The new film, “Planet of the Humans” is exceedingly controversial with some calling for it to be taken down. I’ll begin with a disclaimer. I’m not an expert in climate science, population issues, or renewable or nuclear energy, so judge my comments accordingly.
The main thesis of the film is that various people and organizations in the USA who claim to promote Green energy are actually promoting biomass energy—burning trees instead of fossil fuels. This process, the filmmakers claim, is neither carbon-neutral, renewable, nor sustainable. The film also suggests that wind and solar power are both impractical and nearly as environmentally destructive as fossil fuels once construction and maintenance costs are taken into account. (The film is available free on Youtube for the next few weeks.)
Another thesis of the film is that big Oil and its corporate and banking representatives have rebranded themselves as green in order to use the green movement for their own ends—to make huge profits and grab some of the huge taxpayer subsidies available to anyone claiming to be developing renewable energy resources.
(I found this latter thesis compelling as it connected well with the PBS Frontline documentary “Plastic Wars.” In that film, a joint investigation by NPR and the PBS found that the oil and gas companies who make plastics, and who have encouraged people to recycle, have long known that recycling plastic on a large scale was unlikely to ever be economically viable, as their own records show. This implies that oil companies appease environmentalists while continuing to be profitable and ravage the environment.)
The basic solution to the energy problem proposed in the film is (roughly) to limit our consumption and engage in population control.
I found the film slow in the beginning as there are too many interviews with non-experts for my taste. I generally don’t care what ‘the man in the street’ thinks when he ignorantly opines. The film also had a conspiratorial feel when it suggested that many well-known climate change activists are in bed with environment-destroying corporations—perhaps these environmentalists are more ignorant than culpable. I was also disappointed that nuclear power wasn’t addressed. Despite being anathema to most environmentalists nuclear power is extraordinarily reliable and has strong arguments in its favor. But again I’m no expert on these matters. (You can find a detailed, impartial discussion of the nuclear power debate here.)
Overall, I think the film is thought-producing and it challenges the groupthink that can envelop us all when approaching controversial topics. Whatever the best course, I will state unequivocally that we are a part of the environment and cannot survive without it.
3 thoughts on “Review of “Planet of the Humans””
I am glad you started this discussion. Like you, I watched the documentary and wondered “Is the subtext of the film maker that environmental activism needs to take a ‘least worst’ approach?” (All of the solutions are flawed, let’s choose the one that is least flawed. )
Appreciate your thoughts Richard. JGM
I have some expertise in climate change and on nuclear power, and I have been following these issues for decades. I agree that most biomass projects are wasteful, although I see some small merit in them. Solar and wind power don’t release much CO2 per kilowatt-hour; certainly much less than fossil fuels. Nuclear is definitely necessary to permit the transition away from fossil fuels. If we had replaced all of our coal-burners with nuclear plants forty years ago, several hundred thousand lives would have been saved.
As to the big fossil fuel companies trying all sorts of dirty tricks, well, DOH! However, I see no point in demonizing them; they are like sharks. They’ll eat you alive if you give them the opportunity, but they are also a necessary component of the marine ecosystem, and we don’t want to exterminate them. The most important step is to eliminate their political power through campaign contributions.
Population control is an idiotic idea. China tried it and now they have a badly-lopsided demographic distribution, and a shortage of women. Besides, it’s unnecessary. Once a country reaches a certain level of education, its reproduction rate falls below 1.0, and its population begins to fall. South Korea and Japan are facing serious problems due to an excess of old people and a shortage of young working people. Many European nations are starting to face similar problems. Because of this, the UN expects global population to peak at 11 or 12 billion late in this century.
Limiting consumption is a good idea but extremely difficult. The fact that so many Americans rent storage units to save all the junk they can’t fit in their houses certainly attests to consumption gone haywire. The problem is that people can make money by inducing consumption through advertising, but nobody makes money by advertisements for nothing. “Hurry! Hurry! We’re having a huge sale on nothing! Act now!”
More important is the fact that there are nearly seven billion people who understandably aspire to the lifestyle enjoyed in the developed world. If all of humanity were to reach the level of consumption in America, we’d all drown in MacDonald’s hamburger wrappers.
Still, Malthus has been shown to be wrong over and over for the last two centuries. My own belief is that we’ll all nuke each other in the second half of this century in our disputes over who must pay compensation for the tremendous damages imposed by climate change.