Watch it and weep: Skip this film and go for a nature walk.
By Jacqueline Krim (North Carolina State University)
As if global citizens didn’t have enough mental health challenges during the current pandemic, Michael Moore, a.k.a. “Debbie Downer”, marked Earth Day Eve 2020 with a temporary and free YouTube release of a documentary film, “Planet of the Humans”. The film, which was originally released in July 2019, goes on for 100 seemingly endless, despair-inducing minutes with a focus on negative environmental impacts of green energy. “Planet of the Humans” is presented from the point of view of one environmentalist, who has apparently taken decades to realize that solar, wind and biomass energy sources come with their own set of environmental impacts and that, if left unabated, increases in consumption by humans will overwhelm the environment.
The film is filled with emotion-inducing imagery showing the clearing of deserts and forests in order to build fields of wind turbines and solar panels, but presents no equivalent emotional attacks on fossil fuels or land cleared for housing, urban sprawl, etc. Environmental experts and leaders are mocked; human consumption and population growth are mentioned but not targeted. Quantitative comparisons of the environmental damage inflicted by differing energy resources are absent. One can easily get the impression that green energy sources, and also environmentalists, constitute the problem, not a cure, for climate change and other environmental woes. The film fails to convey that the solutions are constantly changing as the climate crisis becomes increasingly urgent. It does correctly convey the fact that green energy sources alone cannot save the environment and the natural world in the face of overwhelming increases in consumption. An “all hands on deck” approach is, for example, urgently needed to stay at even a 2C estimated increase in warming above pre-industrial times (Figure 1). Green energy, fossil fuel switching, carbon capture (CCS), nuclear and reduction in energy consumption/efficiency are all required.
My recommendation: skip the film, take a nature walk and use the time to read the latest IPCC climate report. But if you must watch the film, here is a spoiler alert: There is no happy ending.