ENVIRONMENT / For many, green energy solutions are just a new way to make money, says director Jeff Gibbs.
Director: Jeff Gibbs
Producer: Michael Moore
Country: USA

Director Michael Moore, known from a number of controversial TV series and films such as Bowling for Columbine (on US gun ownership) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (about the Bush administration’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) has now released its latest film Planet of The Humans, free on YouTube. The release flips with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The movie is directed by Jeff Gibbs, with Moore as executive producer. Gibbs is an environmentalist and a long-time partner of Moore – and a producer on, among other things, Bowling for Columbine.

For Planet of The Humans, the environmental movement «has lost the battle through well-intentioned but disastrous choices, such as the belief that solar panels and wind turbines will save us, by giving way to the interests of investors and companies on Wall Street.» The film was shown at Traverse City Film Festival last year and garnered some attention in the US, with renewed criticism (including from The Guardian) now that the movie was released on YouTube.

Planet of The Humans shows examples of how green solutions are not necessarily green: wind energy requires large amounts of copper and rare minerals. Solar power is criticized for its dependence on carbon and quartz for the construction of the solar panels. Both windmills and solar panels consist of components that cannot be recycled, such as the fiberglass mix used for the wind turbine blades.

«I discovered that the new technological solutions were just a new way of making money,» says Gibbs to the Associated Press, and acknowledges that the movie will be «a difficult pill to swallow» for many.

Planet of the Humans-documentary-post1-MTR
Planet of the Humans, a film by Jeff Gibbs

Everyone wants a slice of the green cake

Gibbs has the film’s low-pitched narrative voice, unlike Michael Moore who appears in front of the camera as more vicious and with more intense involvement in his own films (here we do not see him here). Gibbs is more in line with the film’s serious message and mentions a younger version of himself as a «woodcutter». At adult age, he became an environmentally engaged citizen concerned with renewable energy. At the beginning of the film, we see him participate in a «Solar festival» for the environment where everything should be powered by solar energy, but who had to resort to diesel generators to get enough power when the rain came. Finally, the festival had to connect to the regular mains.

Then it goes to battle with Barack Obama and Al Gore, about how the green energy revolution started. From public support in the US to avid banks and investors like Richard Branson who all would like a piece of the green cake. In an interview clip, Branson is asked if Gore is a prophet – «How do you spell prophet,» Branson replies, laughing. He lets the word be pronounced «profit».

From public support in the US to avid banks and investors like Richard Branson who all would like a piece of the green cake.

This is also the movie about how various green organizations are funded (there is American big capital behind it all), and that Al Gore leans on funding from the fossil fuel industry. There are many examples and hints, however superficial. And is it right to criticize any green effort solely because the funding behind is carbon black? What is the alternative?

Electric cars powered by coal power

We see Gibbs taking part in the launch of a new electric car from General Motors where he asks what power sources charge it. «The power comes from the power supplier in Lansing,» says GM’s press officers. «It’s a bit of charcoal … I think they use natural gas,» she continues uncertainly. Peter Lark from the Lansing Board of Water & Light says that it is not possible to charge electric cars with solar or wind power. «The cars are recharged primarily at night, after all, it’s not sun. And at night, the wind also decreases. They are charged from our power grid, which is 95 percent coal-powered», he says.

A photovoltaic system is displayed at the power supplier. It looks impressive, but the municipal representative admits that it does not supply electricity to more than 10 households. A common thread in the film is how one would like, but not get, 100% green solutions – or that the solutions have too little effect with today’s technology. And, in the wake of subsidized green plants, we have now gained enormous solar cemeteries with broken panels, mirrors, and bare desert areas, as well as wind turbine cemeteries that standstill because they are a nightmare to remove and recycle.

Planet of the Humans, a film by Jeff Gibbs

Is it environmentally friendly to cut down fresh forest?

Gibbs tells the Associated Press how he tried for years to get environmental organizations to support the film financially, but was rejected – before contacting Moore. Gibbs and Moore hope the film will inspire people to think differently and find new solutions, even though the message is disheartening. I am not sure if they will succeed.

Gibbs tries to outline all possible green energy forms, their financing, and how good/bad the solutions are. The film had served to stick to a couple of themes, such as biomass, and went deeper into this. It is nothing new that electric cars must be charged with «dirty power» or have environmentally hostile components. However, it was new to me that some biomass factories use scrapped car tires to get enough heat in production, with the emissions that result.

Gibbs and Moore hope the film will inspire people to think differently and find new solutions, even though the message is disheartening.

Several biomass plants are needed to replace one coal-fired power plant. This means that you have to seize large land areas and cut down forests. Is it really more environmentally friendly to cut down the fresh forest to make biofuels? And what about wood chip production? Not only is the remnants of the forest industry used (which is intended), but fresh forest is also cut down. What proportion of production consists of this fresh forest? It is not answered and is one of the many questions I ask myself after watching the film.

An impossible task

It is simply an impossible task to look at all imaginable energy solutions and to go into the depths of subsidies, funding, political links, as well as the environmental aspects of each while, at the same time, take care of the environmental organizations (and their funding) during the film’s playing time. Here, as an executive producer, Moore should have taken hold.

There are many allegations and scrapes on the surface, and one example kills the next – few are asked or held accountable, much information is left in the air. I’d like to see someone defend the use of biomass-produced fuel (and destroyed forest areas) instead of petroleum-based fuel, or a professional going into the depths of biofuels.

The film’s closing sequences are about how humans expel animals from their natural habitat because we plant biofuel plantations or build new factories, all to maintain our planet-destroying standard of living.

Man is the greatest threat to the Earth, with overcrowding and overspending also something the film only goes so far into. The result is that you get discouraged by watching the film. It is obvious that we cannot continue with over-consumption and population growth but we should not be blind to green solutions, throw generous subsidies on them without any follow-up requirements, and embrace them without being critical to their environmental impact. Ultimately, the film may work best as a well-intentioned, though somewhat sprawling, and incomplete contribution to the green shift debate.

The movie is available for free on YouTube for 30 days. See it here:

Translated from the Norwegian on NY Tid