Film review – Planet of the Humans

The future of renewable energy is in projects built with quality materials and controlled by communities, not big energy corporations — just one of the ways ‘Planet of the Humans’ misses the mark

A new Jeff Gibbs film presented by legendary filmmaker Michael Moore is making waves on the internet.

It’s called Planet of the Humans, and its premise is that “We humans are poised to fall from an unimaginable height.” Not because of one thing alone, but because there are 7 billion of us, and we have irrevocably altered Earth’s ecosystems. The film wants you to believe that renewable energy won’t solve the climate crisis, but offers no solutions other than to conclude that the problem is not carbon — it’s us.

Understandably, the film is directing a lot of questions to our inbox, so we’re giving it a review.

Planet of the Humans is hard-hitting, and often hard to watch. If you are vulnerable emotionally at this moment, save it for a day when you are feeling strong.

Two fatal flaws

First, the film takes a nasty swing at the environmental establishment. In doing so, it references Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina based advocacy organization with no relation to us besides having a similar name.

Second, the film uses outdated and inaccurate information to undermine the case for renewable energy — an industry that has changed beyond recognition in the past decade — and embraces tired climate-denialist stereotypes that belong in the past. For anyone who has come away feeling depressed about renewables, we heartily recommend reading this epic takedown of all the ways the film mis-represents wind and solar — which makes it abundantly clear that these projects have far lower net emissions than fossil fuels. Trust us, you’ll feel better.

Taking aim at greenwash

It does accurately call B.S. on mega-corps and high profile institutions claiming the title of renewable energy champion after simply switching one solid fuel for another. Controlled by the same people backing other extractivist endeavours, the biomass industry is rapidly liquidating forests to feed boilers in steam-turbine power plants. The film also aims tough questions at the green campaigns funded by fossil fuel corporations.

Dogwood is proud to be predominantly supported by individual British Columbians. Our campaigns are people-powered, and we don’t take money from extractivist corporations. We’re believers in Local Power — decentralized, renewable energy that benefits communities, not Big Energy. We see projects built with quality materials and controlled by communities as part of the solution. Unfortunately, those aren’t featured in Planet of Humans, which cherry picks projects and relies on biased commentators to make its case.

The straight goods

We agree that we need to face where industrial capitalism has brought us. We know the time to bend the curve is now. Our job is to demonstrate how to do that in B.C. For Dogwood, that means electrifying everything we can to help get off fossil fuels, supporting Indigenous communities fighting for their right to build and control their own energy projects, and buying ourselves time to make deeper shifts. As COVID-19 has shown us, cleaner air and water is possible, and we can live with less.

Yes, renewable energy is not a panacea, and the environmental movement hasn’t always got it right. Undoubtedly, we in the G20 are using and emitting more than our share. However, telling millions of viewers that renewable energy is a scam also helps those profiting from the status quo keep things the way they are.

We’re giving this one a thumb’s down. If filmmakers want to contribute to a better future, the place to start isn’t by tearing down the hard, contradictory, messy work of building one.

15 Responses to “Film review – Planet of the Humans”

  1. Jim Leuba says:

    Yes, Moore’s film has outdated info on solar & wind, but the basic message is still valid. There is nowhere enough Renewables to replace fossil fuels IF WE EXPECT TO LIVE AS WE DO. Yet that is the message enviro NGOs are preaching. At this moment fossil fuels power 85% of North American energy consumption. All the solar & wind built in the last 20 years has only covered the increase in energy consumption. Solar & wind facilities have a 25 year life span, then they have to be re-manufactured. The Saudis have been pumping oil from wells for 40 years that have another 40 years of production. Fear of climate change has produced little change, It took a virus to knock out 95% of commercial air travel. To avoid the catastrophe of climate change, commercial flying, most driving, most house heating has to stop and soon AND we have to build some monstrous ,as yet not designed , factories to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and bury the CO2 back in the ground where we found it (down oil well shafts). Basically the movie is an obituary for “modern life”. Image that, you got to read your own obit!

