Planet of the Humans Puts Sacred Cows Out to Pasture

by Brian Czech

Planet of the Humans is a once-in-a-decade documentary for all concerned with the environment, the economy, and life on Earth. Directed by Jeff Gibbs and produced by Michael Moore, Planet is especially important for advancing the steady state economy. It is reminiscent of Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ in that it makes the case for a steady state economy—resoundingly—while never quite uttering the phrase “steady state economy.”

When viewing a documentary, a political scientist will mind whose ox is being gored. In Planet, entire teams of oxen are gored, including sacred cows. Wind, solar, and biofuels industries are gutted, exposing rotten cores of corporate greed, co-opted NGOs, and an all-too-prevalent intellectual laziness of “green energy” groupies.

Big Environmentalism takes a heavy hit, too. The Nature Conservancy? Gibbs calls it “The Logging Conservancy.” Union of Concerned Scientists? “Union of Concerned Salesmen.” The Sierra Club comes out looking like some environmental Madison Avenue, dazed and confused about what side(s) it’s even on.

Gibbs doesn’t spare environmental heroes, either—not if he catches them with their fingers in the pie or their minds muddled with money. The heaviest hit are Bill McKibben and Al Gore, but Van Jones, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and various heads of the Sierra Club are pummeled as well.

Planet isn’t exclusively a downer with regard to leadership, though. In addition to Gibbs himself, Vandana Shiva comes out clean, and a star is probably born in the form of Ozzie Zehner, a visiting scholar at Northwestern University. Zehner’s mastery of the “green energy” terrain, along with a natural ease in front of the camera, should bring him to the forefront of planning and policy for our energy and environmental futures.

Let’s take a closer look at the sacred cows, their fresh wounds, and the lasting lessons from Planet of the Humans.

Green Energy—“It wasn’t what it seemed.”

Ivanpah Solar Power Facility: ecologically economic? (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020,

While Planet is pitched as a Michael Moore production, it’s really the brainchild of director and narrator Jeff Gibbs, a long-time student and activist in environmental affairs. Gibbs has taken a deep dive into the technics, economics, and politics of energy extraction and marketing. As with most environmental activists, he was naturally inclined to support the movement toward renewable energy development. Surprises laid in store, however. As Gibbs put it, “Everywhere I encountered green energy, it wasn’t what it seemed.”

You’ll see exactly what he means as he canvasses the various businesses, industries, and environmental organizations assembled at “green” energy conferences. The mini-interviews he conducts with folks staffing the booths are full of cringe-worthy moments. Many of the sales representatives and industry spokespersons have no clues whatsoever about what their products are made of. Neither they nor the activists get it about energy return on investment or the net environmental effects of “green” energy.

Few of them know, for example, that a single wind tower requires over 60 truckloads of concrete at the base and needs its own acre to operate in. One tower takes hundreds of tons of steel and several tons each of copper, aluminum, and rare earth elements. It takes around $4 million to install one, and the net energy savings of wind projects are very much in doubt. Factoids and lists such as these make little impression on paper; Gibbs’ genius is bringing us to a site of “mountaintop removal for wind.” Pay keen attention to the ratio of environmental destruction to electricity served up, noting that the site you are visiting vicariously will seat only 21 turbines!

Folks at the “green” energy conferences might also tell you that solar panels are made of “sand”—easy to come by, cheap as dirt! Yet it’s not the sand of vacant lots or empty backwoods (if you can find any such woods) that goes into solar panels, but rather highly refined quartz, plus the sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid required in manufacturing the panels. And how much space does a solar array require? The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, which opened in 2014 at a cost of $2 billion, required 3,500 acres and was supposed to power 140,000 homes, but already shows ominous signs of wear and tear.

The dull surprise behind these wind and solar follies is the constant idling (as opposed to shutdown) of fossil-fueled, base-load power plants. The sun goes down predictably, but clouds are less predictable, and winds literally come and go. Not so with the appliances, computers, entertainment paraphernalia, and “green” cars plugged into the grid, much less the pumps, generators, and communications infrastructure at the local and regional utilities and manufacturing plants. So, the grid is kept running, and not by “green” energy. As described by an energy consultant interviewed in Planet, “You’ve got to have a fossil fuel power plant backing it up and idling 100% of the time. Because if you cycle up or cycle down, as the demand on the wind comes through, then you actually generate a bigger carbon footprint than if you just ran it [the fossil-fueled power plant] straight.”

