Gearing up for the release of Michael Moore’s film Sicko in 2007 the director of the Pacific Research Institute Sally Pipes said, "It definitely has to be rebutted, I think all of us want to let Americans know that this isn't the solution to the health care crisis in the U.S." Former VP Ken Johnson of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America weighed in: "A review of America's health-care system should be balanced, thoughtful and well-researched to pin down what works and what needs to be improved, you won't get that from Michael Moore."
Now in 2020, Moore’s new film Planet of the Humans, directed by Jeff Gibbs, has met the familiar scrutiny from allies of the renewable energy industry, the target of the new film. Moore made a mistake by punching to the left, rather than punching right from the left, as with his previous films. Liberal elites, including reputable climate scientists, climate policy researchers, and Josh Fox, director of Gas Land, quickly put out the call to have Moore’s film pulled by the distributor Films For Action.
The colloquial “Let me speak to your manager” approach when your privilege and expertise is challenged by those whom you feel are below your level of education. All while waiting on the sideline to back you up is the power structure that responds benevolently to the highly-educated expert who plays by the rules.
Planet of the Humans takes aim at renewable energies by exposing the fossil fuel emissions embedded in producing green technology such as solar panels, wind turbines, and biomass plants, citing the carbon footprint of these renewable energies is greater than perceived. The film draws criticism from scientists pointing to the fact that Gibbs uses old price tags for solar panels, outdated efficiency numbers, and doesn’t accurately compare the carbon footprint of renewables to fossil fuels, which is considerably less. What’s lacking from these criticisms, however, is the emission cost of batteries, and land use, which the dissenting community leaves out of their criticisms. However, the crux of the pushback is that the fossil fuel industry and climate deniers will wield this film in an attempt to reject any steps toward “greening” our energy infrastructure. The rebuttal to Moore’s film is predictable and echoes the normative approaches of past critiques: silence dissenting voices to manufacture consent around the expert’s narrative, who are the people that have built careers around climate change solutions. If left unchecked, the film becomes a direct threat to their professional identity and the power structure that supports their class position.
The power play to remove the film by scientific experts is only relative when you ignore the thesis of the film: overconsumption and takeover by big money elites that profit off the backs of countries that supply the industrial economic “green” machine. Credible climate scientists and policy experts came out in force to berate the film, inflating their expertise to span over what’s clearly a more social and cultural issue. The hubris of class professionalism among the dissenting crowd is rampant as one person sardonically tweeted about the film having no real scientists, when in fact Gibbs interviewed several anthropology professors who spoke specifically about the problem of overconsumption of resources. Even renowned climate scientist Michael Mann set out to completely discredit the film by saying it was “gaslighting” and has “been debunked”, as if the film is some sort of conspiracy theory. Their criticisms completely ignore what the film gets right, credible evidence that environmental groups invest in fossil fuels, and renewable energy companies are reliant upon human exploitation. It’s typical for climate scientists to get bogged down by the details while fully missing the thesis of the film. But when the topic directly or tangential relates to their professions, the need to display their merits and mantra is an outlet to flex their class achievements and moral superiority.
I was the recipient of Professor Mann’s contempt for people challenging expertise, which resulted in a block on twitter. I challenged his support for Obama by reminding him that the former president lifted the 40-year fossil fuel ban permitting export overseas and financially backing dirty fossil fuel projects throughout the developing world, which perpetuated environmental injustice. What’s unequivocal is that the film touches a nerve with scientific elites as they scrounge for details like outdated efficiency numbers which are weaponized to ignore the legitimate criticism of technologies that will supposedly let us keep consuming and uphold our gluttonous standard of living.
The unfortunate reality is that this film’s condemnation by the liberal class will likely succeed with some form of #cancelled. Not because the film mischaracterized solar panel efficiency numbers, or omitted the comparison of renewable energies to fossil fuels, but because the film challenged the moral superior, self-righteous, elite class. The act of censorship being proposed is no different than when Joe Biden’s campaign had The New York Times pull down a statement that challenged his class stature, meritocracy, and moral fiber. The actions here are reminiscent of the phenomenon Dr. King spoke about when he said, “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice.” Or a more contemporary example provided by Thomas Frank in Listen, Liberal: “The genuflection before expertise arises from the deepest well of liberal thought and action: the longing for a grand consensus of the professional class.”
These actions do more harm by fueling anti-trust among the skeptics, when the proper approach should be to openly challenge the technical fallacies of the film while acknowledging the reasonable shortcomings of green technology. With this in mind, what’s the point in trying to get the film removed? Doing so ignores that our prosperity as a post-industrialized western country is fully dependent on the exploitation of working poor throughout the world. Are we just going to ignore this so we can keep consuming under a green umbrella? Internalize the profitable green energy way of life and externalize the costs while throwing out platitudes of climate justice to the working poor who will continue to suffer, because that is how modern day colonialism works?
Planet of the Humans is not fodder for the fossil fuel industry, because energy policy isn’t a battle of ideas, it’s about money and power. This is why fossil fuel companies are investing in renewable energy; it’s profitable. The only way this stays profitable, however, is by exploitative capital markets. This film is a subversion to technocracy and innovation ideology. Renewable energy is the correct path, but to ignore the human lives that will support that system while running headfirst into green solutions that are woven into the frame of a capitalist order aren’t really solutions when viewed from an equity, justice, and humanity perspective. And this is the exact perspective Planet of the Humans holds under our nose and asks us to inhale.