  2. John Yarmak says:

    Thank you for doing this. I was disturbed after seeing it as it left me with a ‘what’s the use feeling’. I feel better now.
    You folks at Dogwood may point this out to Democracy Now! and they may take up the cudgels and have Moore and/or you folks expose this.
    John Yarmak

  3. Dan Dickmeyer says:

    What got my attention from the get go was that very introduction suggesting the role that our increasing population with the accompanying resource requirement is dooming us to failure. I don’t think the environmental movement has paid nearly enough attention to this. There is a way to control population growth without it being “racist”, a common accusation. First off giving women the right to control their bodies world wide and of course an end to poverty and hunger. That said I appreciate this review and other critiques and am sad that Moore and company did not do such a great job of being timely. I still think people should see it and have open discussions with people they agree and disagree with, as this forum is presenting. I think it is about time I made a donation.

  4. Roderick MacDonald says:

    Dogwood’s review of Planet of the Humans is honest and even handed. The film isn’t anti-enviro, it’s simply disappointed in the results to date and the people who have twisted the movement for personal gain. It exposes bio-mass as a counter-productive scam, Al Gore as a self-serving con, overpopulation as the key problem and, as the previous comments noted, it is an obituary for “modern life”. It’s a hard message to swallow in these tough times. But if not now when?

  5. Rufus Polson says:

    I do think the film’s approach to renewables is not just seriously flawed, but somewhat deliberately rigged. I found that part of the movie intensely annoying and potentially dangerous. They misrepresent the effectiveness, and c’mon, comparing the environmental destruction from mining fuels you need to burn more of every day to the destruction from mining raw materials to build something once that lasts at least 20-30 years (and whose materials can probably be recycled) is ridiculous.
    The film also mixes up various critiques so they seem to be the same thing when they aren’t–critiques of the technology of renewables are thrown together with critiques of the corruption of American society and its impact on how renewables are done in the American capitalist setting, so it looks like the corruption (and the capitalism) are somehow an integral part of the technology. I don’t think that’s useful, and I think it weakens one of the points the film makes that is good.

    On the other hand, I think people saying “But the film doesn’t discuss the potential solutions to X, Y or Z issue it raises” miss the point rather. Lots and lots of environmentally oriented films that environmentalists love do exactly the same–they’re polemics raising the alarm, not careful descriptions of solutions, and people appreciate them as such. We’re upset about this one because the polemic hits rather close to home, and because it is wrong in important ways, not because it fails to be an entirely different movie about building solutions.

    There are definitely a couple of points the movie bludgeons us with, superficial and deeper, that are well taken. First, biofuels are mostly bad. I totally agree there; there are cases where they’re good, but it’s really niche. And for the most part, anything you might gain by a nuanced stance on that stuff by allowing a few interesting projects, will be more than lost by the cover a nuanced stance will give to moneyed interests who want to take advantage of it to rape some forests. Second, there’s a whole lot of greenwashing out there, and many inside-the-beltway environmentalist groups have gotten way too cozy and co-opted. Third, so far we’re kind of losing more than we’re winning.
    Going deeper, the film drives home some basic messages about capitalism and total footprint. We shouldn’t forget that global warming is just one, albeit really huge, environmental problem. It’s a special case of the overall problem, which is that we’re overwhelming the earth’s carrying capacity, that we’ve been overshooting its ability to regenerate for decades. We’re fishing out the oceans, finishing off the forests, degrading the soil, using up fossil water, polluting groundwater, on and on. With a strong enough “Green New Deal” we could potentially succeed in staving off climate change only to mostly die of starvation when we finally run out of overshoot to exploit.
    And the thing is that capitalism systematically resists attempts to rein in growth–systematically as in, it resists such attempts because of its nature as a system. The film is right that capital will be much more willing to add renewable capacity than to subtract non-renewable, and much much much more willing to install ever-growing amounts of renewable serving ever more consumerism than to in any way shrink our massive bootprint on the earth. But we NEED to do that, which means we NEED to change the whole economic system in a fundamental way. When it comes to world-saving, building solar panels is necessary but very far from sufficient. And the film is right that a whole lot of us would prefer not to worry about that, would rather make our peace with green(washed) capital and pretend that will work.