Logs headed to the wood chipper; thence the incinerator for “green” energy. (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020,

As Zehner put it, we would have been “better off just burning the fossil fuels in the first place, instead of playing pretend.” Taken out of context, such a statement might sound flippant, yet it was more like the bottom line of a thorough analysis of costs and benefits, including, for example, how much fossil fueling is required for the construction, maintenance, and de-commissioning of “green” energy projects.

Now please, don’t even think of accusing me, of all people, of pandering to fossil fuel interests. I wrote, for example, “BP: Beyond Probabilities” and that was ten years ago! Solar and wind projects have clear environmental advantages over coal-fired and nuclear power plants as well as fracking and tar sands mining. The point, though, is that the “green” energy industry is a charade if we think it will solve the sustainability problem without ever addressing the unsustainable demands of the human economy.

The take-downs of wind and solar power are persuasive and resonant, but Gibbs saves his goriest goring for the oxcart of biofuels. For a conservation biologist like me, biofuels have always seemed like a sham, especially as a form of “green” energy. One of my roles while serving at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters was “biomass coordinator” for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Frankly it was an unwelcome role, and I can tell you that the only green aspect of biofuels is the color of the leaves headed for the chipper. As Gibbs points out in his plain-spoken but insightful way, “Wood chips, which is just a euphemism for trees, are being exported to Europe from America, British Columbia, Brazil and Indonesia.”

In the USA, too, entire groves, woodlands, and forests are headed for the incinerator in the “green” attempt to fuel the economy. That’s in addition to all the trash, dead animals, and even shredded tires that somehow qualify as “biofuels.” But the incinerators need any kind of fuel they can get to put a dent in the energy demand that comes with a $20 trillion GDP. Does any of that sound like “sustainable yield?” It’s another reminder that sustainability is first and foremost about size—in particular the size of the economy—and then about technological efficiency.

It’s hard to do justice to the comprehensiveness of the biofuels take-down in Planet. An entire review could be done just on that component, which addresses a plethora of technical, economic, and political nuances. I’ll leave it at this: If you are inclined to support the notion of biofuels as a significant energy source, you really must watch the film.

Fair to Gore and McKibben?

For steady staters, the world is no oyster. Ask yourself how many prominent figures you’ve heard explicitly advocating the “steady state economy.” Now contrast that with the multitude of figures and followers crowing for economic growth. Steady staters swim straight upstream in the river of political economy, with Big Money rushing relentlessly over us. Therefore, when a prominent figure comes along and signs the CASSE position on economic growth, we’re reluctant to take part in the bashing thereof. Friends are hard enough to find.

Bill McKibben signed the CASSE position in 2009 at the Powershift conference in Washington DC, where he and Gus Speth greeted enthusiastic young students following a session. When McKibben signed the CASSE position, he said, “I love what you guys are doing,” and it was apparent from the pages of Deep Economy (2007) that he’d been aware of CASSE for years. After the Powershift conference, with the signatures of McKibben (and Speth) in hand, the CASSE network was encouraged by the prospect of wider acceptance. Surely McKibben, who ‘loved what we were doing,’ would be a powerful ambassador for the steady state economy. But disappointment followed as news about McKibben never mentioned— because McKibben never seemed to mention—the steady state economy at all!

It’s hard not to notice, then, that numerous clips in Planet suggest McKibben got too far in bed with Big Money. His movement picked up steam—and for that he deserves credit—but naturally it attracted tempting suitors. McKibben found comfortable rafting in the river of political economy, as powerful corporate and political interests sidled up to him to get their slice of the “green” energy pie. By the time he was involved with the Green Century Fund, he was a de facto collaborator with mining corporations, oil and gas infrastructure companies, McDonalds, ADM, and Coca-Cola, along with a laundry list of banks. Advocating a steady state economy in that crowd would be like pushing for gun control at an NRA convention.


