the issue into a rather messy debate about censorship and only half a day proved our gut feelings on this was correct. We say messy because the film is officially hosted by Youtube. We're not the distributor, as Fox incorrectly claimed. We're an independent publisher that holds itself responsible to the 5 principles of journalism. Not promoting misleading info (as we can best discern) is a basic responsibility of publishers that value accuracy

However, we quickly realized that taking the film down in the context of Josh's retraction campaign was only going to create headlines, generate more interest in the film, and possibly lead people to think we're trying to 'cover up the truth,' giving the film more power and mystique than it deserves.

Nothing drives interest and curiosity in something more than reports that activists are trying to get the film "banned" or taken down, and we don't want to contribute to that.

Since Films For Action was founded in 2006, we've believed that media-literacy and critical engagement with all media is the best antidote to misinformation.

To us, that means acknowledging the film's merits (123, 4) as well as its significant flaws. It's not obvious which parts of the film are misleading simply from watching it. Reading reviews and critiques of the film is pretty much required. 

If you're short on time, we recommend reading the top 3-6 reviews below, plus our commentary below the reviews.

 

Reviews

(Media Literacy Note: We should apply our critical thinking skills to these reviews as much as the film. To us, this means giving credit to an author's good points while taking stock of any weak points, but not allowing the weak points to discredit the good points, or allow the good points to let us mentally gloss over or excuse the weak points. We should evaluate each argument on its own merits.

We should also be wary of motivated reasoning and confirmation bias. If we liked the film, we may scan reviews for objections but quickly find reasons to dismiss fair arguments while focusing on the weakest arguments, giving us a reason to dismiss the review entirely. Likewise, if we find ourselves critical of the film, we may gloss over or accept weak arguments uncritically while failing to acknowledge the film's merits.

Ultimately, we don't see reviews as a means to prove or disprove whether the film is good or bad. We see them as a media literacy exercise through which we can learn more about all the issues the film brings up. We've learned a ton from reading the reviews below. Clicking on many of the links in the reviews (including many of the links we've sourced below) have sent us on all sorts of rabbit-hole journeys of knowledge discovery. If we all embrace this spirit of curiosity, the journey is sure to be time well spent.)

 

1. Review of Planet of the Humans: What They Get Right and the Environmentalists Get Wrong - Paul Fenn

2. ‘A Bomb in the Center of the Climate Movement’: Michael Moore Damages Our Most Important Goal - Bill McKibben

3. Michael Moore’s environment film a slap in the face on Earth Day - Cathy Cowan Becker

4. Let's Just Have a Think... a 30-minute video review by Just Have a Think.

5. Triggered: “Planet of the Humans” & A Call for Emotional Intelligence - the Good Grief Network

6. Richard Heinberg's Review (Richard is one of the "good guys" featured in the film. We've long held a lot of respect for him. If you value a diversity of perspectives in your media diet, his voice is an important one)

A Missed Opportunity - Rebel Bass

Bill Mckibben and a Call to Hold People in Their Fullness - Tim Hjersted

Connect the dots - Why we still need the green new deal plan for 100% clean energy (podcast)

The Solar Nerd's Review 

6 Reasons Why “Planet of the Humans” is a Disaster of Misinformation - Ben Wehrman

Skepticism Is Healthy, but POTH is Toxic - Vote to Survive

POTH, a weak documentary on sustainable energy - Thijs Ten Brinck

This review of Biomass (it is indeed awful)

Films For Action's 12 Thoughts about Planet Of The Humans (a remixed version of this statement)

"Damn Dirty Humans!": 'Planet Of The Humans' And Progressive Denial - John Halstead

The Great Giving Up (and The Film that Made It Worse) - Ketan Joshi

5/12 Michael Moore's old fact-checker has responded to the film:

 


 

The fact that this film requires so much additional reading to avoid being misinformed is a good illustration of how good propaganda works: Too many people either don't have time to fact check or won't take the time, and so the misinformation sticks while the finer points get lost.

However, the film offers an excellent media literacy exercise for those willing to engage with it on that level - in terms of how documentaries have the power to enlighten or deceive, depending on how the medium is wielded, and in terms of using the film as a springboard to learn more about the issues it tackles. We've personally learned a lot about renewable energy in the last week, from reading reviews of the film, so I can give the film kudos for that.

