Grassroots activist Suzanna Jones observes how even long-time environmentalists can become misled.
Faulty: Bill McKibben’s Crisis Logic
By Suzanna Jones
Vermont has a reputation for producing sturdy New England farm folk – hardscrabble people who lived full lives in challenging conditions. Our neighbors, Frank and Virginia, were prime examples. Living well into their eighties, they never owned a car or a phone, and never went on a vacation; they saved and reused everything, and grew their own food. Despite – or probably because of – the simplicity of their lives, they were happy.
Now there is a different kind of folk in the Green Mountain landscape. You’ll find them rushing to the airport in their hybrid car, smartphone glued to their hands, trying to catch a plane for their vacation abroad. Often well-meaning and ‘progressive’, they tend to look down on people like Frank and Virginia for not being ‘green’ enough. The reality, of course, is that these self-described environmentalists have a far greater impact on the Earth than those older Vermonters did.
Mainstream notions of monetary and career ‘success’ lead us to dismiss simpler ways of life. Unfortunately, this leaves us utterly wedded to the economic system that lies behind all our environmental problems, including climate change.
Bill McKibben‘s recent appearance in Hardwick to promote his new book, Falter, got me thinking about this. Back in 2008 McKibben correctly identified our growth-obsessed economy as the source of the ecological collapse we face today, explaining that when the economy grows larger than necessary to meet our basic needs, its social and environmental costs outweigh any benefits.
He pointed out that our consumerist way of life – in which we strive for more no matter how much we already have – is one of the ways corporations keep our bloated economy growing. The irony, he added, is that perennial accumulation does not even make us happy. But now, sadly, McKibben studiously avoids criticizing the very economy he once fingered as the source of our environmental crisis.
During his talk he referred to Exxon’s ‘big lie’: the company knew about climate change long ago but hid the truth. Ironically, McKibben’s presentation did something similar by hiding the fact that his only ‘solution’ to climate change – the rapid transition from fossil fuels to industrial renewables – actually causes astounding environmental damage.
Out of the Back Comes Modernity
Solar power, he said, is “just glass angled at the sun, and out the back comes ‘modernity’.” But solar is much more than just glass. One example? Like wind power, it requires the environmentally devastating – and fossil-fuel based – mining of rare earth metals. And that ‘modernity’ coming out the back? That is the lifestyle that is killing the planet.
McKibben extolled the virtues of Green Mountain Power’s industrial ‘renewable’ developments, failing to mention that GMP sells the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from those projects to out-of-state utilities, thereby subsidizing the production of dirty energy elsewhere. He also neglected to say that one of GMP’s parent companies is tar sands giant Enbridge, which owns a $1.5 billion stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline and is currently working to use Vermont as a corridor for future fracked-gas transport.
Therein Lies the Deception
McKibben once claimed that “every turn of the blade” of an industrial wind turbine “reduces fossil fuel consumption somewhere.” When the RECs are sold, however, this is simply untrue. And while the production and installation of every turbine has serious environmental costs, every reduction in consumption really does reduce fossil fuel use somewhere, while simultaneously reducing environmental impacts.
Renewables only make sense in tandem with drastic reductions in energy consumption, and are best implemented through small-scale, grid-free efforts. But what we have instead is corporations continuing to market the psychotic American dream – powered by ‘renewables’! This co-opted response to climate change is no longer about protecting nature from the ever expanding human nightmare, it is about sustaining the comforts and luxuries we feel entitled to. It is business-as-usual disguised as concern for the Earth. It is utterly empty, but it serves the destructive economy.
Though not Mckibben’s intent, this is what he implicitly supports.
Changing the Fuel Does Not Stop Ecocide
Climate change is a crisis, but it is only one of many ways the planet is being destroyed. Changing the fuel that runs the system that is killing the planet is not a solution. An effective response would resemble shifting towards the way Frank and Virginia lived. It won’t look ‘cool’, or stroke the attention-seeking narcissism of social media addicts, but it would have immediate benefits.
That shift will require a major rethinking of our lives and economy; it asks us to have the maturity, courage, humility and wisdom to put nature and her needs first. McKibben deserves credit for sounding the alarm about climate change early on, but now he should tell people the unvarnished truth: that if we cannot sacrifice our comforts, luxuries and rapid mobility because we love this Earth, then there really is no hope.
Suzanna Jones lives off grid on a small farm in Northern Vermont. She has been fighting injustice, destruction of the land, and industrial wind projects for decades and has been arrested several times.