    Finally, I think people critical of the film on the population question aren’t really coming to grips with the issue. I’m seeing a lot of references to the whole ‘populations stop growing as they get more prosperous’ model as if that’s a solution. How is that a solution? So if the whole 8 billion of us consumed like Americans or at least Germans, the world’s population would stop growing? Oh, well that’s all right then. No problem at all. Except we’ve been overshooting the world’s carrying capacity since a few billion people ago with only the usual proportion of Americans in the mix. To stop doing that we need both a whole lot fewer people and for the Americans, Canadians and so on to consume a lot less. Anyway it’s moot, because the third world isn’t being allowed to become prosperous. The statistics making it look as if there’s any real progress are manipulated and cherry-picked. Changing that would require getting rid of imperialism, which would require getting rid of capitalism.

    A related point I often see is that the places where the population is doing the most growing actually don’t consume very much per capita. Well, that’s no doubt true, but what does it imply? Does it mean that third world countries should just keep on growing their populations? That doesn’t really seem plausible. Did anyone even ask them if they WANT to? Taken most brutally, it would imply that all advanced countries should be like Japan, declining in population while refusing to take immigrants, because when people from the third world immigrate to the first world they adopt first world lifestyles and use up more of the planet, basically acting as if they were first world population growth. I reject that conclusion, but it makes a lot more sense than the often derived “population growth is OK if the population growing has low-intensity resource use”. Overall, population is a much bigger problem which will require much more work to solve than most people, even most environmentalists, even most radical environmentalists, are willing to admit. So I’m not going to get mad at the movie for taking a swing at that issue.

  6. Barb Murray says:

    Agree w Roderick Mac

  7. Jerome Truran says:

    Excellent piece Roderick MacDonald. A great summary and very well written. Thank you

  8. Gerald Ruygrok says:

    The message is clear. We must continue to REFUSE,REDUCE,REUSE, RECYCLE, REDESIGN. THE LIFE CYCLE OF PRODUCTS WE CONSUME. Need to make the waste products the feedstock of new products. As long as we remove fossil fuels from the ground, we have to focus our attentions and effort on reducing waste and consumption.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Great thoughtful reviews. Thankyou.
    Kathleen

  10. George Norman says:

    A common failing of climate deniers it seems is they take a snapshot of things and then act as if that’s the way it will always be. I would compare our state of renewables right now with where the automobile was in, say, 1920. Our vehicles nowadays have more computing power than that which sent men to the moon. The speed at which we develop technology is increasing as well, and should continue to do so. The Covid- 19 gene was sequenced within a few weeks, and within a few months, a vaccine is beginning human trials. We can do this with renewables as well if we put our minds to it. No reason not to.
    The other side is we need to keep energy from flying out the back door. We need to refit housing, improve mass transit, install community power generation, manufacture and grow food locally. All this needs to be part of a green new deal that includes workers and ordinary Canadians.

  11. Jane Douglas says:

    Yes I found the film very depressing and so glad you wrote this well balanced calm review. I do feel better, thanks.

  12. Keith Porteous says:

    Agreed.

  13. Hussam Taha says:

    I like your comment; nicely said!

  14. Stephan Borau says:

    I really like the film overall. It was a downer right after watching it, but it’s growing on me. Lots of outdated footage and imagery about renewable energy (if you think 10 yrs is so outdated) but that is really missing the point. The fact is the environmental movement has not inspired and brought about nearly enough change for all its work and resources spent over the past several decades. It has failed to make significant change and should seriously reconsider what it has been doing that hasn’t been working.

    Just to clarify, the main point of the film isn’t about renewable energies and environmentalists. It points out their shortcomings, but the main idea is that the human species is consuming too much of the planet. The title of the movie evokes the tremendously heart-breaking moment at the end of Planet of the Apes — when Charleston Heston rides off to find out the truth and he comes upon the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand. Humans are the ones that destroyed their civilization.

    That’s the point Jeff Gibbs is making, isn’t he?

  15. Ian Brown says:

    tell my solar panels that have been functioning fine for more than 35 years that they are done in 25 years.

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