No announcement yet.

Planet of the Humans (2019)

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Planet of the Humans (2019)

    Not sure whether this belongs here or The Afterlife, given that this movie was released straight to YouTube, as the result of its theatrical distributor walking away from it. But it is a new (ish) movie, so I'm putting this review here.

    Planet of the Humans is a documentary, produced by Michael Moore and the directorial debut of a cinematographer on some of Moore's earlier features (Jeff Gibbs), arguing that the renewable energy industry is essentially a hoax. The film claims that the manufacture and installation of green energy infrastructure, in particular photovoltaic panels and wind turbines, consumes more fossil fuel energy than these devices save during their typical service life. It then argues that the real threat to the planet's sustainability is not humans burning fossil fuels, but rather overpopulation.

    The movie has been hugely controversial. I can't avoid mentioning politics, though obviously I will refrain from expressing any opinions. Pretty much overnight, Moore went from being the darling of the liberal left and the bogeyman of Fox and Breitbart, to the exact opposite. That is quite an impressive feat to pull, and so for this reason alone I thought the film was worth a look. When the distributor pulled it and festivals refused to play it in response to criticism from environmentalists, Moore responded by releasing it for free viewing on YouTube (link above).

    In terms of its technique, this movie uses the playbook we're familiar with from other Moore shows (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, etc.). Interviewees are put at their ease by softball leading questions, trapped, and then made to look silly. A skillfully crafted voiceover focuses the viewer on what the filmmaker wants you to take away, while avoiding any mention of the counterarguments. And a lot of screen time is given to a single expert witness (Ozzie Zehner) without mentioning that he is a controversial figure who has his detractors as well as his supporters.

    My biggest issue is almost no hard figures or statistics are given, making it impossible to form an objective judgment as to how justified the most serious accusation made by the movie - that renewable energy is not, in reality, renewable, because of the fossil fuel consumption that is necessary to manufacture and support the infrastructure - actually is. For example, how many kilowatt hours of fossil fuel burn does it take to manufacture a solar panel and install it on someone's roof, compared to how many it can be expected to generate during a typical service life? Without that sort of information, it's impossible to evaluate the claims made by this movie.

    Still, if you find Moore's schtick entertaining, you won't be disappointed. But I'm not sure that it moves the debate a lot further forward.

  • #2
    I don't associate myself with neither left nor right, those terms are just imbecile simplifications of a complicated set of issues. While Michael Moore may make a point or two in some of his movies, this particular movie unfortunately is riddled with errors, which totally detract from some of the valid discussion points.

    It's an outright lie that stuff like solar panels, windmills and their infrastructure cost more energy to produce than they will generate. As a matter of fact, this part of renewable energy is looking very much in favor of renewable energy. There are other parts that aren't and they should be open for discussion. The problem is, by introducing "alternative facts", you essentially destroy your narrative. For me personally, this is inexcusable, especially if you picture yourself as a serious documentary maker.

    There is a big problem with renewable energy from wind and sunlight and that's obviously its intermittency. This intermittency is the primary reason why many of our current renewable energy efforts aren't, in fact, as clean or in some cases even more polluting than burning fossil fuel outright. You see, a humongous coal plant is most efficient under a more or less constant load. You also can't ramp up or decrease energy production on a whim with such big power plants. Yet, when the sun disappears behind a set of clouds and/or the wind suddenly stops, our energy needs don't magically go away. So, many of those big base-load power plants end-up running anyway, renewable energy or not. Worse yet, many of them end-up running at sub-optimal, more inefficient levels, producing more green house gasses and less energy for every ton of coal being burned.

    Also, whenever energy production of renewable resources suddenly plunges, all kinds of counter-measures need to be fired at an instance. So, many smaller, often gas-powered plants tend to get fired up or cranked up on a whim, to compensate for the renewable energy plunging away.

    Those are some real challenges, challenges that still haven't been solved and stuff that's worthy of discussion. No matter how many renewable energy we produce, our grids lack any serious storage capacity. Until we fixed that issue or find a source of energy that's "green" and we can control, in terms of production, we haven't solved our energy problems. Some may say, we have such a source of power, it's called nuclear, but like so many things, that's also something embroiled in nonsensical political discussions.


    • #3
      No political bias here either, except for believing that coal fired generators are inherently huge polluters and should be eliminated. My choice for an alternative is nuclear. Not interested in an argument about that.
      Wind and solar are excellent and I don't accept Moore's arguments against them unreservedly. The energy and pollution costs for both don't necessarily exceed the energy and pollution made/saved in their operation.
      Yes, there are wind farms installed early in the development that are derelict, Hawaii has quite a few and there are more all around the world - these are huge complex machines and machines wear out.. if a dead one is situated where it won't hurt anything when it finally falls over there's no excellent reason to spend thousands dismantling it.
      Some early solar experiments failed, especially the mirror collector systems... but newer designs hold promise.
      Storage is the obvious problem. Batteries are improving but the energy and pollution cost in mining the somewhat rare ingredients and making the panels is staggering, I don't know if that can be overcome. A simple storage system pumps water into an elevated reservoir when it's sunny and/or windy, and uses normal water turbines to generate electricity in dark/calm times.
      Coal and nuclear generation is not easily throttled and can't be throttled quickly. Nuclear is less friendly to throttling than coal as the core's heat output can't be controlled very quickly, there's a lot of energy from secondary radioactive material created from the primary reaction that continue producing power after the primary reaction is damped.
      Generators using turbines powered from gas generators running on natural gas (basically jet engines) can be throttled more or less instantly and they are used for peak load power when baseline coal or nuclear generation is used, and usually installed for backup night/calm power in solar and wind generation. Until economical and sustainable storage is developed this will remain the standard model for solar/wind generation.
      There's a lot of desert in the world, with lots of sun and few if any inhabitants. These are, inconveniently, usually far from population centres so long transmission lines are needed. Also, there's essentially no water available to use elevated reservoir storage.
      I think my only general agreement with Moore is that the real solution is either a reduced human population or a drastic reduction in per capita energy use. Neither is politically appealing. Either - or both - may be forced on us by nature.


      • #4
        Overpopulation is, like so many things, a bit more complex than it seems at first. While overpopulation at large will probably get us into large, existential problems and maybe already has to quite some extend, if you look at how populations are developing, you see that the growth is primarily in "developing nations". Asia and Africa are the real hotspots for population growth. Many developing nations actually face a potential population shrinkage, as their population is aging and there aren't sufficient new births to "replenish" the population. Not that I want to congratulate China for their general policy, but if you look at their population growth over the last 20 or so years, you see that they somehow managed to largely get it under control.

        You could say that technology got us into the mess we're currently in, but technology is just a tool, it's the way we use it what got us into it. Like you indicated yourself, we may have a large piece of the puzzle for our collective energy problems, but largely unmotivated fears for "the unknown", some bad actors with different interests and political drama cause us to repeatedly make the same mistakes over and over again. Maybe we've set us up to fail in the end, but somehow I remain optimistic, that we'll finally pull ourselves around, probably like we always do: when it's practically too late. But that's the recurring theme of all of humanity, isn't it? We only tend to do the things we need to do, when it's almost too late...
        Last edited by Marcel Birgelen; 05-24-2020, 01:02 AM.