Film Review: Planet of the Humans
Planet of the Humans
Directed by Jeff Gibbs
WHAT IF THE green energy technologies that have been touted as potential solutions to the climate crisis weren’t really solutions at all? What if it turned out that solar power, wind energy, electric cars, and biofuel were as potentially harmful to the planet as fossil fuels? Executive produced by Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs’ documentary caused quite a ruckus early in 2020 when it targeted notable organizations and individuals in the environmentalist movement—including the Sierra Club, Al Gore, and Bill McKibben—accusing them of selling out to corporate interests and promoting false hope.
Gibbs’ various contentions have been hotly debated, and will no doubt continue to be. His critics have noted that the information provided about various renewable technologies in the film is often wildly outdated. They have also pointed out that his cynicism about green energy isn’t all that removed from the talking points peddled by right-wing climate-science deniers.
At its heart, Planet of the Humans portrays a despairing journey by Gibbs, a longtime environmentalist who has come to believe that nothing can ultimately solve the ecological disaster facing the planet other than humanity changing its ways and bringing population growth under control.
Gibbs’ despondency is quite genuine. At the same time, his stridency can be troubling: For him, even the hint of cooperation with corporations or the wealthy is enough to condemn a group or person—never mind the fact that money and corporate support might not be terrible to have when trying to change the ways of an entire planet. And humanity isn’t going to change (or decline in numbers and consumption) overnight. The world will need bridge technologies—yes, even imperfect ones—as it tries to turn away from harmful fossil fuels.
The film’s broad-based approach can be uneven. Gibbs isn’t nearly as compelling a figure as some of the activists he interviews and portrays, and it might have been more effective to focus on one or two of these individuals as a way into the very fascinating, troubling issues he’s seeking to expose. It’s also worth noting that Gibbs has no actual solutions to offer in the film: Getting the human population under control is an extremely vague idea that could encompass all sorts of efforts, some of them quite disturbing.