Orangutan in a clear-cut rainforest. Reality, analogy, and sadness. (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020,

Fortunately, the verdict (for whomever may judge) is far from in on McKibben. People get in over their heads all the time; the best of them get back out and onto the solid ground they came from. Our bets are on McKibben. Going forward, he will have plenty of opportunities to clarify—as he once did by signing the CASSE position—that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. He can clarify, in other words, that sustainability is not some newfangled energy technology but rather a steady state economy with stabilized population and per capita consumption.

Al Gore will forever remain a mystery with regard to the net effects of his politics. During my Ph.D. research in the 1990s, and especially with my minor in political science, Gore was one of my biggest heroes. Earth in the Balance (and later An Inconvenient Truth) probably did more to raise awareness of environmental perils than anyone aside from perhaps Rachel Carson. Eventually, however, I caught on to the fact that Gore was also one of the world’s leading proponents of “sustainable growth,” the oxymoronic bane of the steady-state program. Along with Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gore favored the win-win rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.”

The CASSE network, myself included, has tried on many occasions to reach Gore and encourage him to come clean on the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Not that it’s easy to contact vice presidents while you’re swimming for your life in the river of political economy, trying not to drown while Big Foundation Money is funding all the win-win rhetoricians, keeping them more than afloat. But we’ve tried when we could, given the contacts available to us. Our guess is that Gore is quite familiar, by now, with the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth. His intransigence in sticking with the win-win rhetoric tells us plenty.

In Planet, then, we see the sad demise of a surely well-meaning but ultimately corrupted, win-win politician. The segment on “Blood and Gore” is most telling. Gore teamed up with David Blood (who spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs) to establish Generation Investment Management, known most notoriously for its investment in Brazilian sugar cane, where the industry creates severe pollution problems and pushes indigenous Amazonians straight out of their very cultures. The last scene of Gore, cynically defending the hypocrisy of his financial life, has to be one of the saddest clips in the film, albeit not as sad as the very last scene of the film, with the orangutan down to one last tree in a rainforest devastated for logs and biofuel and to make way for more sugar cane.

Big Environmentalism—Why Keep Our Memberships?

Unlike the big environmental NGOs, Gibbs and his guests “go there” on population and consumption issues. They both plop out of the bag a little over 19 minutes in, when an environmental consultant, skeptical about “green” energy, says, “Not being judgmental and not playing God, but we’ve got to deal with population growth and sustainable resources. We’ve all got to cut back.” From then on, population and consumption become the underlying—and eventually the overarching—themes.

The most prominent coverage of population and consumption appears in the alarming graphical display of these two variables skyrocketing since the industrial revolution. Reflecting on the rapidity and enormity of these trends, Gibbs states, “And that is the most terrifying realization I have ever had.”


Gibbs’ population × consumption graph (top). Same graph with CASSE’s GDP Stamp, and with ten times the policy implications (bottom). (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020,

We wish only that Gibbs had connected these themes of population and consumption with the single most policy-relevant phrase: GDP. Over the years, this has been one of our top priorities at CASSE; to get well-meaning activists and scholars to move beyond relatively impotent (and frankly obvious) warnings about population and connect it with the metric—GDP—that is central to the policy maker’s mind on Capitol Hill, in the White House, at the Fed and in the World Bank. We can lament population growth until we’re blue in the face, but as long as the fiscal and monetary levers are all set for GDP growth, incentives will be devised, installed, and maintained for population and consumption growth. That’s how public policy works: Incentives are provided to accomplish goals. And the #1 domestic policy goal, perhaps of all time, is GDP growth!

Not that Gibbs is oblivious to the connection. Approximately 70 minutes in, while skewering billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his supposedly “Beyond Coal” campaign, Gibbs does hit the nail on the head by recognizing, “the reason we’re not talking about over-population, consumption, and the suicide of economic growth, is that would be bad for business. Especially the cancerous form of capitalism that rules the world, and now hiding under a cover of green.” We only wish he had driven home that singular point about economic growth—coupled with “GDP” as the measure thereof— again and again and again.

