Michael Moore’s dreadful, ill-informed, unhelpful film

Elizabeth May

During a Green Party webinar last week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, one message from a member of the audience caught my attention:

“Michael Moore presents Planet of the Humans, a documentary that dares to say what no one else will this Earth Day — that we are losing the battle to stop climate change on planet earth because we are following leaders who have taken us down the wrong road — selling out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America.”

And then the question: 

“Have any of you seen this?” 

I hadn’t and I love Michael Moore, so I wanted to see it . . . but oh my! What a dreadful, ill-informed, and unhelpful film it is. Worse, it could set back climate action. 

It is essentially the work of two men – somehow riding on Michael Moore’s name and reputation. Moore is listed as “executive producer” and Jeff Gibbs (no relation to the B.C. environmental activist of the same name) is credited with “writing, directing and producing.” 

In the credits, I was shocked to see the name Ozzie Zehner as “producer.”  The name meant nothing to me before I started watching the film. Throughout the documentary, Zehner is portrayed as some sort of expert being interviewed by Gibbs. Then it hit me. The whole film is a vanity project of two guys with no expertise and less concern for the damage they are doing to climate science and the urgent need to switch to renewables. 

I went to check out Gibbs’ background in working with Michael Moore. In searching for his role in Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 911, I came across a 2012 interview in which Gibbs spoke about his new film, Planet of the Humans, as though it was complete.

No wonder the attack on renewables in this film feels so stale – and totally out of date. It is. The film assumes renewable energy has made no efficiency gains for decades.

There is zero content on actual climate science.

I am very indebted to energy specialist, Ketan Joshi, for taking the film apart and providing the charts and graphs to point out its glaring inaccuracies. For deep detail, please read his blog.

He writes, “… the outright lies about wind and solar are serious and extremely harmful. Wind and solar aren’t just technological tools with enormous potential for decarbonisation. They also have massive potential to be owned by communities, deployed at small scales with minimal environmental harm, and removed with far less impact on where they were than large power stations like coal and gas. They do incredible things to electricity bills, they decentralise power (literally and figuratively), and with more work they can be scaled up to properly replace fossil fuels.”

Joshi says that things start to get into “proper, outright, anti-vax/climate denier grade misinformation” when producer Ozzie Zehner comes in. This Zehner quote is typical:

“One of the most dangerous things right now is the illusion that alternative technologies like solar and wind are somehow different from fossil fuels. You use more fossil fuels to do this than you’re getting benefit from it. You would have been better off just burning fossil fuels in the first place, instead of playing pretend.”

“It’s important to be really clear about this.” Joshi writes. “Zehner’s remarks in this film are toxic misinformation, on par with the worst climate change deniers. No matter which way you look at it, there is no chance that these projects lead to a net increase in emissions.” (emphasis mine)

The film sets up a number of straw men. Gibbs focuses a great deal on the false notion that bio-energy from wood chips is promoted by climate activists. It is true that in earlier times, Bill McKibben thought renewable forests and bio-energy replacing coal was a solution. The film (dishonestly) claims he changed his mind once their film was out. In fact, Bill McKibben has attacked bio-energy for years.

Gibbs and Zehner set up the false notion that the bulk of renewable energy involves burning wood-chips and deforestation. That has occurred to an extent and is opposed by climate activists.  

Their next straw man is that if we rely on renewables the only way to keep the lights on if it is raining or the wind isn’t blowing is from back-up fossil fuels, or from batteries with lithium and rare earth or by keeping linked to the grid – as though that is a bad thing.

The grid is for storage. That is our premise in Mission: Possible.  Feed into the grid when renewables produce above local demand; draw from the grid when renewables drop.  That is the way excess wind energy from Denmark is sold to Norway. Norway stores the excess, not in large batteries, but through storage in existing reservoirs, pumping water up to the reservoir using the wind energy from Denmark to then releasing it to generate hydroelectricity when the wind is not blowing. This is a major, low-impact storage system. It is why one core proposal in Mission: Possible is for a national grid to move green electricity from province to province.

The damage done by this film could be enormous. According to Michael Moore’s twitter feed, over three million people have seen the film already. Some Greens have contacted me in tears, so devastated by the idea – the lie – that renewable energy is a scam. As Neil Young wrote me Saturday morning (not something I can say every day):

“The amount of damage this film tries to create (succeeding in the VERY short term) will ultimately bring light to the real facts, which are turning up everywhere in response to Michael Moore’s new erroneous and headline grabbing TV publicity tour of misinformation. A very damaging film to the human struggle for a better way of living, Moore’s film completely destroys whatever reputation he has earned so far.”

I hope that all Greens will join me in exposing this tawdry exercise in climate denial. Help share the facts. Be not dispirited, but take the time to reach out and educate everyone about the benefits of going 100 per cent renewable.