Really, Michael Moore?

I watched your climate movie, and I have some questions.

Michael Moore’s new bombshell climate change documentary, Planet of the Humans, argues that renewable energy is worse for the planet than fossil fuels. It claims that the climate movement has been bought and sold by billionaire capitalists. And it argues that the only reason environmentalists don’t talk about population control is because “it would be bad for business.”

But does Michael Moore’s new bombshell climate change documentary, Planet of the Humans, include equally bombshell evidence to support these controversial claims? Does the film’s director Jeff Gibbs give the environmentalists he attacks a fair chance to respond? And on the extremely racially fraught issue of limiting population growth, do Moore and Gibbs interview any non-white experts to support their point?

That’s a no, and a no, and an extremely cringeworthy nooooope.

Look, y’all know I didn’t want to review Planet of the Humans. But by the end of last week, I definitely knew I wanted to at least watch it—because the film was already having consequences.

The day after it was released, for example, a reader and volunteer at Bill McKibben’s climate group 350 told me a member had left the organization over it. The reader forwarded me the member’s goodbye email:

The climate disinformation machine was also making a lot of noise about it. Breitbart’s climate denial columnist called Planets of the Humans “the most powerful, brutally honest and important documentary of [Michael Moore’s] career.” The coal- and Koch-backed Heartland Institute released an hour-long podcast praising it on Friday. And the fossil fuel industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute is begging people to “Hurry, [and] see Planet of the Humans before it’s banned.

So, I wanted to see if it really was as bad as it looked like it might be.

And folks…. it’s worse.

POTH is like a college freshman’s argument paper

When I wrote my critique of the film’s existence without seeing it last week, I wanted to leave open the possibility that it could be at least partially good. Michael Moore is a big name executive producer. So at the very least I thought it could be a well-produced, well-argued condemnation of the environmental movement, with a diversity of perspectives and expertise.

But Planet of the Humans reminded me more of an argumentative essay from a lazy college freshman—as if, after a few hours of studying, he realized there wasn’t enough evidence to support the argument he chose for the assignment. But he was so wedded to the original idea, and didn’t want to waste the hours of work he did, so he overcompensated by being an overly aggressive narrator instead of starting over with a new argument.

Here are some examples of things Gibbs said in the film:

  • “The takeover of the environmental movement by capitalism is now complete.”

  • “Environmentalists are no longer resisting those with the profit motive, but collaborating with them.” 

  • “The only reason we’ve been force-fed the story ‘climate change + renewables = we’re saved’ is because billionaire bankers and corporations profit from it.

  • “The only reason we’re not talking about overpopulation, consumption, and the suicide of economic growth is that would be bad for business.”

  • “Which side are [environmentalists] really on?”

  • “What kind of game is being played here?”

These are pretty bold claims and questions, especially considering several of the people quoted to prove these points/raise said question are never publicly identified. I literally couldn’t tell who half the people in the documentary were or where they worked, because the documentary never told me.

Seriously—who are these people?

“The beauty of a solar planet is that it’s so environmentally benign,” says…this guy?

YouTube gonna YouTube

In retrospect, the weirdly misleading nature of this thing totally explains why it’s on YouTube, nor hosted by Netflix or Hulu or Amazon, or shown in theaters, or released in partnership with a credible news organization. YouTube, after all, is a platform that’s been shown to profit off the spread of climate misinformation.

It’s ironic, too, that Planet of the Humans’ primary distributor is a known climate misinformation profiteer. Because the film’s core thesis is that environmentalists are spreading misinformation about climate change and renewable energy for the sake of profits.

Moore and the film’s narrator/director Jeff Gibbs would probably argue that mainstream documentary distribution platforms like Netflix would never accept their movie, because they’re all in the hands of Big Green and Big Capitalism.

In reality, though, Planet of the Humans’ arguments simply did not meet the standard of proof necessary to be published on any distribution platform that requires quality control. In fact, because Planet of the Humans contained so much misinformation, the only prominent non-YouTube platform that hosted the movie wound up temporarily taking it down last week.

Films For Action, an independent online distributor of free films about social change, eventually put the documentary back online, “because we believe media literacy, critique and debate is the best solution to misinformation.” But the site maintains that Moore’s film is propagandistic.

Further reading and questions

I’m going to skip doing comprehensive fact-check of the movie. Lots of people have done those already; check out a list of them HERE. Also, noted climate policy researcher Leah Stokes is supposed to have a fact-check published in a national outlet later today or tomorrow.

I also talked about Planet of the Humans with EQ Research principal energy policy analyst Ben Inskeep, who did a delightful live-tweet/fact-check of the movie when it first came out. If you’re a paid subscriber, you’ll get our conversation in your inbox tomorrow morning.

For now, though, here is a list of questions I have for Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs after watching Planet of the Humans, in no particular order.

  1. Really?

  2. No, really. Really?

  3. This movie repeatedly claims that humans are better off burning fossil fuels than using renewable energy. But it also fails to cite any peer-reviewed science on lifecycle emissions, which show the cumulative impact of different renewable energy sources. Why?

  4. You formally interviewed nine experts to support your three main points (I know, I counted). How is it even possible that two of them are named Richard, and two of them are named Steven? Approximately 45 percent of interviewed for this film are named Steven or Richard. How?

  5. You say “every expert” you talked to “wanted to draw attention” to population degrowth as a climate solution. Did you consider that might be because every expert you talked to was white?

  6. You say environmentalists need to talk about population. But the biggest areas of the global population that are growing are the people in brown-skin, non-industrialized nations who don’t emit very much. The people who do emit a lot—people in white-skin, industrialized nations—are not growing in population very fast. Why didn’t you talk about that?

  7. Did you see that one of the green investment funds you accused of being secretly full of fossil fuels said you analyzed the wrong fund? You gonna correct that?

  8. You attack Bill McKibben and Michael Brune a lot in this documentary. Did you ask them for interviews to defend themselves?

  9. Do you think asking Bill McKibben one question about biofuels when he wasn’t prepared for it during an activist event was enough of an opportunity for him to respond?

  10. Is there any new information in this documentary? In other words, what are you providing us, that we didn’t already have?

  11. Really?

As of this newsletter’s publication, the movie now has nearly 3 million views on YouTube.

If you liked today’s e-mail, please spread the word! Your voice is essential to growing the newsletter’s audience, and keeping our independent climate reporting and analysis alive.

Share HEATED

If you’re new to the newsletter and want to subscribe, click the button below.