Speaking of “bad for business,” now is the time to remind Big Environmentalism of a challenge it has thus far skirted. On September 18, 2018, I challenged the presidents of the Big 10 American environmental organizations—The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and others— to a debate on the topic: Is there a conflict between economic growth and environmental protection? While none of them stepped up to the plate, we have certainly noticed some decline in the win-win rhetoric, at least around the Washington, DC beltway.

On the other hand, some NGO representatives and board members have stubbornly stuck to the destructive nonsense that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.” And, not a single one of the big NGOs has proactively handled the responsibility of raising awareness of limits to economic growth. Some do at times vaguely reference population, and even more vaguely consumption, yet “economic growth” and “GDP” are treated like elephants in the room. This is simply not good enough for NGOs who collected billions of dollars over the years from millions of members.

So, I have an idea. Let’s drop our memberships in these time-wasting, “green” energy pushing, corporately connected “environmental” NGOs and join, instead, organizations that explicitly raise awareness of limits to growth and call just as explicitly for the steady state economy! Or even “degrowth toward a steady state economy.” As the founder and now executive director of one such organization, I may be biased, but I may be right, too.

But don’t just listen to me. Listen very carefully to Jeff Gibbs and the cast of Planet of the Humans. You’ll be brought to the very doorstep of steady statesmanship!

Brian Czech

Brian Czech is the executive director of CASSE.

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73 replies
  1. Guy Dauncey
    Guy Dauncey says:

    Thanks for this, but it’s a very strange review, that takes no account of the gross distortions and outdated info in the film. Her are some alternative reviews:


    “A Reheated Mess of Lazy Old Myths”:

    “Michael Moore’s dreadful, ill-informed, unhelpful film”:’s-dreadful-ill-informed-unhelpful-film-0

    “Climate experts call for ‘dangerous’ Michael Moore film to be taken down”

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      Of course there will be “blistering critiques” when sacred cows are gored. The most common theme of these critiques is the “outdated” one. Yes, facts and figures have changed since the footage was obtained. Technological progress has occurred of course. But the critics act like technological progress is manna from heaven. They fail to recognize the systemic connection between the R&D sector (from which the technological progress emanates) and heavy-footed GDP growth at pre-existing levels of technology. They similarly fail to acknowledge the trophic structure of the economy, with it’s agricultural and extractive base. It’s the surplus production from that base that frees the hands for the division of labor, including the labor devoted to R&D. That surplus must expand for higher levels of R&D.

      Both of these elements—the system of technological progress and the trophic structure of the economy—must be simultaneously accounted for to recognize that the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection cannot be solved via technological progress. Not even via the technological progress in “green” energy. Read more about it here:

      Or read about it in the fuller context of ecological macroeconomics in Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution. ( See especially chapters 7-8.)

      So, while the figures noted in Planet may be “outdated,” the facts they are used to illustrate haven’t changed at all. “Green growth” is an oxymoron, and the conversion to renewables is a damp squib if unaccompanied—no make that unpreceded—by the paradigm shift from growth-as-goal to steady statesmanship, including the necessary degrowth phases. We have to put the horse before the cart to get to a state of sustainability.

      • Lee Purcell
        Lee Purcell says:

        One of the key points that you echo in your review is the old chestnut from the fossil-fuel folks: wind and solar are intermittent so have to be backed up by baseload energy. As the Rocky Mountain Institute points out: Modern Grids Don’t Need Baseload ( In truth, the ancient hub-and-spoke model of the energy grid is rapidly dying, giving way to microgeneration (corn field turbines, rooftop solar on factories, small-scale hydro, residential heat pumps, and demand-driven smart grids distributing energy). If you eliminate fossil fuels (and we have to if we’re going to survive), and then take renewables out of the equation, what have you got left? Keep in mind, Michael Moore directed Pandora’s Promise pitching the latest technological pipe dream: thorium molten salt reactors.

