The fact you are reading this post is near proof positive you have already viewed the Michael Moore promoted/Jeff Gibbs produced extremely controversial documentary film Planet of the Humans. If you have missed it, you can see it free on youtube –join the six million others who have seen this most defamed and sometimes praised of documentaries. It makes one wonder did Michael Moore release this provocative film on April 21 this year because it is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day or because he wanted to get it out while the COVID-19 lockdown was still in place –to avoid hysterical mobs!
After seeing this most controversial film you may ask yourself, as I did, why is this sooooo controversial? Why can’t Michael Moore/Jeff Gibbs suggest that green energy sources like solar and wind come with inherent limits and challenges that make them less than the panacea we imagine them to be—without igniting such truculent opposition from so many of such vastly differing perspectives?
I have to admit that, at first, it seemed picayune to me for the film to, accusingly, point out 350.org founder/organizer Bill McKibben’s support for the now debunked biomass as alternative energy when, in fact, McKibben had publicly renounced his support for clear cutting forests to burn as a replacement for coal in thermal electricity generation many years ago. However, after thinking about this for some time, I realized that Gibbs, rather than attacking McKibben, was trying to dramatize how sometimes what we want to believe gets in the way of our understanding of what is actually happening.
The idea of burning clear-cut trees (with a few tires and garbage thrown in) as a “green energy” alternative to coal was never a good idea but, quite understandably, there was a time when any alternative to mountain top removing, air polluting, greenhouse gas fueling coal looked like a desirable possibility.
McKibben’s long ago support for biomass is not about corruption but it is a succinct reminder that sometimes our longing for a workable alternative can cloud our vision of how clean the perceived alternative really is.
The real/profound/pervasive reason that Planet of the Humans is so despised and verbally spat upon by left, right and centre is it says the unspeakable, the unthinkable, the clear for all to see in the following graph, truth that the current growth rate of the human population with its ever increasing consumption/pollution of the natural world is not sustainable nor even survivable. To even murmur such a thing is to incur the most grievous possible wrath from all sides.
Two hundred years ago the world population was just over one billion. Since then the number of people on the planet grew more than 7-fold to 7.7 billion in 2019.
On viewing this graph in Planet of the Humans a gone-so-far-left-he-comes- out-on- the-right acquaintance immediately denounced the film’s message as “a profoundly reactionary and racist ideology that eclipses the genuine (though limited) truths of the film.”
There seems to be no end or no limit to the perspectives from which attacks on Planet of the Humans can be mounted. All of them being camouflage to hide from ourselves and others the fact we cannot imagine a human future without ever increasing numbers of people on Earth consuming ever increasing amounts of “resources” and leaving behind ever mounting mountains of garbage.
Human populations have grown so wildly that we now face the circumstance that small increments of time yield huge increases in human numbers. But the worst of it is that as the human population explodes the rate at which humans convert Earth’s living systems to toxic waste and garbage advances as a multiple of the increasing population ever pushing toward what is blithely called Population die-off—which means The End for our grandchildren.
We’re in the midst of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction crisis. Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson estimates that 30,000 species per year (or three species per hour) are being driven to extinction. Compare this to the natural background rate of one extinction per million species per year, and you can see why scientists refer to it as a crisis unparalleled in human history.
We are rapidly losing the battle to stop the destruction of our planet and what is our response—we blame the messenger. We’d rather believe that we can have more and more and we don’t have to think about how many of us and how much of our voracious appetite our Earth can support without collapsing so we blame the messenger (Moore is too much!).
We want to so keep growing our numbers and our greedy habits so we choose to believe leaders on the left and right that tell us; forget the stop signs, forget the obviously impending collapse, we’re sort of magical creatures: the math of exponential growth just doesn’t apply to us. We can have it all—isn’t that what our leaders on the left and the right tell us?
From the right we hear that it’s all just hysteria; there is no problem. Why worry about melting ice?-Who knows what treasures we might be able to dig up when the ice is gone. From the left we hear that population, pollution and resource depletion are not a problem as long as we do it the green way to ever increasing economic growth. The left’s most enlightened ask how can the Earth’s most rapacious populations even think of cutting back on resource consumption until the world’s underprivileged populations have had a minimally just share of the Earth’s bounties?
Ah, but…The Green New Deal will save us from our population and pollution problems just as Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930’s saved the US (and World) from an end to capitalism. Growth, of itself, is not the problem. Forget old fashioned math. With a little greenwashing of our economy we can, after all, have it all—rich/poor/everyone. It is amazing how the discussion of what is enough and how much can our Earth give/take has been buried beneath the idea of an ever expanding green economy.
Then along comes Michael Moore telling us what we don’t want to hear—there is a limit to growth on a finite planet. In our hearts we know he is right and therein lies the rub; if we let in even a little of the message of Planet of the Humans, a great river of unconscious wisdom may just come rushing out and we will have to admit, first of all to ourselves, that we are wrong, we have been deceived by our own greed as well as the more organized greeds of others—there really is limit to how much of the Earth we can pillage; there is a limit to how many humans Planet Earth can support.
The thing about Planet of the Humans that is so terrifying is that it doesn’t just point to one group or one action, it, very blatantly, says there are limits to how much of us and our greedy ways that Planet Earth will take—no matter how you colour it–we need much less of it. We need to reenvision what we do, how we do AND how much can our beleaguered Earth endure without succumbing rather than just painting over the old ways with a thin green veneer.
The problem isn’t that Bill McKibben once endorsed biomass for electrical generation. The Problem is that under the ruse of green growth we have lost sight of the fact that too much is too much no matter what colour you paint it. If Planet of the Humans can reignite that urgent discussion, it might just save us from becoming a Planet of Extinct Yahoos!
*I realize much of this is very general. If I receive even a few emails requesting details I will devote the next post to fleshing out these generalizations with much finer detail.