Planet of the Humans

Planet of the what…?

Let’s talk about Planet of the Humans, the controversial new documentary produced by Michael Moore.

I figure we might as well talk about something, since travel’s off the cards for the foreseeable future. Rather than vanish into sedentary obscurity, I decided to use the blog to write about whatever crosses my desk: current reading, current events, the distant past, or the afterglow of an interesting film.

I’m not going to write a scene by scene summary. That’d be boring for me, and redundant for you. There are lots of online reviews to consult if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s free online right now, and worth checking out.

The film sets out to expose the hypocrisy of the green energy movement.

And I thought it was very effective in shining a light on the pipe dream of a wind or solar powered world (at least with current technology). The profiteering involved in this massive tax grab is also laid bare.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers have no solutions to offer. It ends with the usual knee-jerk “capitalism is the root of all evil” and “the earth’s better off without humans”.

Eco-hypocrisy effectively exposed

I’m mistrustful of Michael Moore’s style of filmmaking because of the way he leads the viewer to his chosen conclusion.

The editing is so slick, so fast paced, that you don’t have a moment to think, to react to what’s being said, to form your own opinion.

It also feels like he’s deliberately editing interviews to show his opponents at their worst: fumbling, caught off guard, waffling or lying, rather than tackling their strongest position head on.

His films remind me of a direct marketing sales letter. It’s all problem-solution. This one clocks in at one hour and 40 minutes, and I could feel the change of pace right around the one hour mark. I said to Tomoko, “Watch, here comes the solution…” and moments later, there it was, “Capitalism…. capitalism got us into this mess…”

As I said above, Planet of the Humans does a really effective job of torpedoing green energy eco-hypocrisy. You’ll be shocked to learn that a lot of this stuff is worse than fossil fuels when it comes to carbon emissions.

Apart from the false promises and enormous cost of wind and solar, the most blatant bit of newspeak was cutting down forests to burn in power plants and calling it “biofuel”.

It reminded me of the “bio” grocery stores here in Berlin — what we used to call ‘health food stores’ when I was a kid. They’re filled with overpriced vegetables, ‘organic’ products in tiny packages, and synthetic vegan ‘food’. Berliners are massive suckers for this stuff. “Well, if it says ‘bio’ it must be good”.

Customers can pat themselves on the back for how eco-conscious and healthy they are because they’re choosing to sacrifice by paying more for something they assume is better for them and better for the Earth. In the meantime, Germany burns lignite for energy.

Another highlight of the film was going behind the scenes at festivals powered entirely by green energy — mostly solar — and finding out they were run by generators, or running off the municipal power grid.

If you like “gotcha” moments, you’ll enjoy those.

Unfortunately, when it comes to solutions, the producers have little to offer. “We just have to accept less, and reproduce less, and then it’ll all be okay,” they say. But that’s just another version of the sort of magical thinking that believes technology will save us from climate change.

Here’s my problem with “anti-capitalism”

It’s easy to blame big business for all our problems. But capitalism is also small business.

I’ve run a small internet business for over a decade, and this whole “capitalism is the root of all evil” bullshit really gets my back up. Especially when it’s being spouted by writers, filmmakers or artists who live off public funding.

Where do they imagine that public money comes from? Governments consume wealth; they don’t create it.

As a business owner, I take all the risks. I put my own savings in, worked seven day weeks during the early years, and lose everything if things go wrong. I also don’t qualify for public benefits like health care or employment insurance. If the business does well, I benefit by taking more earnings. But if the business does badly, I get nothing. I’ve gone a two year stretch with no pay at all to keep the business alive and keep paying my employees.

So please, don’t regale me with “capitalism is the root of all evil”. Shove it up your arse instead.

I find it’s usually leftists who push this view, typing furiously on an iPhone about evil Facebook and Twitter selling their data. Do they seriously expect Mark Zuckerberg to fund this platform for free, with its thousands of employees, so they can have a ‘safe space’ for venting? Your data is the price you’re paying to be there.