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by Suzanna Jones / Counterpunch
Walden, Vermont–In his 2008 book Deep Economy, Bill McKibben concludes that economic growth is the source of the ecological crises we face today. He explains that when the economy grows larger than necessary to meet our basic needs – when it grows for the sake of growth, automatically striving for “more” – its social and environmental costs greatly outweigh any benefits it may provide.
Unfortunately, McKibben seems to have forgotten what he so passionately argued just five years ago. Today he is an advocate of industrial wind turbines on our ridgelines: he wants to industrialize our last wild spaces to feed the very economy he fingered as the source of our environmental problems.
His key assumption is that industrial wind power displaces the use of coal and oil, and therefore helps limit climate change. But since 2000, wind facilities with a total capacity equivalent to 350 coal-fired power plants have been installed worldwide, and today there are more – not fewer – coal-fired power plants operating. (In Vermont, the sale of Renewable Energy Credits to out-of-state utilities enables them to avoid mandates to reduce their fossil fuel dependency, meaning that there is no net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.) At best, industrial wind simply adds more energy to the global supply. And what for? More! More energy than the grid can carry, more idiotic water parks, more snowmaking, more electronic gadgets, more money for corporations.
Why should we spend millions of dollars to destroy wildlife habitat, kill bats and eagles, pollute our headwaters, fill valuable wetlands, polarize our communities, make people sick, mine rare earth metals – just to ensure that we can consume as much or more next year than we did this year?
The costs of industrial wind far outweigh the benefits… unless you are a wind developer. Federal production tax credits and other subsidies have fostered a gold rush mentality among wind developers, who have been abetted by political and environmental leaders who want to appear “green” without challenging the underlying causes of our crises. Meanwhile, average Vermonters find themselves without any ability to protect their communities or the ecosystems of which they are part. The goal of an industrial wind moratorium is to stop the gold rush so we can have an honest discussion on these issues. Why does this frighten proponents of big wind? Because once carefully examined, industrial wind will be exposed for the scam that it is.
McKibben’s current attitude towards the environment has been adopted by politicians, corporations, and the big environmental organizations. Environmentalism has been successfully mainstreamed, at the cost of its soul. This co-opted version isn’t about protecting the landbase from the ever-expanding empire of humans. It’s about sustaining the comfort levels we feel entitled to without exhausting the resources required. It is entirely human-centered and hollow, and it serves corporate capitalism well.
In Deep Economy, McKibben points out that the additional “stuff” provided by an ever-growing economy doesn’t leave people happier; instead, the source of authentic happiness is a healthy connection to nature and community. As Vermonters have already discovered, industrial wind destroys both.
What industrial wind represents should be obvious to everyone: this is business-as-usual disguised as concern for the Earth. Far from genuine “environmentalism”, it is the same profit- and growth-driven destruction that is at the root of every ecological crisis we face.
Suzanna Jones is an off-the-grid farmer living in Walden. She was among those arrested protesting the Lowell wind project in 2011.
By Lierre Keith, Derrick Jensen, and Max Wilbert
“The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has always been uppermost in my mind,” Rachel Carson wrote.“That, and anger at the senseless, brutish things that were being done.”
Silent Spring, which inspired the modern environmental movement, was more than a critique of pesticides, it was a cri de couer against industrialized society’s destruction of the natural world.
Yet five decades of environmental activism haven’t stopped the destruction, or even slowed it. In those same decades, global animal populations have dropped by 70 percent. Right now, we are losing about one football field of forest every single second. Looking forward provides no solace: the oceans are projected to be empty of fish by 2048.
A salient reason for this failure is that so much environmentalism no longer focuses on saving wild beings and wild places, but instead on how to power their destruction. The beings and biomes who were once our concern have disappeared from the conversation. In their place we are now told to advocate for projects like the Green New Deal. While endangered ecosystems get a mention, the heart of the plan is “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” in the service of industrial manufacturing.
This new movement is called bright green environmentalism.
Its advocates believe technology and design can render industrial civilization sustainable, and that “green technologies” are good for the planet. Some bright greens are well-known and beloved figures like Al Gore, Naomi Klein, and Bill McKibben as well as organizations like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Audubon. These committed activists have brought the emergency of climate change into consciousness, a huge win as glaciers melt and tundra burns. But bright greens are solving for the wrong variable. Their solutions to global warming take our way of life as a given, and the planet’s health as the dependent variable. That’s backwards: the planet’s health must be more important than our way of life because without a healthy planet you don’t have any way of life whatsoever.
