Socialist Worker

Why are we addicted to fossil fuels? Michael Moore’s new film doesn’t have the answer

by Martin Empson
Issue No. 2704

A scene from Planet Of the Humans

A scene from Planet Of the Humans (Pic: Planet Of the Humans)


Scientists have more or less understood global warming for six decades, so why are we still addicted to fossil fuels?

New film Planet of the Humans, on which Michael Moore is executive producer, attempts to answer this question, but could damage the environmental movement itself.

Director Jeff Gibbs argues that there are two problems.

The first is that the environmental movement has failed to challenge the real cause of ecological disaster because it has focused on green energy.

He shows how renewable energy sites often require fossil fuel backup to deal with lack of power when the sun does not shine or the wind isn’t blowing.

In particular he directs his anger at biofuels, the burning of trees for energy. Gibbs does make some important points here and clearly feels that he’s exposing some great secrets.

But the movement itself has warned of greenwashing and exposed false solutions for decades.

While Planet of the Humans has some entertaining moments when corporate executives have to admit their reliance on fossil fuels, this is hardly ground-breaking.

Renewables

Critics of the film have pointed out that Gibbs’ figures are dated and refer to much older technologies. Renewables, they argue, are more efficient and cheaper now.

However, the real problem with the film is when Gibbs attacks the environmental movement which he says has been taken over by capitalism.

“The environmental movement is no longer resisting those with the profit motive but collaborating with them,” he argues.

Gibbs attacks environmental groups like the Sierra Club for having links to big business and activists like Bill McKibben of 350.org for supporting biofuels.

We need, he says to “take control of our environmental movement from billionaires”.

While this sounds radical, Gibbs falls into the trap of portraying the big NGOs as the environmental movement.

He criticises McKibben and others for supporting biofuels (though McKibben points out that he hasn’t for almost a decade).

But he neglects to note that there are longstanding environmental campaigns against this form of energy.

Movement

In fact what is missing from the film completely is any sense of the growing, radical and anti-capitalist movement.

There is no mention of the global climate strikes, and an Extinction Rebellion banner appears for a few seconds.

This movement has not been bought off by capitalism and continues to fight biofuels, fossil fuel capitalism and for just transitions to a sustainable world.

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Viewers might think Gibbs is building up to a demand that we fight to end capitalism. But his conclusion is to blame people. “It’s not carbon dioxide destroying the planet, it’s us”.

Given his angry attacks on big business and its “profit motive”, this is a strange conclusion as it ignores reality.

The problem is a capitalist system, which puts profits before people—and destroys the planet for money.

Planet of the Humans disappointed me, but also made me angry.

For years the environmental movement has organised against big business, putting demands on governments, arguing for real alternatives to fossil fuels and, in many cases, facing the violence of the state.

Yet Moore and Gibbs film concludes that the environmental movement is the problem.

Where is the anger at Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and other anti-environmental politicians?

The film is mean, inaccurate and dangerous. Its seemingly radical approach could undermine and demoralise activists, precisely at a time when a new mass movement is developing.


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