Of course, these are the same people who move into a working class neighbourhood, bringing yoga studios and vegan cafes and fair trade coffee, and then bitch about rents going up due to the gentrification that they are the engine of. It’s as hypocritical as the eco-warriors Moore exposes in his film.

What’s the alternative? Stalinism? We’ve gone down that dead end in countries from Europe to Asia, from Africa to Latin America. It resulted in misery, poverty, broken economies, massive corruption, and more deaths than any other ideology including fascism. 

And please don’t tell me “That wasn’t real communism…” If you really believe you’d do things differently if you were in charge of implementing “true Marxism”, please check yourself into a psychiatric hospital. You’ll save lives. Those silly Marxist theories were discredited long ago. Google “Soviet Union” if you’re still being fooled by them.

The industrial revolution is responsible for the remarkable prosperity we all enjoy, as well as advanced medicine, world-spanning transportation, and affordable consumer goods.

It’s also responsible for massive pollution, resource-stripping, and wealth inequality. Humanity didn’t set out to create those problems. They were unintended consequences of new technology that no one anticipated.

It’s a lot like the unintended consequences of social media and internet connectivity we’re dealing with right now. Who’d have guessed a social platform designed for meeting girls at uni would result in manipulated elections, political polarization and the resurgence of populism?

It’s easy to whip out an iPhone and post a rant on Facebook about how Donald Trump and the Apple corporation and the global elite of big business / entitled white men is keeping you down. But it’s a distraction. So many of those “capitalism (etc) is victimizing me” arguments boil down to the same thing. And it’s the very same cry we all make as children: “Life is unfair!”

No shit. Life is hard. We’re sentient beings who go through life fully aware we’re going to die. It doesn’t get much more unfair than that. And scraping together enough resources to put food on the table isn’t a whole lot easier.

But I’ve drifted off on a rant. Let’s get back to the main solution presented by this documentary. The idea that we’ll all be alright if we just accept we have to live with less.

I won’t reign myself in, so why would anyone else?

It’s very easy to tell people they have to accept less when it’s things you don’t care about.

Let’s say a big water park is using all sorts of energy to heat their various swimming pools, something obviously destructive and non eco-friendly. I have no problem saying, “We must shut down large water parks, and Disney, too.” I don’t like water parks or Disney, it’s no loss to me. 

I lead a simple life, and I’ve never been pulled into the rat race of work-produce-consume. I spend what I earn on books and experiences, and that’s about it.

But if someone said to me, “You must stop reading books, you can only read on your screen from here on”, I won’t stop doing that.

I won’t stop flying, either, no matter how bad it is, and no matter how much the Germans or Swedes go in for “flight shaming”. Scold away. Your sour face is wasted on me.

Life is short, and if I’m fortunate I might hope to live another 20 or 30 years at best. I’m not going to give up on experiencing those places I really want to experience in my short life because some future generation might be better off in theory if I did. 

We’re wrong about most things as humans. Why would I give up what’s most important to me on the chance we might be right about that?

If I feel so strongly about the things I love, like reading and travel, then other people are sure to have equally strong feelings about their interests. Why should I expect them to give up the things they love, even if they’re different from mine?

Scandinavians embraced simplicity because they like living that way. And my Dutch neighbour back in Canada wiped his ass with his own hand because he wanted to. Saving the septic system from evil paper was just an excuse.

Forcing people to live the way you’re convinced they should live in order to save us all isn’t a solution. It’s a religion, or an ideology. We all know where that leads. Another inquisition, or the mass slaughter and misery of the twentieth century.

And that’s the great weakness of this film. It’s like the critical theorist who can only tear things down but who doesn’t have anything better to offer when it comes to building them up.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a solution.

We’re animals — the sooner we accept it, the better

Early on in the film, someone said, “Has any species in history ever reigned itself in?”

Of course the answer is no.

