The word is that environmentalists are mad at "Planet Of The Humans." This documentary – published on Michael Moore's YouTube channel – was directed by Jeff Gibbs, and its central message is how green energy is a manipulation of capitalism and billionaires. This is wrong, but it's not the only point the film misses. I'll talk about all of them, but not before stressing the most important one the film makes: unlimited consumption of limited resources will eventually put us in trouble. It's just a pity this message gets lost among all of the mistaken ideas the documentary shares.
"Planet Of The Humans" relies on three pillars. 1. We have too many people in the world. 2. Green energy is not green. 3. Capitalism and billionaires are a disgrace. These are the points it pushes throughout the film's one hour and forty minutes. I watched all of it, but you can check only the parts I embedded below. They are related to what the text mentions in that specific point.
The first and foremost mistake "Planet Of The Humans" commits is getting wrong or deliberately ignoring what renewable energy means. The film shows trees being chopped up as something fundamentally evil regardless of whether they come from renewable wood plantations or not.
Trees having been planted to be eventually cut and transformed into something else is what makes the process "renewable." If you plant new trees, you can repeat the process over and over if you do it sustainably.
We can discuss if this renewable process is something desirable or not. Some of these trees are turned into wood chips and burned to generate electricity at these new power plants. If "burning" anything is something mankind should avoid, we then need to consider other energy sources. Solar? The documentary thinks it is dirty. Wind? The documentary thinks it's not sustainable. Hydro-power? The movie claims it floods large areas and kills lots of trees. Nuclear? It presents that as too dangerous.
The way the documentary frames things, the only solution for the world is if mankind disappears. Fewer or no people in the world would certainly help preserve resources. The film frames even the fact the human population exploded as something negative because it's associated with the beginning of fossil fuel use. That, however, is just a correlation.
The way the documentary frames things, the only solution for the world is if mankind disappears.
What the start of fossil fuel use indicates is the progress that led to better living conditions. The industrial revolution allowed people to live longer and fewer children died in their youth. It allowed the development of new medicines and techniques that made death-sentence diseases treatable. Thinking that is negative is like wishing for all the people that were saved to have died instead.
When the documentary attacks green energy as something as dirty as traditional thermal generation methods – such as coal power plants – it misses the point. Would it be dirty just because it needs natural gas at times to keep the electricity grid working? What if it uses a lot less gas than a regular power plant? Isn't that positive? "Planet Of The Humans" does not even consider that.
The current power grid needs thermal or nuclear power plants. The explanation is that, since the produced energy cannot be stored, it has to be generated on demand. When there is more demand, there is more need for energy production. That sometimes happens at night or when there is no wind blowing, so, according to the documentary, solar and wind power are not enough.
What if energy can be stored? Electric cars connected to the grid could help store energy when production from solar and wind is more favorable. They could also help release it when it is more needed. That is precisely the concept behind smart grids.
Yet, electric cars are attacked by "Planet Of The Humans" because mining raw materials for batteries would be as bad as burning stuff. The documentary states batteries will eventually pollute the environment and become a liability. But what about new technologies that are under development, such as lithium-sulfur batteries? They are cheaper, made with more common materials, and have more energy density than lithium-ion chemistry.
Tesla has an excellent project related to storing energy: the Powerpack. It has proven to work great in Hornsdale, Australia – so much so that Tesla amplified it to Megapacks. That is a way to avoid thermal power plants and make renewable sources of energy cleaner.
Billionaires In The Crossfire
Instead of discussing these alternatives, the documentary prefers to show how evil billionaires and capitalism have led us to destroy nature. It accuses green organizations of associating with these billionaires to make money with a green agenda.
One of these "evil billionaires" the documentary names is Elon Musk. He promised to use geothermal, solar, and wind energy generation to power the Gigafactory in Nevada. Yet, his plant has committed the crime of being connected to the regular power grid.
Another of these billionaires is Sir Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Atlantic. Although he is continually speaking about how to fight climate change, he is presented as an enemy. The documentary states he has invested in Liquid Investments, a company that explores the potential of coconut oil as a renewable fuel for his planes. According to "Planet Of The Humans," renewable fuels are terrible.
