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“How long do you think we humans have?” asks filmmaker Jeff Gibbs to a series of random people at the beginning of his environmental-themed documentary, Planet of the Humans. That the question has since taken on a particularly sinister edge in the wake of COVID-19 is but one of the many ironies of the film made available for free on YouTube for 30 days, courtesy of executive producer Michael Moore.
RELEASE DATE Apr 21, 2020
Although its release was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Planet of the Humans delivers a dystopian view of the environmental movement that the film posits has been taken over by corporate interests.
Another irony is that the recent global shutdown has already made major, albeit temporary, changes to the planet, including dramatically reduced pollution levels. Animals are discovering newfound freedoms, brazenly encroaching on suburban and urban areas. (Or, in the case of those previously chaste zoo pandas, suddenly discovering their sexual mojo.) Toward the end of the documentary, which traffics far more in criticisms than possible solutions, Gibbs declares, “Less must be the new more,” and recent events have perversely proved him right.
Early on, the film includes a clip from The Unchained Goddess, a 1958 documentary produced and co-written by Frank Capra (yes, that Frank Capra), warning of the dangers of climate change. It provides a vivid reminder that this is a problem for which the alarm has been sounded for decades. Gibbs then provides a brief validation of his environmental credentials as a self-described “tree hugger” who practices sustainable living.
The doc essentially makes a feature-length argument that green energy isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, and that its supposed heroes are made of clay. The problems, we’re informed, are legion, and widespread perceptions about green solutions are sadly misinformed. You may feel good about yourself if you drive an electric car, but don’t forget that it’s recharged by energy from a power company that uses coal or natural gas. And that the battery was manufactured by a company using fossil fuels. Solar panels are great, but they mostly don’t last more than a decade or so. Renewable energy sources such as wind turbines are intermittent, leading to power outages unless they’re backed up by power generated by fossil fuels. Indeed, there are no business entities running one hundred percent on solar and wind alone.
At one point in the proceedings, Gibbs goes backstage at a massive Earth Day concert, only to discover that its energy is being provided almost entirely by conventional diesel generators rather than the solar panels so prominently on display.
Nobody gets off easily in the film — including such environmental movement heroes as Al Gore, who is shown coming under fire for, among other things, selling his television network in 2013 to Al-Jazeera, funded by the major oil-exporting country of Qatar, or Bill McKibben, author of such books as The End of Nature, who is described as being in bed with corporate interests and sharply criticized for his advocacy of biomass, which involves the mass cutting down of trees. Among the other prominent figures skewered are Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Similarly, such organizations as the Sierra Club, The Nature Conservatory and the Union of Concerned Scientists are lambasted for such offenses as having investments in non-green companies. “The merger of environmentalism and capitalism is now complete,” intones Gibbs.
Planet of the Humans certainly makes many important and illuminating points, especially about the co-opting of environmental causes by corporate interests who use it mainly for positive branding purposes. But its despairing tone and overall atmosphere of purity testing may have the counterproductive effect of making you want to throw up your hands and ignore the environmental movement’s significant progress in recent decades. The loosely structured assemblage of damning information eventually proves more numbing than illuminating.
“Now, I know this all might seem overwhelming,” Gibbs tells us near the end of the film, and he’s right. His ultimate solution to what he describes as a “human-caused apocalypse” is to stem population growth. Presumably, a global pandemic isn’t what he had in mind.
Production company: Huron Mountain Films
Distributor: Rumble Media (available on YouTube)
Director-screenwriter: Jeff Gibbs
Producers: Jeff Gibbs, Ozzie Zehner
Executive producer: Michael Moore
Directors of photography: Jeff Gibbs, Ozzie Zehner, Christopher Henze
Editors: Jeff Gibbs, Angela Vargos
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