        I heartily agree with the basic mission of CASSE and I know much of what Gibbs had to say in the film about unlimited growth is absolutely true. But, why can’t we eliminate growth and also have efficient, clean, non-centralized energy as well. These two positions are complementary, not antagonistic. I think you’re doing your readers a disservice by supporting a film that, as Earth Island Journal says, is “carrying water for those who want you to believe renewable energy is an illusion.” (

        • Brian Czech
          Brian Czech says:

          That’s a reasonable comment. I doubt even Moore or Gibbs would disagree, especially with most of your second paragraph. The problem is, Big Green Energy is almost indistinguishable from the oxymoronic “green growth” crowd. They don’t want to “eliminate growth and also have efficient, clean, non-centralized energy.” They want to have their cake—OUR environmental cake—and eat it too for the sake of profits/growth.

          For those who get it about limits to growth, then, the disagreements surrounding this film have a lot to do with emphasis. At CASSE we feel strongly that limits to growth must be acknowledged—and steady statesmanship practiced—first and foremost, and then we’re all for pursuing more efficient technology. Now look at your comment. You hone straight in on all the latest improvements, as if that’s the real issue here. That said, at least you get it about limits to growth (as evidenced by your second paragraph).

          Here’s something to consider: There’s no shortage of folks pushing “green” energy and even researching “green” technology. But there are few and far between raising awareness of limits to growth and the policy reforms for the steady state economy (or degrowth toward a steady state economy). How about more focus on championing the latter?

          • Bill Powell
            Bill Powell says:

            Your comment regarding “emphasis” makes sense and I agree that there should be more emphasis on sustainability or steady-state conditions. If, however, you paint wind and solar as being just as bad as fossil fuels (which the film inaccurately does over and over), then where does your steady-state lie? With NO energy production?
            We SHOULD be emphasizing a steady-state. We SHOULD NOT be praying for technological fixes that might never come. But you have to give a path forward. The film doesn’t seem to do that. No wind. No solar. No biomass. No fossil fuels. What does that leave? Nuclear?

          • John Hardesty
            John Hardesty says:

            While the film does not use any of the terms “steady state,” “stationary state,” or, better in my opinion, “degrowth.” The implications are obvious. If you check the film’s website, I have put up a powerpoint on the subject and some related references, including Daly’s 1973 book. Just click on “Teacher/student resources.” Thanks for the great review.

        • Nick Maiorino
          Nick Maiorino says:

          Lee Purcell wrote,

          “Keep in mind, Michael Moore directed Pandora’s Promise pitching the latest technological pipe dream: thorium molten salt reactors.”

          In truth, Pandora’s Promise was directed by Robert Stone, and not Michael Moore.

          Michael Moore did, however, appear with Robert Stone for a Q&A on Pandora’s Promise at The Traverse City Film Festival in July of 2013, and seemed to be generally supportive of the film (or atleast of Robert Stone):
          ( )

          • Lee Purcell
            Lee Purcell says:

            Thanks for the correction. My mistake. Many of the cast of Pandora’s Promise are affiliated with The Breakthrough Institute, a quasi lobbying group, and The Ecomodernist Manifesto, which is strongly pro-growth and about as far away from the tenets of a steady-state economy as you can get.

        • False Progress
          False Progress says:

          Even if the grid can work with cumulative intermittent power sources (that article hopes it can but doesn’t prove it) there’s no such thing as “100% renewable energy,” since infrastructure is impossible to build and maintain without fossil fuels at most stages. The film does a great job of showing why that’s true.

          I wish it had also exposed the sham of carbon credits. People pretend that trading CO2 on spreadsheets eliminates it from actual emissions. It’s just more financial game-playing, like the manipulation of derivatives.

          Most importantly to me, the physical SPRAWL of vast wind and solar projects (the latter being less visible) is unacceptable in any “green” context. Those who mention “clean energy” without lamenting its huge physical footprint are cherry-picking the parts that work and ignoring the biggest downsides. It makes no ethical sense for environmentalists to be major land and ocean developers, or excuse growing wildlife deaths because something “green” is causing them

      • Madhav
        Madhav says:

        I saw the film and read the blistering reviews by most folks who are gung-ho about renewables. While there are clearly some errors in the film, I think most people fail to appreciate the underlying message which is what you state here – namely, can renewables be the solution when the driving force is economic growth?

