We have heard from some of our community who, like myself, felt confused and disheartened after watching the recent Michael Moore produced film, Planet of the Humans. I am purposely not using the word "documentary" as this would infer that the film contains reliable facts, and it doesn't. The Guardian reports that climate scientists and environmental campaigners have described it as "Dangerous, misleading and destructive". And Rolling Stone says, "A very damaging film to the human struggle for a better way of living" . Environmentalists around the world agree that the film has caused untold damage at a time when climate action has never been more urgent.
What's all the fuss about?
Planet of the Humans is directed and narrated by Michael Moore's collaborator, Jeff Gibbs, who takes us on his journey from a greenie to renewables' trasher, sprouting a lot of old and incorrect information along the way. Released on Youtube last month on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (adding to its punch in the guts), the film has now been watched more than 7.5 million times to date.
Michael Moore's track record as a successful social justice documentary maker (Bowling for Columbine & Fahrenheit 9/11) gives Planet of the Humans enough credibility for people to take notice. George Monbiot highlights how damaging this is in an article he wrote for The Guardian. He says: "Dozens of films have spread falsehoods about environmental activists and ripped into green technologies, while letting fossil fuels off the hook. But never before have these attacks come from a famous campaigner for social justice, rubbing our faces in the dirt."
Critics say what is particularly disturbing about this film is the distinct lack of science, just lots of half baked truths and outdated footage, in some instances, from 25 years ago. Your average viewer, who doesn't know all that much about the science behind renewable energy and climate change (but has heard of Michael Moore), will assume that the information in the film is true. For an environmentalist or scientist, the movie is easy to debunk but those who don't know much about solar, wind or electric vehicles will take the film at face value. As for climate deniers, they will be rubbing their hands together with glee thinking, this is exactly what I thought.
How damaging is the film and how can I debunk its claims?
Inexplicably, the film spends a lot of time attacking solar and wind power. Why, when there is so much progress in both these forms of clean energy, did they choose to ignore the facts? The film didn't happen to mention that today countries like Iceland and Costa Rica obtain 100% and 99% respectively, of their energy from renewable resources, a combination of hydro and geothermal and wind. Instead the film chooses to show footage of broken down old wind turbines. Emeritus Professor, Ian Lowe, School of Science, Griffith University discusses some of the wrong claims made in the film in this online journal. One figure quoted in the film says solar panels converted just 8% of the energy they receive into electricity (a figure which Lowe says is 20 years old). When in actual fact solar panels installed on more than two million Australian roofs typically operate at 15-20% efficiency.
Early in the movie they show footage of a music concert that is promoted as being powered by solar. It starts raining half way through the concert and they have to swap to mains power. The footage of the concert is 25 years old!
The end of the film is really depressing. One of the last images is of dying orangutans being forced out of a cleared forest, leaving you feeling sad and fearful of the future. What is their point here? I think the answer is there is no point, the filmmaker is just pulling at our heart strings and making us think this is all somehow linked and it's all bad.
The film wraps up without any "hope" given or solutions provided for the future of renewables. You are left feeling that there is nothing you can do to stop climate change, which plays into the hands of the fossil fuel companies who want us to not act and keep burning fossil fuels.
What should I say to my friends who have watched it?
I wouldn't blame anyone for having doubts after watching Planet of the Humans because that is exactly what the film's producers want you to feel. If you haven't seen it yet, my advice is don't bother. If you have seen it or if your friends have and you want to talk to them about why it's wrong, you need to read one of the many rigorously researched articles which debunk the misinformation sprouted in this documentary.
Here's a couple more reading and viewing suggestions:-
By Allison Licence
Allison Licence is a Sydney-based freelance writer and 1 Million Women volunteer who is passionate about the environment and finding ways to live more sustainably.