On Earth Day this year, a contentious film entitled “Planet of the Humans”, directed by Jeff Gibbs and executive produced by Michael Moore, was made available for free on YouTube. Although the film was first released in 2019, it rapidly gained fresh attention and considerable notoriety starting on April 22. Its viewership now sits at over seven million.
“Planet of the Humans” has evoked strong reactions across the board, from climate and green energy advocates refuting the content to climate-change deniers and fossil fuel advocates enthusiastically promoting it. It paints a misleading picture of efforts by the climate movement to secure a livable planet. We won’t debunk point by point the misinformation presented in the film, as many others have already done so in extensive detail (see below); however, we believe it is important to expose some of the key arguments (mis)represented in the film.
Throughout the film, renewables like wind and solar are portrayed as being as bad or worse for the environment than fossil fuels. It is true that no energy source is perfect; understanding their respective strengths and weaknesses is a necessary part of any conversation about transitioning to sustainable energy; however, much of the information that is presented as new is woefully out-of-date and simply wrong.
Firstly, the filmmakers appear unaware that wind and solar technologies have progressed by leaps and bounds in terms of durability, cost, and efficiency in the last ten years alone. Instead, they have limited themselves to repeating the fossil fuel industry’s tired talking points about our “unrealistic vision” of a green future.
Another claim made is that renewables are as harmful as fossil fuels, largely because they require the mining of rare earth metals, such as lithium and cobalt. While it is not incorrect that these resources are required, this claim ignores the fact that up to 80% of these materials can now be recycled to create new, more efficient products which can, in turn, be used to reliably produce fossil-free energy. As innovation in solar technology and battery storage continues to improve, the need to mine these materials will decrease, making significant steps toward a sustainable energy system that produces considerably less waste.
Gibbs devotes considerable time criticizing biomass as an alternative energy source and highlights Bill McKibben’s early support for biomass. While it is true that McKibben was an early proponent of this form of energy, he openly changed his position once the science showing the negative impact on the environment became clearly understood. His opposition to biomass was declared as far back as 2016, but this is nowhere mentioned in the film.
For all the time spent on criticizing the green energy movement, the film is curiously silent when it comes to the fossil fuel industry, which has continued to make huge profits during the climate crisis, as well as the corporate and social systems that make this possible. Many ideas that Gibbs presents as revolutionary are in fact ignorant versions of campaigns on which Indigenous leaders and climate justice activists have been working for decades.
The filmmakers propose two approaches as key solutions to the climate crisis: limiting over-consumption, and population control. While the first idea is a legitimate and urgent topic, the second has disturbing overtones. While an ever-growing population puts stress on our planet and her natural systems, science has shown that those least responsible for the climate crisis will be the ones to suffer the most. It has also shown that first-world countries consume far more energy than their less developed, yet more densely populated counterparts; this offers a solution, unexplored by the film, in which the world’s resources must be more evenly and justly distributed. Again, another idea not novel to the climate justice movement.
Concrete solutions are either not mentioned, glossed over, or completely dismantled, leaving feelings resembling apathy and despair after watching the film. Considering the critical challenges that lie ahead, and the momentum that has been building around these issues, this is an irresponsible film with which those who claim to be environmentalists have now globally misrepresented our message.
We found it unfortunate that the work led by Indigenous peoples, youth, climate, and labour groups (as well as many other crucial entities) to supply a wide range of solutions for a just transition was scarcely alluded to in the film. There are urgent and integral challenges that lie ahead, and Toronto350.org is committed to working towards the best and most inclusive solutions to those challenges. Despite its intentions, this film does nothing to advance or accurately inform our fight to save the planet.
We do not endorse this film as a credible source of information, and we hesitate to call it a documentary; however, watching the film does provide a new perspective when viewed with a high degree of skepticism and strong media literacy. If you have watched or are planning to watch the film, you can view some key perspectives and responses at the links below.