What if the whole environmental movement is being manipulated by corporate interest, which is its purported arch-enemy? That is the question of the Michael Moore’s latest documentary. Released at the start of the pandemic, “Planet of the Humans,” follows the story of how its protagonist, Jeff Gibbs, the documentary’s writer and director, stumbled into this controversial insight: What if the market economy, the main culprit behind earth’s near-collapse, has hijacked our efforts at saving it?
At the outset, Gibbs shares that he was an environmental activist all his life. He grew up in the 60s when scientists started sounding the alarm about climate change. He embraced as his heroine Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring and acknowledged-founder of the international environmental movement. He joined mass rallies and protest actions against the use or abuse of fossil fuel, which even now is the main reason for the continuing warming of the globe. Finally, he remembers when the movement got a booster when, during the time of Obama, hundreds of billions of dollars were finally allocated to the development and widespread adoption of “green energy” or renewable energy. A quick google check would tell you there are about 30 renewable sources of energy: geothermal, hydro, wind, solar, biomass, etcetera. But after three decades of promise, earth temperature is still rising and has in fact reached a point of no return. It is against this background then that Gibbs set out his investigation into the unfulfilled promise of green energy. What has he discovered?
Two general findings. First, the supposed alternative solution will not be enough to save the world in the nick of time. Throughout the documentary, Gibbs visits various sites where renewable or green energy was being showcased—solar farms, wind farms, and biomass plants. He discovers that in the very production of these alternative energy sources, fossil fuel is, as it were, used. Solar panels for example are made of silicon metal which comes from the melting of non-renewable minerals: quartz and coal. The manufacture likewise of those huge wind turbines, like the ones in Ilocos Norte, use up so much electricity which again come from the burning of the ever-reliable but non-renewable coal. Moreover, the setting up of the huge “farms” for solar or wind turbines in itself has harmed the environment. Vast acres of forests and deserts have been cleared for these, killing off the trees and animals that inhabited these areas. (Did you know that thousands of birds and bats get entangled and killed by the turbines?). The real tragedy though is that even if you convert as many acres of lands into these farms as you can, the energy output is negligible. One football of solar panels for example can only supply the energy needs of 10 houses for a year and the solar panels can only last for 10 years. So the difficult question is not even how costly it is, but how sustainable and how environmental is green energy itself. Again a quick google search tells you that after decades of these alternative energy sources, not a single country, even in the West, is 100 percent powered by renewable energy—Iceland is highest at 89 percent; Germany, about 50 percent. At this point, Gibbs sadly concludes “Green energy is not going to save us!”
Especially because of his second general discovery, which is the more disconcerting one. The ones responsible, in the first place, for the wanton abuse of our planet, have not only joined the environmental movement, but also seem to be manipulating it from inside. In other words, in a sickening and sinister twist of fate, Big Business is making big money out of green energy. For instance, many multinational companies have joined the race for the development of alternative solutions. General Motors developed the first electric car, for instance, but as Gibbs reveals, the cars may run electrically but the charging stations still run off the usual electric grid. But electric cars are now fashionable, and the toast of environmental activists. General Electric, for its part, is into the development of alternative fuel or oil through so-called biofuel which, like any biomass-renewable, is energy from the remains of plants or animals. The film shows GE feeding carcasses of cows into its cruel machines; its scientists supposedly were next eyeing the potential of seaweeds. In the meantime, acres of trees are being burnt in the Amazon forests to give way to sugarcane which are in turn converted into ethanol fuel. In other words, in the process of developing renewable energy sources, great harm is done to the environment.
But there’s more.
More insidious than profiting off green energy is the apparent cooptation of the leaders of the environmental movement by big business. Al Gore who awakened us with “The Inconvenient Truth” sold his TV network to Al Jazeera which is funded by petroleum money. Bill McKibben of the well-known 350.org is supported by investment giant Goldman Sachs. Our beloved Earth Day celebration is sponsored by Shell, a multinational oil company. It is clear then, concludes Gibbs that the “merger of environmentalism and capitalism has been completed.” Further, “what we’ve been calling green renewable energy and industrial civilization are one and the same: desperate measures not to save the planet but to save our way of life!”
For Gibbs, therefore, if green energy is being pursued to provide for the same amount of energy we are consuming now, then going green cannot save us. The Church has pointed this out many times before. Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate said that greed is destroying the global market and the environment. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis wrote that insatiable consumerism is driving the rapacious exploitation of earth’s resources. And the way out of this mess is staring us in the face. Simplicity of Life. Or as Gibbs puts it, we must realize, that “infinite growth in a finite planet is suicide. Less must be the new more.” Watch the documentary.
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