A cage fight has recently erupted among the Environmental Left. It pits those who want to eliminate affordable energy against those who want to eliminate all energy (and, while they are at it, eliminate people, too).
Famous radical documentarian, Michael Moore, has co-produced an exposé on renewable energy with the director and ardent environmentalist, Jeff Gibbs. The Planet of the Humans pulls the curtain back on the environmental impact and value of wind, solar, and biomass energies. In a big non-surprise to those of us who have long questioned the logic of subsidizing these energies, the reward for Moore and Gibbs has been a vicious attack by the flag-bearers of the climate-industrial complex.
For climate alarmists, it is not enough simply to argue a case against their opponents. The purveyors of a climate apocalypse (one that is avoidable only by international treaties, subsidies, and wealth transfers) do not tolerate dissent. For them, the too-frequent response is to deny their opponents any voice at all.
Nevertheless, it is ironic to the extreme that fellow documentarian, Josh Fox, has mounted a campaign to force the creators and distributors of Planet of the Humans to retract the film and apologize. Fox claims the film “employs specious techniques of misinformation.” That Josh Fox makes this accusation is laughable.
An analysis of his film, Gasland, found a misrepresentation about every six minutes. The most memorable was a scene where a man puts a match to his kitchen faucet and lights a flame. The movie blames nearby gas wells. An investigation determined the phenomenon was unrelated to the gas drilling and totally related to the shallow coal beds through which the man’s water well was drilled.
More despicably deceitful was a scene from the sequel, Gasland, Part II. This scene purports to show another case of gas infiltrating a person’s water supply. Dramatic footage shows a flame coming out of a garden hose. That there was no water at all coming from the hose should have been a tipoff to the viewers, but most ate it up. It turns out that for the purpose of the film, the hose was connected to a gas vent. If that is not a specious technique of misinformation, then, in addition to sounding really pompous, “specious technique of misinformation” has no meaning.
For sure, Planet of the Humans has plenty of scenes to discomfit the green-energy believers, but they are not misinformation. Films deal in visuals and not so much in numbers and for the most part that theme holds, here.
For instance, the minerals needed for solar panels, batteries, motors, and generators critical to renewable energy and electric cars do not grow on trees and sourcing them is often done with gross-human rights and environmental abuses.
One of the elements needed to make renewable energy work is cobalt. Roughly 60 percent of all cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo where it is estimated that 35,000 children work in horrid conditions. The film’s disturbing clips of such mines are not fictitious.
Nor are the scenes of machines grinding up yucca plants (some were estimated to be 500 years old) to make way for a solar array.
Though the visuals are the most memorable part, the film does have some numbers, numbers that are neither specious nor misinformed.
For instance, a wind turbine in Michigan requires 800 cubic yards of (surprisingly) carbon-intensive concrete, and hundreds of tons of steel—all of which require fossil fuels.
Another number is 95 as in 95 percent coal. When Gibbs attends an unveiling of a GM electric car, he asks about the source of the electricity charging the car’s batteries. Kristin Zimmerman of GM initially misunderstands the question and comically says the electricity comes from the building with the electric outlet. To her credit, she quickly catches on, but does not know the answer. Nearby is a board member of the local electric utility. He estimates that coal generates 95 percent of the power charging the car. Further, he states it is unlikely that renewables will provide all the charging power any time soon. So, be a friend of coal and buy an electric car.
The film is most fun when it exposes “we are powered by 100 percent renewables” frauds. We see diesel generators behind the stage of a 100-percent-renewable-powered “green concert” and the substantial grid connections for Tesla’s 100-percent-renewable Gigafactory.
Then there is a clip of Apple’s VP for environmental initiatives and former EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, proudly declaring that Apple gets 100 percent of its energy for all of its facilities from renewables. While noting that Apple did “chop down a forest to put up solar panels” for a North Carolina plant, the film shows the grid connections and gets a quote from a Duke Energy official saying Apple is still connected to the grid. Oops, Apple needs and uses traditionally fueled electricity to run their “100-percent-renewables” factory.
And one more number: Billion as in billionaire—a perennial favorite target of Moore. Though many of us do not view every billionaire as a policy failure, we still resent subsidizing them. It is the film’s link between the climate movement and money that is most compelling for some and most upsetting for others. There is big money supporting the climate movement and frequently big money being made in the climate industry. The film does not pull many punches in this area and is hard on Bill McKibben whose 350.org promotes the Green Century Funds—a set of investment funds that do not seem especially focused on any new-energy economy.
Gibbs also goes after my top choice of projects that should never have been subsidized. That is the Ivanpah gas-powered solar plant in California. In addition to fraudulently (though legally) discounting the large amount of natural gas needed to operate the plant, the subsidy recipients were a who’s who of who does not need a subsidy—including Chevron, BP, Statoil, Morgan Stanley and Google.
However, it is in its coverage of the Ivanpah mess that Gibbs does mislead. Because one part of Koch Industries sold the glass that went into Ivanpah’s mirrors, Gibbs implies the Koch Brothers (David was still alive when the film was made) are part of the cabal pushing the renewable-energy scheme. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Virtually every organization supported by the Koch’s has been a vocal opponent of green energy mandates and subsidies.
Though Moore and Gibbs do a service in exposing hypocrisy and self-dealing, in the end they fail with their conclusion. They fall back on the old 1960s Malthusian overpopulation claptrap, where the only solution to climate and other environmental problems is depopulation.
This inhuman solution might have been debatable 50 years ago, but time has shown these Malthusian predictions fail virtually every test. The Planet of the Humans offers warmed-over population-bomb doom from the 1960s and 1970s despite the overwhelming evidence that the doomsayers were spectacularly wrong. Instead of the predicted starvation, poverty and general decline, the trend in virtually every significant measure of wellbeing has been positive. Yes, the world population has doubled since the 1960s, but while this happened, human welfare dramatically improved. People across the globe live longer, are better fed, have more education, and higher standards of living. In developed democracies, people also enjoy much cleaner air and water than in the 1960s.
Without a doubt, the documentary is controversial and worthy of challenge and debate. The problem is that the climate activists do not debate, they shut down dissenters instead. For that reason alone, Moore and Gibbs should be supported as they fight Josh Fox and those who would censor them for ground truthing the impact of renewable energy.