The bright green narrative has to ignore the creatures and communities being consumed. Take the Scottish wildcat, numbering a grim 35, all at risk from a proposed wind installation. Or the birds dying by the thousands at solar facilities in California, where concentrated sunlight melts every creature flying over.
Or the entire biome of the southern wetland forest, being logged four times faster than South American rainforests. Dozens of huge pulp mills export 100 percent of this “biomass” to Europe to feed the demand for biofuels, which bright greens promote as sustainable and carbon-neutral. The forest has a biological diversity unmatched in North America, lush with life existing nowhere else and barely hanging on. This includes the Southeastern American Kestrel. They need longleaf pine savannahs, and longleaf pine have been reduced to 3% of their range. The kestrels depend for their homes on red-cockaded woodpeckers, who exist as a whisper at 1% of historic numbers. Last in this elegiac sample is the gopher tortoise. Four hundred mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects cannot survive without the protective cover of the burrows dug by tortoises, tortoises now critically endangered. All these creatures are our kin: our fragile, wondrous, desperate kin, and environmentalists would have them reduced to pellets, shipped to Europe, and burned, while calling their slaughter “green.”
Facts about renewable energy are worse than inconvenient.
First, industrial civilization requires industrial levels of energy. Second is that fossil fuel — especially oil — is functionally irreplaceable. Scaling renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, hydro, and biomass, would constitute ecocide. Twelve percent of the continental United States would have to be covered in windfarms to meet electricity demand alone. To provide for the U.S.A.’s total energy consumption, fully 72% of the continent would have to be devoted to wind farms. Meanwhile, solar and wind development threaten to destroy as much land as projected urban sprawl, oil and gas, coal, and mining combined by 2050.
Finally, solar, wind, and battery technologies are, in their own right, assaults against the living world. From beginning to end, they require industrial-scale devastation: open-pit mining, deforestation, soil toxification that’s permanent on a geologic timescale, extirpation of vulnerable species, and use of fossil fuels. In reality, “green” technologies are some of the most destructive industrial processes ever invented. They won’t save the earth. They’ll only hasten its demise.
There are solutions, once we confront the actual problem.
Simply put, we have to stop destroying the planet and let the world come back. A recent study in Nature found we could cut the carbon added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution in half by reverting 30% of the world’s farmland to its natural state. This would also preserve 70% of endangered animals and plants. This is the lowest of low hanging fruit when it comes to combating climate change and healing our planet. Everywhere there are examples of how the wounded are healed, the missing appear, and the exiled return. Forests repair, grasses take root, and soil sequesters carbon. It’s not too late.
The green new deal has reforestation as one of its goals, but it’s not the main goal, as it should be. If environmentalism is going to help save the planet — and if it’s going to respond to global warming commensurate with the threat — it needs to return to its roots, and remember the love that founders like Rachel Carson had for the land. We need to pledge our loyalty to this planet, our only home.
There’s no time for despair.
Wildcats and kestrels need us now. We have to take back our movement and defend our beloved. How can we do less? And with all of life on our side, how can we lose?
Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert are the authors of the forthcoming book, Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It. The book will be available March 16th, but you can pre-order to your local bookstore or library via IndieBound now.
Grassroots activist Suzanna Jones challenges the idea that green energy is good and rebukes the corporations and ideologically-captured organizations who promote it.
By Suzanna Jones
The recently released documentary Planet of the Humans takes direct aim at the major threat to the Earth.
It does this by asking fundamental questions: can Nature withstand continued industrial extraction; can humans – particularly those in the dominant West – persist in taxing the natural world to fulfill our own ‘needs’ and desires; is ‘green’ energy the savior for our climatic and environmental problems or is it a false prophet distracting us from confronting the gargantuan elephant in the room, what writer Wendell Berry calls “history’s most destructive economy”?
New roads built for the Lowell Wind Energy site in Vermont destroy and fragment important wildlife habitat for black bears, moose, and bobcat among others.