It reminded me of deer populations in Canada. When bounties were placed on wolves and their numbers drastically reduced, the deer population exploded. With no natural predators, deer multiplied to unsustainable numbers. Even recreational hunters weren’t keeping them under control. Before long, the government was re-introducing wolves to bring things back into balance.

We need to recognize that we’re just higher animals. We’re at the top of the food chain, with no natural predators. And we will expand out of control, both biologically and technologically, as long as there’s nothing to reign us in.

We’ll have our numbers reduced just like deer or rabbits when they breed too much. But in our case, it’ll take the form of a pandemic or a war. We won’t restrain ourselves voluntarily.

I don’t think we’ll destroy the Earth; I don’t think humans are capable of it. We’re reminded how powerful we aren’t each time a massive natural disaster strikes. But I don’t think we have any hope of stopping or reversing climate change, either. The idea that we’ll do it with technology reveals our astonishing hubris.

It’s in our best interests to pursue cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy. Why would we not want to live with less pollution, and without shitting in our own back yards?

But when it comes to climate change, we’d better start preparing to live with rising sea levels, drought, higher temperatures, and mass migration. That’s one area where our technology will be vital: finding ways to adapt to a changing world, rather than trying to change the world to suit ourselves.

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Great writing Ryan. We have similar ideas and perspectives on the world as it is. I will make time to watch the documentary.

    • Thanks Skinner, glad you liked it. I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in my non-travel rambling.

  • Well said/written, Ryan. I have lived long enough to understand and accept that we are our own worst enemy – we are responsible for all of the ills affecting humanity and we are equally responsible for most, if not all, of the medicaments (be it medical, physical, ecological, financial, etc.) that alleviate such ills.
    I have absolutely no interest in watching Moore’s film – I know that it will be yet another personal diatribe pointed at his “target du jour” with no effort to show any other facets of his objective.
    I, too, enjoy living a life made more materially comfortable by the advances in civilization since the Industrial Revolution – however, it hasn’t made me a rapacious, carnivorous, unfeeling, money-grubbing “capitalist” who makes no effort (however small) to avoid polluting and despoiling the sand-box in which I happen to currently live. I can no more stop the ravaging of the Brazilian rain-forest than I can win the lottery every week-end but I can do my little bit to improve the quality of the sand where I play.
    We are the top of the food-chain: ergo, we are animals just like any other and we can and will subjugate any and all others that stand in our way as we move forward into the future. It’s simply the nature of the beast. Yup, we can maul, despoil, ravage, pollute, maim and inflict great damage on the Earth but, guess what? We will all die at some point and the planet will thrive as it always has…..well, at least until we’re hit by a meteor or asteroid.
    Yeah, I smile (no, I outright smirk) at the cunning capitalism of the bio/eco marketeers whose mantra is “be kind to our earth” while they savage the place in their efforts to ensure that their goods are “sourced” fairly and ecologically – gotta get that market-share and please the shareholders. I buy some of their stuff not out of any false sense of eco-piety but because it either tastes good or achieves its purpose (mmm, clear skin and hair). Does it make me any better than the person buying commercial carrots or Head & Shoulders?
    You have travelled far more than I have, Ryan, and have experienced more than I have, notwithstanding the substantial gap in our ages but we both agree on this: like it or not, irregardless of our grand ideas and philosophies of life, humanity will stagger on as it has since the dawn of time surviving whatever peril, natural or otherwise, that erupts before us, struggling to eke out the best existence we can while we can. We can, if we have the cojones, map out our own life’s journey or we can choose to just mosey along with the rest of the herd and drink the various flavours of Kool-aid on offer – our choice, simple as that.

    • Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts, Bradley. I think we’ve reached similar conclusions. I’m under no illusions that I can save the world — or that I have any obligation to. Such problems are massively complicated, and often complicated by hidden agendas. I’m suspicious of “causes” of every stripe. In the end, I think the best we can do is get on with our lives while reigning in our worst features, enjoying those things we enjoy, and trying to find meaning in the short period of time we’re each given.


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