If you’re already feeling in any way depressed (or otherwise experiencing fragile mental health) from the effects of COVID-induced social isolation, do yourself a big favour and don’t watch Jeff Gibbs’s Planet of the Humans. I’m not trying to be funny. You really should avoid seeing this so-called eco-documentary. In fact, even if you’re not depressed, you should probably avoid watching this thing. This might be the worst cinematic experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve seen *two* of Adam Sandler’s films.
As there probably is with most films Michael Moore is involved with (he’s billed as the Executive Producer, but he’s probably attached his name to Gibbs’s baby more for self-promotion), there are some worthwhile questions beneath the surface of Planet of the Humans. Unfortunately, they get buried beneath a 102-minute assault of emotional manipulation, cherry-picked footage, out-of-context quotations, and logically bizarre assertions. This film is a nihilistic bias in search of confirmation, and it uses any deceptive propaganda techniques necessary to convince viewers that it’s found it. In one scene, the Caterpillar tractor company is shown to be the sponsor of an Earth Day event (that the film denounces for having used a diesel generator to partly power the stage). We’re then subjected to film footage of a yellow tractor plowing the earth at Standing Rock while indigenous elders scream and try to block it. If you sell your car to someone who later gets drunk and kills someone in a crosswalk, you may as well turn yourself in.
It seemed that the underlying basis for the film is that anything that isn’t 100% carbon-free *right now* is a green fraud being perpetrated by the Koch Brothers and international capital through well-intentioned but stupid green dupes. The entirety of the film is a non-stop self-righteous attack against those dupes – every organisation and individual from Al Gore to protesting schoolkids – who are in any way attempting to do anything to halt climate change. Gore, and Bill McKibben, get the brunt of this, but so do people like Van Jones who, at a public event, becomes the focus of the camera as just narrator Gibbs concludes a sentence with “or are they just ignorant?” The film is rife with such duplicitous manipulations. Gibbs righteously pronounces guilt on a swath of people without once asking any of them to defend themselves or their positions, or even contemplating what their defences might be.
A lengthy portion of the film is dedicated to attacking biomass energy. There are undoubtedly egregious ways that biomass is being exploited by the greedy, but the film delves not one bit into intricacies or nuance, just castigates anyone and everyone involved in promoting or executing it, assuming that they must all be wilful accomplices to any and all abuses. And not once during the film was the phrase “transitional” used, which is exactly what biomass is intended to be in the drive to decarbonisation. But Moore and Gibbs go further, and aggressively assert that green energy isn’t just ineffective compared to fossil fuels, but actually worse for carbon release when you factor in the resources used to produce such things as solar panels and windmills, implying that this is a necessary and permanent condition.
But Gibbs isn’t interested in “transitional”, because that would suggest that there might be a path to a solution, and this film is not interested in solutions, unless the solution is that everyone in the world immediately stops using any resources whatsoever and culls their own herd by a few billion people.
The most charitable thing I can think of to say about Planet of the Humans is that, perhaps, Gibbs means to address many of the Facebook armchair “progressives” who demand that our leaders immediately shut down all fossil fuel production and switch us over to 100% solar energy. Perhaps he wants to provoke them to abandon their zero-sum anti-fossil orthodoxy, accept that solar just ain’t there yet, and focus their energies toward more actual progress. If that’s the case, though, I’d say it’s a dismal failure, for this film seems likely to discourage far more people than it motivates. It seems almost designed to be destructive. It’s more Trumpian than Trump in its apparent desire to provoke disarray and destruction.
Really, don’t bother watching this film. And whatever you do, don’t let your small children watch it unless you want to be ponying up for big psychiatric bills down the road. Planet of the Humans will harm your soul more than it will inspire you to action, and the world needs your action.
(There are many more encouraging calls to action available. One I read recently and can recommend was The 100% Solution: A Plan for Solving Climate Change by Solomon Goldstein-Rose.)