Movie Review: The Planet of the Humans

Planet of the Humans is a climate change documentary presented by Michael Moore. The prolific Bowling for Columbine and Sicko documentarian served as executive producer on this environmental documentary that attempts to blow the lid on the hypocrisies of the green technology movement. For decades, going green and supporting initiatives transitioning towards renewable energy by way of wind, solar and biomass have been praised. As writer, producer, director and devil’s advocate Jeff Gibbs asserts, it’s largely an illusion propagated by billionaires, politicians and corporate agenda.

A collaborator of Moore’s, Gibbs has been an active documentarian and as his credits on Planet of the Humans suggest a versatile, self-made film-maker. His latest film is a passion project with the film-maker in full control over almost every aspect of Planet of the Humans, including editing even crafting several musical compositions. Leaning on his baseball cap buddy for advice and support, his latest film has already amassed over 3 million views since it was released for free on YouTube. Gibbs may be the driving force behind this documentary but it’s coasted on Moore’s name, which is quite surprising when you consider Moore’s political slant and commitment to exposing corporate America.

While the sentiment of revealing hypocrisy and following the money trail is in keeping with Moore’s documentaries, Planet of the Humans undercuts the green technology revolution without contrasting the devastation of corporate fossil fuel giants. The main impetus of his argument is that green initiatives are overly reliant on traditional fossil fuel to be created, installed and seen as sustainable. Attacking wealthy businessmen and key proponents of the movement, who are driving renewable energy projects for sheer profit, Gibbs suggests their efforts are insidious and ineffective.

Planet of the Humans is an attempt to point out the emperor has no clothes. The documentary leans heavily on the research of author and producer Ozzie Zehner’s book, ‘Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism’. It’s a dangerous and controversial viewpoint that relies on old data and the testimony of small town professors, anthropologists, authors and candid interviews with locals and media representatives.

“I burn wood at home, so I can’t comment.”

Gibbs takes on solar energy by grappling with the construction and material of the panels, arguing that they’re not nearly as effective or long-lasting as manufacturers would have you believe. He visits a solar farm “ghost town”, undercuts the Ivanpah solar thermal project and goes behind-the-scenes at environmental music festivals to see what’s really powering them. When it comes to wind energy, he visits windmill sites to imply the cost of creating the giant mills in terms of raw materials outweighs the long-term benefit. Gibbs identifies that many coal plants are simply replaced by natural gas plants, which while cleaner are still working against the environment. He scouts biomass production facilities to argue that trees aren’t growing quickly enough to continue wood chip demand.

While Gibbs tries to offer a holistic vantage point, citing his own belief in green technology before being dumbfounded, he maintains his narrative of hypocrisy at all costs. Skimming over the clean energy projects that he can’t dig up enough dirt on, he doesn’t unpack the complexities of the situation. Failing to interview energy experts, doggedly pushing his stick-it-to-the-inside-man agenda and hauling a circus tent over the entire matter, Planet of the Humans doesn’t try to understand the nuances of the situation. There isn’t a perfect renewable energy system, yet as well-balanced climate change documentaries like Ice on Fire point out… by making green energy profitable it will eventually win over the fossil fuel industries.

It’s a time-consuming process. Given that the earth is running out of natural resources, we don’t have much time to keep calm and carry on as Greta Thurnberg would illustrate more forcefully. Planet of the Humans is such a stir of misinformation that it almost makes you wonder how the documentary was funded. Surprisingly, there’s no mention of the Trump administration’s policies or full investigation into the current and continued exploitation of fossil fuels beyond a playful montage.

Based on its composite nature, fielding footage from a multitude of platforms, it comes across as a low budget venture, a springboard for its producers. Thom Yorke agreed to have a track from Radiohead included in the soundtrack and Planet of the Humans definitely plays into the same arena as eye-opening documentaries like Earthlings. However, its attempt at being earnest is simply to cover up gaping holes in contemporary data and leading expert testimony with emotion.

Gibbs is intent on “winning” the argument with emotion. He targets this storytelling device – starting with people explaining how long they think humanity has left, panning across dilapidated houses in a failed solar farm town, poking fun at the efforts of renewable energy projects with his key interviewee/producer and leveraging heartrending footage of orangutans affected by Indonesia’s palm oil deforestation without even addressing that issue. Primarily concerned with America with a few scattered international pot shots – Planet of the Humans isn’t the global green technology conspiracy revolution it pretends to be. Maintaining that population growth is the single biggest issue affecting us, Gibbs doesn’t venture into any real solutions.

Planet of the Humans is a fascinating diversion. While the documentary is dangerous in the way it twists the truth, there are some positive spin-offs. The film does bring climate change, agencies and figures into greater public awareness. The documentary demonstrates that big business is getting behind what appears to be lucrative green initiatives showing that renewable energy can be and is profitable. Planet of the Humans also makes it clear that agencies purporting to be green aren’t beyond reproach and will be held to account.

While Gibbs doesn’t offer much optimism or hope in the way of solutions, it’s clear that the climate change issue is much more complicated than we think. While it may make you want to throw your hands up, what we can take away is that the depletion of natural resources and migration to cleaner energy can be improved through better planning and reducing our personal energy consumption.

The bottom line: Slanted