Planet of the Humans is a documentary on the environment that has enraged renewable energy experts and environmentalists, some calling its renowned executive producer, Michael Moore, apologize.
It was released free of charge less than two weeks ago and, as of this writing, has had almost 5 million views on YouTube.
During his 102 minutes, the producer and narrator of the film, Jeff Gibbs, weaves a disjointed tale according to which renewable energies are as bad as fossil fuels, top ecologists are corrupted by capitalism and population growth is the great tacit enemy.
“It’s really demoralizing the damage caused by this film at a time when many are ready for a profound change”, says Canadian activist and journalist Naomi Klein.
“There are important criticisms of an environmentalism that refuses to count on unlimited consumption and growth. But this film is not that. “
Moore continued to defend the film against a strip of critical articles.
Why are so many people so angry? Here are some of the main issues, but it’s not even close to being an exhaustive list.
Are renewable energies as bad as fossil fuels?
Associate Professor Mark Deisendorf, an energy systems and sustainability specialist at the University of New South Wales, told Guardian Australia that the film’s commentary on renewable energy was “obsolete, superficial, simplistic, misleading and very biased ”.
He criticizes renewable energy – particularly solar and wind energy – in part because you need varying amounts of materials, energy, and metals to make them.
For all those who have thought for more than a minute about what it takes to build this solar panel or those wind turbines, it shouldn’t be telling that certain materials and energy are needed. There is no free lunch.
But the film leaves the viewer to think that there is no net gain from renewable technologies and does not watch, for example, an analysis from the cradle to the grave of the technologies it criticizes.
“The myth that life cycle energy has invested [and carbon emissions] in building renewable energy technologies is comparable to lifelong energy generation is wrong, “says Deisendorf.
“Solar panels generate the energy necessary to build in one to two years of operation, depending on the type of panel and its location and their lifespan is around 20 years; large wind turbines in three to 12 months, depending on the size of the wind turbines and their location, and their lifespan is 25 to 30 years. “
In the film, Gibbs says, “I learned that solar panels don’t last forever either.” You would think that most people know this.
At the start of the film, Gibbs marches with an environmental group to protest the plan to install 21 wind turbines at Lowell Mountain in Vermont, a series that was played in 2011 (another clue to the age of the film).
An anonymous activist tells Gibbs that the power grid must idle when the wind drops and that this creates a “bigger footprint” than simply running the network on fossil fuels.
Gibbs takes the speaker’s floor, but Deisendorf says it’s an old myth refuted by real examples of power grids operating with high penetrations of renewable energy – with and without storage like batteries and hydroelectricity.
Old ideas and old images
The pace of change and development in the renewable energy industry is fast, so a film that wants to inform viewers must be as up to date as possible.
But the film is riddled with images, segments and problems that date back ten years.
Gibbs attends the launch of the Chevy Volt, a car launched 10 years ago. He criticizes it because it is recharged from a Michigan power network dominated by coal.
Taking a very old example of an electric car operating in one place should not be the basis for judging the role of electric cars in 2020, and yet the film does.
Gibbs visits a “football field-sized” solar installation called the Cedar Street solar panel in Lansing, Michigan. An energy boss tells the camera that the panels have an efficiency “just under 8%” and that the network could only supply around 10 townhouses per year.
What the film does not say is that the bay was installed as a pilot project in 2008.
Energy writer who looked closely at many of the film’s claims is Australian Ketan Joshi who says that looking at a solar panel from 12 years ago is “an absolute eternity in the years of solar development”.
Diesendorf says that panels with an efficiency of 8% “were on the market several decades ago” and that most commercial panels now have an efficiency of more than 20%.
What has happened to the cost of solar panels since 2008? Wood Mackenzie analysts say they fell about 90% between 2010 and 2019.
The film spends time looking at the energy of biomass or, more specifically, a subset of biomass technology that essentially burns trees and wood chips.
Gibbs is a longtime biomass critic (one of his older articles includes a photograph taken film images that appear in the film suggesting that a scene showing felled trees is at least 10 years old).
Burning trees for energy is very problematic, but there are reasons why in some circumstances it is not as bad as burning fossil fuels from a greenhouse gas perspective.
One reason is related to climate change 101. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon atoms that were removed from the Earth’s active carbon cycle millions of years ago. Burning trees brings CO2 back into the biosphere, which has only been sequestered in recent decades.
To an untrained viewer, the film might appear to be bought when it shows top environmentalists – namely author and activist Bill McKibben – supporting the burning of wood.
McKibben founded his climate group 350.org at Middlebury College, and the film has footage of him at the opening of a biomass gasification plant there, saying that this technology should be everywhere.
McKibben says he heard about the documentary’s plans last year: “I wrote to the producer and the director to set the record straight, and I never heard from them. It sounds like bad journalism and bad faith. “
Gibbs says he didn’t receive McKibben’s communication and even if he had, he would not have changed the film.
That aside, Diesendorf says that processing the bioenergy film is simplistic because if certain methods, such as corn ethanol, are harmful to the environment, the waste starch ethanol doesn’t is not.
He says the film creates a false impression that bioenergy, as expected, should make a big contribution to energy needs in the future. “The truth is that some see him play a minor role while almost all of them reject them entirely. Almost no one sees it as playing an important role. “
“Devoid of solutions”
Planet of the Humans is a film almost entirely devoid of solutions to the existential crisis of which its producers say they are deeply concerned.
He rightly raises questions about unrestrained consumption and the planet’s declining ecosystems. As some examples also show, the film has been obsolete for a long time and there is no evidence that attempts have been made to revise its content or premises as new information has become available and, presumably, the film has remained inactive in installments. parties for many years.
Gibbs, Moore and fellow producer Ozzie Zehner, who feature prominently, defended the documentary.
Gibbs says they had “gone to great lengths” to speak to wind and solar experts.
“We need our environmental leaders, but we are in the wrong story,” he said in a interview with the Hill.
“We are asking questions about what we are saying that will save the world, and it should be allowed to have discussions between people who believe in climate change – and know the environment is in trouble – about what will work and what’s wrong work.
“It was our intention – to start a discussion and raise a lot of questions, but we don’t have all the answers.”
Moore adds, “We wanted to start a discussion, and it happened.”
He is certainly right about it.