Planet of the Humans
Shame on me...lazy blogger! Earth Day came and went a week ago without a peep—the perfect nickname for a blog post with no readers—from this self-proclaimed environmental activist. I originally planned on writing something on this 50th anniversary, but then I saw Michael Moore talk on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert about a movie called "Planet of the Humans" that he was releasing for free on YouTube to commemorate the big day. I wanted to watch it before making my blood-rare (beef humor) blog effort. I watched it, was disappointed by it, and yet I highly recommend that everyone (who's not easily subject to depression or suicide) watch this film. There's no happy ending, but if you know anything about our dire environmental trend, you already know the end is devastating. I recommend you watch it because you'll probably learn something from it and because it helps give new energy to the "what to do now" dialog, despite its complete lack of specific suggestions.
If you are not inclined to read on, know this: We must do two things to survive in the long run (beyond ~2150, by my guess):
Stop the population explosion.
Dramatically reduce our net consumption of energy per person.
It's conceptually simple but we're just not going to do it, are we? It would be so great if we could accomplish these two things without the help of deadly, global pandemics. One of the scientists says, "We [humans] don't have a way out of this [overpopulation crisis]." I assert that we will have a way out of this. The massive reduction in emissions that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic is just a hint that the "way out" might not be one of our choosing.
I have so many reactions and thoughts related to the movie, but I'm going to allow myself a very limited amount of time here to express them. Rather than wordsmithing them into smoothly flowing paragraphs, I'm going to just throw them into a list, much like my list of "ideas" on how everyone can help improve our environment.
Thanks for the wake-up call! I was already up, but a lot of people still don't seem to appreciate that our global population growth (shown above in a very real historical chart, not a crazy hockey stick prediction of the future) and overconsumption are snuffing out our environment.
This movie is a real "downer" even by my standards. This seems to be the way Ozzie Zehner (featured heavily in the movie) likes to operate: Point out the flaws without working on solutions. He's very good at exposing the weaknesses and fraud associated with renewable energy options, and he shared a lot of info from his research that I was not aware of. But like any real "Debbie Downer," Ozzie—and director Jeff Gibbs—expend the entire film focusing on [somewhat outdated analyses of] bad science and bad people, and fail to focus any energy or intellect on how to make things better. This has made a lot of fans of nuclear and coal energy very happy, which is probably not good for anything. The movie doesn't even once mention the immutable truth: We have no choice but to continue research and development "R&D" to improve renewable energy solutions. They're not all going to be home runs, but we've done some "impossible" things when we've focused enough energy and imagination on them.
The movie didn't change my personal perspective, which isn't exactly optimistic: If our population continues to expand the way it has been and we continue to rely on fossil fuels for another couple centuries, there is no doubt in my mind that a rather small portion (read: richest with greatest resources) of the human race will make it through the Anthropocene Extinction.
Solar technology has improved tremendously since Ozzie's "Green Illusion" book was released in 2015, and much of the film's assessment seems that old. The only thing worse than bashing potentially viable green energy is doing it with old data.
It's true, we need to improve energy storage solutions and the grid, but having everyone contribute at a moderate level can do all kinds of good in the very near term. My wife and I are actually getting additional solar panels installed next week after enjoying the money-saving, energy-saving benefits from the prior installation several years ago. When we're still hearing about "brownout" issues from everybody turning on their air conditioners at the same time, it makes sense for us to do whatever we can to avoid being a part of that problem. If everyone in SoCal had at least a dozen panels on their single-family residences, I'll bet the brownout issue would disappear, even in record-breaking heat waves like the ones we're almost certain to experience this summer. SDG&E isn't going to have to "shut down" any regional [natural gas] power plants anytime soon due to an abundance of solar and wind energy.
Don't get me started on how unimaginative we are when it comes to commercial building design. The under-utilization of fresh, free-flowing air and solar heat (without photovoltaic conversion) is embarrassing. Why Michael Moore didn't coerce Gibbs into more of a "solution" than "execution" perspective is profoundly disappointing to me.
We need to change faster. While our air quality is better than it was in many places back in the 1960s and 1970s, I have to agree with the assessment [by one scientist interviewed in the film] that people are "delusional" if they think things are going to get better in the coming decades if we continue on our current path.
Sometimes filmmakers feel they need to leave a strong emotional impact, but I must say I think the film would have been more useful to humanity if it replaced the [borrowed!] footage of the stranded orangutans (who had lost their habitat due to deforestation) with footage filled with proposals and new ideas on how to get us out of this mess.
I'm sad to see the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day pass with so many things going wrong and getting worse (e.g. continually rising atmospheric CO₂ and other "greenhouse gas" levels). I won't be around in another 50 years, and I'm sorry to be part of a generation that didn't do a better job of taking care of our planet. Let's get to work.
PS: This film had the benefit of Michael Moore's name/marketing, but it was actually written, directed and produced by his old buddy Jeff Gibbs. It stayed under the radar for almost a year (it screened at a film festival in Michigan last summer), but got a lot of attention after being released on YouTube. It has the feel of a Michael Moore movie, which is not surprising given how much they've worked together.