The Hypocrisy of Mainstream “Environmentalism”
Filmmakers Jeff Gibbs, Ozzie Zehner and Michael Moore don’t just ask questions, they highlight the hypocrisies of big shots like Al Gore and the national Sierra Club. Even Vermont comes in for less than flattering commentary. Planet of the Humans depicts Green Mountain Power‘s ridge-destroying Lowell Mountain industrial wind project, Burlington’s McNeil wood-burning electric generating plant, and Middlebury College’s biomass gasification facility as examples of the renewable energy delusion. And Bill McKibben, Middlebury’s Scholar-in-Residence, is cast as a string that connects all three.
The film has struck a nerve. Those depicted unfavorably have reacted. Some who admit to having enjoyed Michael Moore’s filmmaking strategy in the past don’t find him so funny this time. The criticisms reveal how much power and money lie behind the renewables-as-savior myth. With so much at stake, the industry and big environmental organizations have little appetite for discussing or even acknowledging the unsavory side of the technologies. And ultimately, the core issues remain unaddressed; the most important things remain unspoken.
Sustaining the Planet vs. Sustaining Industrial Civilization
Frankly, the green energy ‘movement’ is really about sustaining our way of life and the economic system that it depends upon, not the health of the biosphere. Capitalism is brilliant at co-opting anything that resists it. Green energy – like much of the broader environmental movement – is no exception. It’s business-as-usual in camouflage.
Back when Green Mountain Power’s bulldozing and blasting began at Lowell Mountain, a group of locals organized ‘open-house’ walks up the mountain to view the devastation. Hundreds attended these fall/winter treks. Shock and heartbreak were the usual response. Bill McKibben was personally invited to attend. Though his response was polite, he would not be coming. He dismissed our concern for the mountain as “ephemeral.”
That word underscores what has gone so terribly wrong with green energy “environmentalism.” Something is absent. That something? Love. Love of the places and living beings that are suffering or being destroyed so that we can live our electronic, nature-less existence. Affection for the natural, non- human world is missing in the discussions about climate, carbon and techno-fixes. Nothing seems to matter now but humans and their desires.
“Although it’s morally wrong to destroy the land community, people are going to sustain it, not because it’s morally right but because they want to; affection is going to be the determining motive”, Wendell Berry has explained in the past. “Economic constraints might cancel out affection, but genuine affection is going to be the motivating cause.”
The Moral Basis of Organizing for Justice
Without affection, we’re more likely to thoughtlessly sacrifice living beings on the altar of economics. When the film reveals who is paying the ultimate price for our ‘green’ energy consumption, we recognize affection for the casualty it has become. We are half-asleep, anesthetized by the barrage of meaningless marketing, with its hollow premise that we can continue to consume our way to happiness.
As I was planting in the garden this warm, spring day, the returning swallows joyfully zipping overhead made me stop. Usually this ritual is accompanied by the background droning of distant car traffic, but due to the pandemic, the infernal engines were silent. It made me wonder. Can we live in healthy reciprocity with the natural world? Can we make the shared economic sacrifices that are necessary or will we continue to sacrifice Nature? Can we make drastic reductions in consumption and live more local, less materially prosperous, more fulfilling lives? Can we replace modernity’s painful alienation from Nature with a genuine sense of intimacy, affection, meaning and responsibility? Will those in power let us? Will we allow them to decide for us?
On of 21 wind turbine pads at Lowell Wind Project in Vermont.
Our way of life is inherently unsustainable. We can’t buy or build our way out of this one. Yes, the climate crisis is both undeniable and existential, but it is not the only way the Earth is being destroyed. Simply changing the fuel that powers our destructive, planet-killing system is not a solution.
Planet of the Humans challenges our assumptions and our arrogance. It asks us to face what we have done, experience the grief, and then allow our hearts to consider an entirely new path into the future.
Suzanna Jones lives off grid on a small farm in Northern Vermont. She has been fighting injustice, destruction of the land, and industrial wind projects for decades and has been arrested several times.
Wildlife images by Roger Irwin depict native wildlife near the site of a proposed wind energy facility on Seneca Mountain. That project was canceled due to community organizing in opposition. Aerial photographs by Steve Wright depict Lowell Wind Energy Facility. Check out this photo essay on the impact of “green” energy on mountain landscapes.
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In this critical review, Elisabeth Robson reacts to the newly released environmental documentary Planet of the Humans. The film explains why technology won’t save us and leads viewers to question the industrial paradigm.
Liberals have been quick to attack the film, mistaking it for a pro-fossil or pro-nuclear fuel argument, and recognizing that critiquing “green” energy undermines the morality of their entire ideological project of “sustainable modern development.” The far-right has attempted to co-opt the message as well. Both are predictable and profoundly mistaken responses. See the end of this review for a few point-by-point rebuttals of these misrepresentations.