We hope everyone reading this chooses to take the media literacy journey with us.

Ultimately, the film raises a discussion that we absolutely need to be having. Even though it messes up quite a few details along the way, I think Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore are sincere when they say they want this film to help the environmental movement move forward. 

Personally, we're still digesting the film, but here are some thoughts we have so far:

 

*1. We still need to transition to 100% renewable energy. There is no other option. But the delusion that we need to dispel (which the film gets right) is the idea that renewables can power our industrial civilization as is, and that these technologies are entirely 'green' when they are themselves still harmful.

They are far less harmful and more sustainable than fossil fuels, and therefore we need to get to 100% renewables as fast as possible, but scaling up these energy sources to meet the energy demands of our current civilization will be impossible and highly damaging to the planet if we go on thinking the raw materials for these things are infinite.

We need to power-down our civilization. Renewables + dramatically reduced consumption of energy and resources is the solution - not simply renewables alone, and our capitalist/consumer society has not grasped that reality.

We believe that is the most important takeaway from the film - but it's pretty unfortunate that the film makes some pretty erroneous claims along the way (like when Ozzie Zehner says, "You would have been better off just burning fossil fuels in the first place, instead of playing pretend.”).

Again, read the top 4 reviews above for more on that. We avoided repeating what's in those reviews for brevity.

*2. Green capitalist co-opting of environmental groups is a serious problemThis has been a critique within the environmental movement for a long time, hence the ever-lasting tension between mainstream groups and the groups that always seem to get far less attention, including in this film.

*3. Despite the film's flaws, the film is asking us to come to terms with some difficult realities which we have yet to face: namely, that sustaining our infinite growth, industrial civilization on renewables is neither desirable nor possible, yet that is exactly what green capitalists are intent on pursuing.

We need to Power Down. We need Economic Degrowth. (Click the links!)

Instead of 'growing the economy' forever - which amounts to ecological devastation of the planet year after year for the sake of 'profit' - we should focus on growing everything that actually matters in reality: biodiversity, wilderness restoration, healthy soils, air and water, human happiness and wellbeing, social trust, and meaning in our lives.

*4. At what point are we going to decide, politically, that we ought to share the last remaining bits of wilderness on Earth with the rest of the community of life? At what point are we going to stop bulldozing the wilderness at the edges of every city and say enough is enough? For this reason, we think small-scale, decentralized solar & wind energy should be pursued over large-scale, centralized projects. This means we'd be putting solar and wind on rooftops in the cities and already "developed" land, allowing us to leave more land untouched.

*5. Overpopulation - it's complicated. It's true we can't keep growing forever, in the same way we can't keep consuming the Earth forever, but in high-consumption countries, populations are already declining, and in areas where populations are still growing, the "impact on Earth" is still low compared to the impact of "rich" nations. The truth is, pinning our problems on population lets industrial capitalism off the hook - what Daniel Quinn called the culture of maximum harm.

*6. The film never once mentions permaculture? As the editor of this site, I'm aware of hundreds of positive ideas, solutions and experiments in new ways of living all around the world, which are essentially answers to the filmmakers' despairing question, "where do we go from here?" It's painful to think about how all this positive knowledge is still not getting the attention it deserves while this FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt) is getting the global spotlight.

*7. The film has created a heightened awareness of our energy and consumption problems. This is an opportunity for us to point people towards the best solutions, knowledge and resources that can guide us in the right direction. A few sites that come to mind: Energy RealityThe Post Growth EncyclopediaTransition NetworkResilienceThis library. What else?

*8. It's true, we'll never have ecological sustainability without limits to growth.

 


 

Even More Reviews

How did Michael Moore become a hero to climate deniers and the far right? - George Monbiot

A ReHeated Mess of Lazy, Old Myths - Ketan Joshi 

Michael Moore's 'Planet of the Humans' documentary peddles dangerous climate denial -  Dana Nuccitelli 

Moore’s Boorish Planet of The Humans: An Annotated Collection - A Siegel 

EcoEquity's Review (on why the bad stuff ruins the film as a whole, despite its good points) 

Bill McKibben's first response

Director Jeff Gibbs' response to Bill McKibben (published April 30th)

The Important Debate Planet of the Humans Misses - Kate Aronoff

Michael Moore, Filmmakers Respond to Criticism of Planet Of The Humans - The Hill Interview

Planet of the Humans backlash - Yves Engler 

Setting the Record Straight About Renewable Energy - World Resources Institute

 


 

Want to discuss the film with us? Feel free to get in touch here or on Twitter.

