A Heated Debate: the New Film “Planet of the Humans”

Famous for his attacks on Republicans, outspoken filmmaker and activist Michael Moore long ago also staked out a provocative position left of the neoliberal Clinton/Obama/Biden-led Democratic party. But despite becoming a leading progressive figure, Moore has largely stayed clear—at least cinematically–from environmental topics…until now. Working with life-long friend and frequent collaborator, Jeff Gibbs, on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day they released their new myth-shattering film, Planet of the Humans (POTH) free over YouTube.

Self-described as “a full frontal assault on our sacred cows,” it has ignited a firestorm, drawing fierce condemnation from within the environmental community and praise from conservatives long skeptical of renewables. Buoyed by the swirling controversy and the scores of editorials and reviews published internationally, the ensuing media buzz has propelled viewership: an astonishing 6 million plus have streamed it since it dropped on the 24th of April.

No stranger to controversy, the surprising success of Moore’s first film, Roger & Me, a powerful take on globalization and General Motors, vaulted him into the spotlight. Since then, from his perch in Flint, Michigan (where people are still drinking poisoned water), he’s created a series of essential documentaries including Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Capitalism: A Love Story. For anyone wondering why the coronavirus has particularly ravaged America, Sicko, Moore’s 2007 critique of its healthcare system, can answer many of those questions.

But in criticizing the relative success of both the environmental and renewable energy movements precisely as the coronavirus continues to impact all of our lives, Moore and Gibbs are truly playing with fire. Many on the far right including Trumpian favorite, Breitbart News, are championing POTH as a surprising insider admission that renewable energy’s claims are false, and that the green transition nothing more than another money-making scheme.

Simultaneously, many within the environmental movement, including activist-filmmaker Josh Fox (Gasland), climate scientist Michael Mann, noted author Naomi Klein, and our own energy transition expert and blog founder, Craig Morris (who himself was clipped in the film), are railing against some of POTH’s outdated claims and factual errors about solar and wind energy capacity and reliability. Many critics remain justifiably worried the film will be used to tar future green energy solutions. Fox, for his part, has published an open letter calling for the film’s retraction altogether. Both 350.org and its founder, Bill McKibben, who receives much of the film’s ire, have reacted to the film. McKibben’s moving rebuttal in Rolling Stone reminding readers that despite any personal criticism against him and other leaders, the millions of young people in the movement who have taken to the streets are innocent of the failures Gibbs catalogues.

Given the mounting number of views and reviews, it’s clear that Moore and Gibbs have hit a nerve within both the green energy movement and its detractors. Here are two more:

How to Get the Renewables Story Wrong: Planet of the Humans by Craig Morris

Flawed but vital, “Planet of the Humans” poses several inconvenient questions by L. Michael Buchsbaum


L. Michael Buchsbaum is an energy and mining journalist and industrial photographer based in Germany. Since the mid-1990s, he has covered the social, environmental, economic and political impacts of the transition from fossil fuels towards renewables for dozens of industry magazines, journals, institutions and corporate clients. Born in the U.S., he emigrated to Germany and Europe to better document the Energiewende. He is also the host of The Global Energy Transition Podcast.

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