Our choice is not between “green” energy and fossil fuels. That is a false binary. We must choose between industrial destruction—including both ‘renewables’ and fossil fuels—and creating a biocentric future. We need revolutionary transformation of society, not superficial changes to the energy sources of empire. Planet of the Humans is not without flaws. No piece of media is. But it contributes critically to a movement too long dominated by cornucopian, anthropogenic industrial energy advocates.
Planet of the Humans: Why Technology Won’t Save Us
By Elisabeth Robson
Green energy is a false solution. That’s a nice way of putting it.
But green energy is the god of the left. And heaven forbid anyone from the left point out any of the pesky problems with this god. We expect that from people on the right; but the left? And now one of the left’s progressive heroes has gone and broken the rules and actually published an entire 1 hour and 40 minutes of documentary trashing this god. Needless to say, the backlash took less than 24 hours to begin.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The documentary film is Planet of the Humans. The film is narrated and directed by Jeff Gibbs, and executive produced by Michael Moore. It stars renewable energy generation technologies wind and solar, along with biomass, and with, of course, the obligatory supporting role appearance from electric vehicles.
Jeff channels Michael well. He is not afraid to look behind the curtain to see the man, or rather the fossil fuels, running the show, or to ask the uncomfortable questions. “Well, that’s awkward,” I find myself saying several times throughout the film.
We begin, appropriately enough, with a reminder of the first Earth Day, 50 years ago today as I write this now. That first Earth Day inspired the filmmaker to become an environmental journalist, and he went through a phase, as many of us have done, wishing and hoping so hard that green energy will help us kick our addiction to fossil fuels and save the planet, that he actually believed it for a while.
Wind and solar.
He soon discovers the intermittency problem: you can’t generate energy from solar panels when the sun isn’t shining, or from wind turbines when the wind isn’t blowing. Well, yes, that is a well known problem. He then discovers that fossil fuel powered energy plants must be running at the ready to fill in the gaps when the wind dies and it rains or the sun sets for the evening, and of course you can’t just stop and start fossil fuel powered energy plants on a whim. What about batteries he asks? Yes, but… they degrade quickly and require a lot of resources to make. How about the resources to make the wind and solar panels? Right, that’s a problem too.
And the land where wind and solar is installed? Oh, yes, the vast tracts of land torn up for wind and solar is yet another problem. But it’s just desert right? “Just desert”… sure, if you think centuries old cactus and Joshua trees, wildflowers that color the hills red, yellow, and purple after spring rains, and lizard and tortoise and eagle and wolf habitat is “just desert.”
Prayer walk for sacred water in the Mojave desert, home to numerous indigenous nations, a wide array of biodiversity, springs, wildflowers, ungulates, tortoises, lizards, birds, and some of the more remote lands in North America. The Mojave’s most serious threats come from the military, urban sprawl, and industrial solar development. Photo by Max Wilbert.
Gibbs looks at electric vehicles, trotted out by car companies as proof of their green credentials, but of course if wind and solar aren’t powering the grid, then all you’ve done to power the EVs is move the gas from the gas tank to the power plant. Unfortunately, the car company executive put on the spot did not seem to know much about the power grid, only about how much PR she was getting from the press about the EV she’s announcing.
Next, we meet biomass. Compared to wind and solar this is a low(er) tech solution to powering the world, which we might initially think is better–along with Bill McKibben who is shown proudly touting the benefits of chopping up trees into bits and burning them in power plants–but it turns out that no, we can’t cut down all the trees on the planet to power our lifestyles without some, you know, downsides. We see the fossil fuel powered-machines killing beautiful old trees, and the smoke and CO2 rising from the stacks while hearing about how biomass is “carbon neutral,” from people who obviously don’t understand the difference between trees, and a healthy, thriving forest. We meet the community members subjected to biomass plants that are burning, along with trees, old tires and creosote-soaked railroad ties.
And all along the way, Jeff and his sidekick Ozzie Zehner, author of Green Illusions and co-producer of the film, ask the uncomfortable questions of the celebrities of the left: Van Jones, Bill McKibben, various big wigs at the Sierra Club, along with plenty of clips showing Al Gore at his hypocritical finest, touting capitalism and the profit he will be making personally if only we would invest more money in renewable technologies.
