New Michael Moore film charges enviro leaders have ‘lost their way’ and ‘sold out to corporate interests’

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“We are losing the battle to stop climate change because we are following environmental leaders…who’ve sold out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America,” claims filmmaker Jeff Gibbs.

His new documentary, Planet of the Humans, premiered on the internet today, Earth Day. Michael Moore of Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 is the executive producer. Gibbs, a collaborator with Moore and self-proclaimed lifelong environmentalist, is writer, producer and director.

A belief that solar panels and windmills would save us

A release for the film says it “takes a harsh look at how the environmental movement has lost the battle through well-meaning but disastrous choices, including the belief that solar panels and windmills would save us, and by giving in to the corporate interests of Wall Street.” Its producers suggest, “No amount of batteries are going to save us.”

“We have ignored the warnings, and instead all sorts of so-called leaders have steered us away from the real solutions that might save us,” says Moore, who wants to launch “a new environmental uprising.”

The filmmaker suggests that the environmental movement’s “techno-fixes” are “too little, too late.”

The pv magazine film review

The movie, written by an avowed environmentalist, is a screed against solar power, wind power, biomass, hydrogen fuel, ethanol, EVs, and a case for the general unsuitability of renewables as a replacement for fossil fuels.

The film is also a screed against Al Gore, Richard Branson, Vinod Khosla, Sierra Club, Goldman Sachs, Bill McKibben, and Obama’s green energy efforts — for their profit motives and mixed allegiances. The film claims, “The takeover of the environmental movement by capitalism is now complete” and that control of the environmental movement must be taken back from the billionaires.

The film’s narrator and author reveals that solar and wind farms require land on which to operate, that solar panels don’t perform well without sunlight, and that building wind turbine arrays requires substantial amounts of concrete, steel and fiberglass. Additionally, the silicon used in most solar panels requires enormous amounts of power to produce. All of this is true.

The film offers a succession of talking heads, all bemoaning renewables — although there is not a grid scientist or energy expert among them. Anthropologist Nina Jablonski says, “Seeking technological fixes is just going to lead us to another level of catastrophe,” and author Richard Heinberg is “getting the uneasy feeling that green energy is not going to save us.”

Producer of the film, Ozzie Zehners, says it’s a dangerous illusion to believe “that solar and wind are somewhat different than fossil fuels.” The film claims that solar relies on “the most toxic and most industrial processes ever created,” and equates grading land for a windfarm with mountaintop coal removal.

Getting solar all wrong

It’s difficult to take the film seriously on any topic when it botches the solar portion so thoroughly. Although the film was released in 2020, the solar industry it examines, whether through incompetence or venality, is from somewhere back in 2009.

The film reports on a solar installation in Michigan with PV panels rated at “just under 8 percent” conversion efficiency. It’s difficult to identify the brand of panel in the film (Abound?) — but that efficiency is from another solar era.

The film pillories the Ivanpah thermal solar plant and SEGS, the original solar thermal power plant in Daggett, California, but fails to distinguish between overachieving photovoltaic solar and laggard thermal solar.

The film ignores the plunging cost of solar and its steadily increasing price advantage over coal and natural gas — as well as the similar trajectory of battery storage. It is plain wrong on renewables not displacing fossil fuels and it might be right in its excoriation of ethanol and biofuels.

This film is really about limiting population growth

If the filmmakers don’t believe renewables such as wind and solar are the answer, what do they believe?

Are they oil and gas supporters? It’s not clear. Nuclear proponents? Not clear, although Mike Shellenberger, nuclear advocate and renewables detractor, endorses the film.

The filmmakers don’t offer a plan to alter our energy course, but they certainly make population a theme.

They quote Heiger in the film, “There are too many human beings using too much, too fast.” Nina Jablonski called population growth “the herd of elephants in the room.” Another interviewed anthropologist spoke of population crashes.

They ask, “Can a single species that’s come to dominate the entire planet be smart enough to voluntarily limit its own presence? Removed from the debate is the only thing that might save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption. Why is this not the issue? Because that would be bad for profits, bad for business.”

The film is long on criticism but offers no solution other than a vague non-capitalist pastoral alternative along with a bleak, harrowing final scene.