Want to know more about us? Check our About page.

 


 

So Where Do We Go From Here?

No matter what you thought of the film, perhaps there is one thing we can all agree on:

Our industrial civilization (predicated on infinite growth and built upon a once-in-a-lifetime supply of cheap fossil fuels) cannot be sustained. 

We're like a plane 10,000 feet in the air and our engines are about to blow out. How can we make a controlled descent? How can we power-down our civilization to thrive at vastly lower consumption and energy levels?

Here are 20 films that tell me "it's not all hopeless."

To be clear, if saving civilization as it exists was the goal, then it's true, the future is looking bleak.

But for billions around the world, civilization, as it exists, is the problem and is not worth saving. Just ask any of the indigenous cultures who are still resisting the bulldozers of our civilization's daily expansion, for a little 'big picture' perspective on that.

Our task is to imagine and design an ecological civilization that can thrive at vastly lower energy and consumption levels - a civilization based not on the old paradigm of "sustainable development" but on ecological regeneration - where the human presence on the Earth generates higher and higher levels of biodiversity and ecological health.

These films point us in the direction we need to go.

 


 

More Commentary

*4/29 Despite the film's scathing critique of mainstream environmental groups, the filmmakers have been surprisingly conciliatory in their post-release discussion. As Michael Moore said in a podcast, "We're not coming after you, we need you." And as Jeff Gibbs echoed in an interview with Rising: "We don't attack any environmental leaders. We need our environmental leaders. We're just in the wrong story." It's a bit sad though that tons of people watching the film are probably not taking the same, compassionate stance.

 

*When we listen to the filmmakers speak about what they hope people will get from the film, we agree with their meta-level conclusions (that we need to question our economic addiction to growth, to reduce our consumption, to challenge capitalist greenwashing, and to realize renewables aren't going to save us, at least without making some other major changes). When Gibbs talks about us being in "the wrong story," we couldn't agree more.

 

*Jeff Gibbs said in the interview with Rising that he doesn't believe in or argue for "population control" of any kind. Since we agree with Bill McKibben that we should avoid "bad faith" assumptions and arguments, we'd say that charges of the film promoting "ecofascism" fall into this category. 

 

*As Cornell West has said, we don't believe in canceling anybodyWe believe we're all brothers and sistersWe wrote a guide to compassionate activism because we don't believe love and compassion are luxuries. They are essential to human survival. While we may find ourselves in disagreement, it's important to recognize that we're all on the same team - yes, even the people who oppose us - they're just parts of our family who are tragically bound up "in the wrong story" - the story that sees us as separate from nature and each other. 

 

*5/7 This is how the right-wing site Breitbart is writing about the film:

"Moore has backed the most powerful, brutally honest and important documentary of his career. It’s also by far his bravest because it not only confronts the modern left’s greatest shibboleth — “clean” energy — but it does indeed offer a great deal of succour to Moore’s avowed enemy President Donald Trump.

It might even help Trump clinch the next presidential election for it undermines the entire basis of the Green New Deal being pushed in one form or another by his opponents. Renewable energy, the documentary makes abundantly clear, is not the solution to the problem — but an even bigger problem than the one it is supposedly solving."

"Renewable energy, it tells us, is not clean energy but dirty energy because it does tremendous damage to the environment. The people who make money out of it are the worst kind of crony-capitalists. Anyone who claims to believe otherwise is either an idiotic dupe or a wicked liar.

Though I’ve written about this myself in countless Breitbart columns, I’m a conservative writer largely preaching to the choir. Coming from two ardent leftists, on the other hand, and aimed at least in part at a leftist audience, the message of Planet of the Humans is dynamite."

 

5/13 Podcast: "Why We Still Need the Green New Deal Plan for 100% Clean Energy:  In response to the Michael Moore film Planet of Humans, Stanford Professor Mark Z  Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineer who is one of the architects of the energy transition plan foundational to the Green New Deal discusses the current state of solar, wind, hydro-electric and more to move usrapidly from fossil fuel dependent energy to 100% Renewable Energy (with 2030 as the target for an 80% transition)— in conversation with Alison Rose Levy."

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