The only conclusion the viewer can draw by the end of the film is the inescapable fact, that no one on the left wants to admit: there is no get out of jail free card. There never was, and there never will be. As long as we try to tech, mine, build, and burn our way out of this mess, we will only make the problem worse.
Why technology won’t save us
While the film, Planet of The Humans focuses almost entirely on the problems of wind, solar, and biomass, and the corporate culture of profit surrounding these industries, we also understand that the filmmaker gets it–as in, the big picture. That it’s not just about climate change, air pollution, water pollution, or even corporate greed. It’s that even if we managed to miraculously replace all the grid energy and liquid fuels we use with so-called renewable sources of energy, it wouldn’t solve the fundamental issues at the heart of all these problems: that it is our industrial civilization and the relentless push for endless growth that is killing the planet. The film makers do not raise this point explicitly, but it is there for all to see if only we care to look. Just like these problems with renewables have been there all along, no matter how hard we try to ignore the fact that solar panels and wind turbines require massive amounts of metals mined out of the ground, ground that was once someone’s home, and is now destroyed; and no matter how hard we try to ignore that biomass is just a euphemism for dead trees, trees the same so-called environmentalists who invest in biomass energy plants tell us we must save in order to sequester CO2 and protect biodiversity.
The hypocrisy is stunning, as it always has been. We are all guilty of it to some degree–I know I am–but at least I can say that I’m trying to learn more, to keep an open but critical mind, and to spend the time to look more deeply at these issues. I’ve learned to not just take on faith the words of the corporate-backed and often fossil fuel-supported organizations mentioned in this film who tell me we can solve everything–have our cake and eat it too–if we just have enough green energy.
A reviewer from The Guardian wrote in response to the film:
“Most chillingly of all, Gibbs at one stage of the film appears to suggest that there is no cure for any of this, that, just as humans are mortal, so the species itself is staring its own mortality in the face. But he appears to back away from that view by the end, saying merely that things need to change. But what things and how?
It’s not at all clear.”
Yes, this film makes the case that things need to change. What things? Everything. How? By shutting down the entire industrial machine.
The film never explicitly condemns industrial civilization as the root of our problems. However, as I said above, it is there to see for anyone who is paying attention. I might wish it had been stated explicitly and directly, but this message is hard to miss. The point of the film is that everything about how we live on this planet needs to change, and deluding ourselves about how we can continue life as we know it powered by green energy is not just a waste of time; it is criminal. Only by acknowledging this truth can we put aside the fantasy of green energy and begin to formulate real solutions. And yes, the real solutions mean shutting down the entire industrial machine. Not just fossil fuels, but everything: all the mining, the logging, the industrial fishing, the industrial agriculture… everything. It’s all got to change.
The lesson, and the moral of the story, is that we (humans) will be entirely to blame for our own demise, when it comes, if we continue down the path of using massive amounts of energy–no matter how that energy is generated–to expand our ecocidal footprint on this planet.
I hold my breath as the end of the film approaches. Will this film, like so many others, try to end on an optimistic note? The green god of the left requires optimism to end all his religious services, don’t you know.
No. This film, unlike so many others, manages to avoid the tragedy of ending with delusional optimism. We see instead the tragedy of rainforests decimated, rainforests that orangutans call home. The tragedy of lives lost to human greed and cruelty; the desperation, sadness, and confusion written all over the faces of those beautiful beings who remind us so much of ourselves.
It is the perfect, heart-wrenching ending to this film: we understand, without any words being spoken, that green energy, along with the many other horrors of our industrial civilization, is killing us and all life on this beautiful planet we call home.
To join the resistance and help end industrial civilization, check out https://deepgreenresistance.org/.
Commons Criticisms of the Film and Responses
False Critique #1: The film uses inaccurate information, for example about CSP (Concentrated Solar Power)
Critic: “It is stated correctly in the movie that the Ivanpah concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in California requires a natural gas power source to start it up every morning. Other CSP plants do not, however. And newer CSP designs, like the one operating at Crescent Dunes solar plant in Nevada since 2009, use molten salt to store enough of the sun’s heat to keep the generators running all night long.”
Robson: Most CSPs here in the USA have been an utter failure, including Crescent Dunes, which seems to be shut down now. The plant never managed to achieve its expected monthly output, and was entirely shut down for 8 months of its short life because of a leak in the molten salt thermal storage tank.
