Planet of the Humans – A Review
Director Jeff Gibbs; producer Ozzie Zehner
Planet of the Humans is a documentary film just released at the Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF). The film makes two clear points. First it argues and validates the alarming growth of CO2 emissions, which continues while the country does nothing of significance to counter it. Second, the film argues the environmental movement has accepted large sums of money from the energy industry and now panders to them in their obsession with growth and profit.
The film focuses on the development of solar, wind, and bio-mass energy, and the public perception these efforts work well as alternatives to burning coal in the generation of heat and power. Viewers learn quickly these fuels generate a tiny share of power needs in the U.S. and elsewhere. We learn to doubt these alternative fuels can make a significant dent in the growth of CO2 emissions without limiting our use of fossil fuels. As one example, we meet a scientist who explains solar energy needs solar chips made from quartz and coal, requiring great sums of fossil fuel burning heat to produce, and they do not last indefinitely. We see large rectangular spaces filled with solar panels and learn they provide a year’s worth of energy for ten houses. We learn coal-burning energy must continue as a back up to cloudy days.
The filmmakers use much the same method for wind power and bio-mass. For wind we go to Lowell Mountain along the Long Trail in north central Vermont, where the now denuded ridge of the mountain has 450 foot windmill towers lined up in a row. We tend to forget constructing, installing and maintaining these towers uses great quantities of fossil fuel for creating an intermittent and indeterminate power source. Here we meet people distressed at the destruction of the forest and disruption of the solitude the Long Trail should represent.
Bio-mass advocates justify clear-cutting vast stretches of forested land with the excuse trees regenerate, except the camera gives a panorama of the worst of environmental destruction in the film with vast stretches of barren ground and not a sign of any living thing. In the village of L’Anse in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula we meet a woman distressed at the air pollution their bio-mass plant creates from burning chips made of old car tires. Management claims they need these hotter burning chips. We realize reducing coal consumption does not necessarily clean up the air.
The filmmakers cut back and forth from depressed and depressing locations around the country to corporate public relations events pitching their subsidized alternative fuel projects as the way to end our CO2 emissions worries. Two events covered in the film had outdoor concerts powered with solar panels, except the filmmakers went behind the tents and found the electricians managing the generators; they admitted solar power would not be enough. We attend an event promoting electric cars where General Motors CEO Mary Barra could not confirm savings on CO2 emissions for cars using coal powered electricity; she smiled awkwardly in her failure to do so.
Clips from these events and some separate interviews establish the sell-out of the Sierra Club and other groups we associate with environmental protection. We meet smiling white men - except one black man and Mary Barra – reading canned speeches and announcing dollars of investments in alternative fuels, but they stumble and fumble badly when confronted with conflicting questions. None wanted to address the conflict of environmental destruction their projects cause, or the few jobs they create, or their tiny effect on CO2. Mr. Inconvenient Truth himself, Al Gore, looked especially pathetic evading questions; while he evaded and avoided the film documented corporate payments to him and others as “paid consultants.” Money has transformed Gore into another member of America’s bloated gang of corporate rogues and scoundrels.
The film tells the story from what we see on the screen, as documentary films should do. The film editors cut from one place, and one scene, to another quickly, but sporadically leave a short interval with a blank screen as though we might need a few seconds to rest from their fast pace. Dialogue emphasizes scientists offering science explanations, interviews from on site victims and a sampling of corporate public relations. Viewers will not think filmmakers remain neutral in this debate, but they avoid preaching and stay in the background for the most part. In contrast we find the Koch brother owners of Georgia-Pacific sponsoring a website Treehugger.com, an especially cynical move by people with contempt for the intelligence and welfare of the larger society.
The only discussion of data for CO2 emissions comes from the numbers 350 and 416. I learned 350 stands for parts per million of carbon dioxide, a number formerly billed as an upper limit goal for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As of now, we learn the number is 416 just in case anyone doubts our collective failure to address global warning. Enough said.