There is another billionaire out there the documentary does not name: Bill Gates. The Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation is involved with many efforts to eradicate diseases and to decarbonize the economy. One of these ideas is TerraPower, a fourth-generation nuclear effort to generate atomic energy.
TerraPower has proposed two new approaches for nuclear energy: a traveling wave reactor (TWR) and a molten chloride fast reactor (MCFR). The latter is mentioned in the video above as a high-efficiency method. TerraPower even says it is ideal for industries with high-energy consumption.
When it comes to TWR, this type of reactor can use depleted uranium to generate energy. This material is the waste from current nuclear power plants. In other words, it is a way to recycle nuclear waste into electricity without the need for more uranium mining.
Why are we talking about nuclear power, which is dangerous and already gave us disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima? Because this is – so far – the only carbon-neutral generation method that can supply energy for the entire world regardless of the climate or geography.
Bill Gates is spending his time and money in the search for a feasible solution for the world's energy demand. Without it, people will die of cold in the winter, of heat in the summer, and will continue to lead tough lives in places where electricity is a luxury.
These billionaires are the people "Planet Of The Humans" reputes as the enemy. While they are by no means perfect, billionaires are not the enemy in our fight against climate change. The documentary presents them as people moved by greed and always willing to make a profit. If that were really the case, why would Richard Branson worry about climate change? He could keep fueling his planes with oil products. Why would Bill Gates worry about sanitation and new energy sources for the world?
The documentary also tries to frame Al Gore stating that capitalism gives incentives for people to do their best as if it were morally wrong to say so. It is not. It is not even wrong: the improvement of our quality of life and so many saved lives are both consequences of capitalism.
While they are by no means perfect, billionaires are not the enemy in our fight against climate change.
"Planet Of The Humans" focuses on Gore because he sold Current TV to Al Jazeera, which the film interprets as a sign he traded "an inconvenient truth" for convenient gold bars tainted by fossil fuels. It makes it seem like Al Jazeera, controlled by Saudi Arabia, wanted to buy Current TV to kill green efforts. What if the opposite is true?
What if oil producers want to encourage new, environmentally-friendly businesses? What if they want to sell energy in general instead of only fossil fuels, as some now state? Bashing their efforts to get clean is demotivating them of a necessary change. That is what people who hate Volkswagen for Dieselgate and refuse to give it credit for its electrification efforts do.
Having capitalism and billionaires involved in doing the right thing is essential to have a more sustainable world. Why exclude them? What is the problem if they can make a profit for doing that – if they do it in the right way, obviously?
What's The Solution Then?
The biggest problem in attacking and not presenting an alternative is the impression that "some people just want to watch the world burn," and so billionaires and capitalism are evil. What are the options? Cuba? North Korea? A government to rule them all? China's "democratic dictatorship" looks capitalist, so it would not be a precise example under this documentary's standards.
Nuclear power is dangerous. Renewable fuels and electric cars are not sustainable. Airplanes destroy the planet. What does "Planet Of The Humans" suggest we do then for energy and transport? Should we just... not have them?
Yes, we have an overpopulation problem, but what do we do with all the people that are still alive? Turn them into animal fat? That seems to be the documentary's suggestion when it asks, "How would they know when it is their time to go?" If this is not the intended message, we ask: What is the alternative to green technologies?
What "Planet Of The Humans" Gets Right
The only thing this documentary hits on the head is its alert about the economic model we currently have. As Hugo Spowers said about Riversimple's proposal, we have to reward performance, not large scale production. Using limited resources in unlimited ways is just stupid.
This new model would still be capitalism, but with a different approach. Sustainability would be profitable. The rational use of resources would pay off. People would still live well and long.
When this spreads and becomes the standard in developing and poor countries, people there may voluntarily decide to avoid having a lot of kids because three or four of them will die of diarrhea when they are three or four years old.
They may even give up moving to other countries in search of better living conditions, ending the massive migration movements and refugee camps that worry developed countries nowadays. To their own benefit: few people become migrants because they want to. They move because they have to. Some miss their own countries every single day. Wouldn't that be good for everyone?
Regarding the use of natural resources, "Planet Of The Humans" is more than correct. We just regret this is the only constructive proposition it makes. If all its mistakes were left on the cutting room floor, we would probably have a five-minute-film, and that is quite sad because it could have raised fruitful discussions for a better future for humanity.