In addition, CSP plants are incredibly destructive to the land where they are installed. Typically the land is cleared of all life, like you see in the movie… which means habitat and homes lost for countless beings who lived on that land previously. When wildlife people try to relocate the desert tortoises that often live in these locations, not many survive. They fence off the land so the tortoises can’t get back in. And birds that fly through the hottest part of the light as it’s collected can sometimes burn to death.
I wonder if all that infrastructure is still sitting there, trashing up the desert? Certainly the soil and life they destroyed putting it up will take a very very long time to recover even if the infrastructure is eventually removed.
And none of this changes the fact that it requires metals and materials and fuel to build and maintain these things, that they are very low density sources of energy, and incredibly inefficient, consist of toxic waste at the end of their life spans, are designed to power the grid and our lifestyles that depend on the grid, which is unsustainable over the long term.
Laura Cunningham, Wildlife Biologist (comment from Facebook): Ten years ago I fought to save Ivanpah Valley and stop that monstrous solar power tower. This movie is accurate–the Sierra Club supported building the utility-scale solar project on the wildflower fields, translocating the desert tortoises, and ignoring my Chemehuevi elder friends who said every plant in the desert there is medicinal or edible. Ivanpah means “White clay water” in Paiute-Chemehuevi. I watched them bulldoze an ancient trail and archaeology. More giant solar projects are planned in the desert this year, this needs to stop.
False Critique #2: The film unfairly attacks certain figures
Critic: “It is hugely disingenuous, and frankly misleading, to hide in the credits at the end of a movie the fact that two of the leading organizations being damned in the movie for their support of biomass as a “green” energy source (350.org and Sierra Club) do not, in fact, support biomass any more. Bill McKibben deserves an apology for being misrepresented in this film …”
Robson: I feel the film maker gave Bill McKibben ample opportunity to refute his prior support of biomass *on film*. The film shows proof that Bill once did support it, whole-heartedly. Since the film came out McKibben has written this to say that while he used to support biomass, he no longer does: https://350.org/response-planet-of-the-humans-documentary/
Sierra Club has a page on biomass, where they state: “We believe that biomass projects can be sustainable, but that many biomass projects are not.”
Both 350.org and Sierra Club, and Bill McKibben personally, do whole-heartedly support “renewables,” including wind and solar.
350.org‘s main mission is “A fast & just transition to 100% renewable energy for all”, and their primary focus is climate change. The number one item on Sierra Club’s “issues” page is “Climate & Energy”, and speaking for the Sierra Club, ED Michael Brune said: “The booming clean energy economy is helping people create a better future for themselves and their families while, at the same time, helping to tackle the climate crisis that threatens our collective future. Workers see new job opportunities, communities see thriving local economies, and the American people see the inevitable transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.”
It is good that 350.org and Sierra Club and Bill McKibben have improved their stances on biomass; and certainly these organizations do some good work. But their support for “clean energy” will perpetuate our unsustainable lifestyles, and, as the film points out, is likely tied to corporate investment in these and related technologies, as well as the mining, extraction, refining, batteries, grids, etc. technologies that go with them.
Also, a personal note: I think using the word “biomass” to refer to trees, or plants, or whatever life form it refers to, is a horrific way to look at the natural world. It’s like using the word “resources” instead of trees, water, fish, etc. It turns real living beings into objects, and is a huge part of the problem.
False Critique #3: The film endorses problematic ideas of population control
Critic: “Like many environmental documentaries, “Planet of Humans” endorses debunked Malthusian ideas that the world is running out of energy. ‘We have to have our ability to consume reigned in,’ says a well-coiffed environmental leader. ‘Without some major die-off of the human population there is no turning back,’ says a scientist.”
I do not recall anyone in the movie advocating for one-child policies, or any other draconian population policies. I personally felt like the population issue was a relatively minor point in the film compared to the points about solar, wind, and biomass. [Population is discussed for a few minutes during the 100 minute film].
It is very clear that 8 billion humans would not exist without massive amounts of fossil fuels. I don’t think many would argue with that at this point (and if you have a cogent argument, I’d like to see it). In addition, several studies have recently shown that we humans have transformed a large proportion of the Earth in modern times. We have reduced wilderness areas to almost nothing, and wildlife to almost nothing.
So yeah, population is a problem. I thought the film did a fairly good job of raising it as an issue without being particularly “Malthusian” about it (in the pejorative sense that word is used today).
Elisabeth Robson is a radical feminist and a part of DGR.