      • Mark Cramer
        Mark Cramer says:

        I discovered Steady State Economy while working with degrowth people in France. In my classes we read both Herman Daly and French economists. Your review did right, going after the sacred cows. Bravo! My own objection to the film is that it leaves a false impression on the (a) consume less, & (b) the population issues. Amongst degrowth friends, we’ve emphasized, as I do in a book I wrote on the subject, that it is NOT a sacrifice to consume less. On the contrary, it can be fun and healthy. How the Big Environment people cannot grasp this is baffling. On (b), by mentioning the population issue without assuring, the film leaves a bitter aftertaste of the imperialist population control programs in poor countries. I’ve lived for a time in low-consuming Bolivia, where some American do-gooders with obscene ecological footprints themselves were trying to impose Draconian population measures where they were not even applicable.The film could have given some successful examples, but I suppose mentioning the not-by-force success of Iran would have opened a can of worms. Above all, right now in post-stay-at-home, the City of Paris is trying to reduce consumption in a happy way, as it opens up.

      • False Progress
        False Progress says:

        “The most common theme of these critiques is the “outdated” one. Yes, facts and figures have changed since the footage was obtained. Technological progress has occurred of course. But the critics act like technological progress is manna from heaven.”

        I think “outdated” is a specious critique altogether. It hangs on abstract economic lingo, not the true state of the environment as more oil/gas/coal-built construction projects clutter land and sea. Today’s Greens focus too much on climate (often with outright lies about CO2 reduction efficacy) and forget the smaller footprint that environmentalism used to encourage. Bring back E.F. Schumacher!

        The sheer mass of machinery and denuded forests keeps growing, and most “outdated” info involves economic minutia. It’s essentially this attitude: “We’ll keep ruining this mountain or that desert with wind & solar, and build it all with fossil fuels, but the cost of materials declined 5% last quarter so we’re winning!”

    • Mark Cramer
      Mark Cramer says:

      Planet of the Humans deserves some criticism: so much time it spent exposing failures of “renewable” energy, that it failed to show how consumption CAN be reduced, in a joyous way. But the critics of the film, by refusing to even address the consumption issue, INADVERTENTLY SUPPORT THE FILM’S ORIGINAL PREMISE: that big environmentalism pushes the illusion that wind and solar will allow us to continue as voracious consumers. My short article, linked here, shows critic of the film Josh Fox, REFUSING to acknowledge that the problem is consumption.

    • Robert Stumm
      Robert Stumm says:

      I do find humour when critics trying to bring down a polemic never meant to be a technical treatise engage in the age old tactic of nit picking inconsequential details. Often the polemic just ends up being popularized and strengthened.

    • False Progress
      False Progress says:

      Is the following story an example of what you consider “outdated” about the film? (largest solar project in America was just approved)

      One can hype “lower costs” of this or that but the real problem is less nature and more development trampling it to death, mostly built with fossil fuels. Stick with the basics of what environmentalism used to entail. Just because something claims to be low carbon doesn’t mean its sprawl can be ignored, nor its dirty origins.

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      Yes, I read it. Once again, no mention of the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth. No emphasis at all on limits to growth.

      This isn’t all about McKibben though. It’s about environmental “leaders,” whoever they may be—individuals and organizations too—failing to prioritize limits to growth as the central message that should unite us. Why do environmental leaders fail to emphasize that in their messaging? I believe Planet really helps us to understand why. People like McKibben may not even be entirely aware of the sway of Big Green Energy upon their own rhetoric. Planet will help to make them so. So, as I wrote in the article, I trust McKibben to make something of a limits-to-growth comeback. And hopefully he helps us explicitly with steady statesmanship.

      • False Progress
        False Progress says:

        McKibben lost my support when he started pushing Big Wind, though he apparently backed off when cornered. It’s hard to be sure where he really stands. Double-speak is mandatory when one promotes such blatant industrialization of horizons.

        This is a guy who lamented the end of nature and had a dead bird on the cover of his most famous book. Clean energy sprawl looks like the final coffin nail to me. It’s incongruous for an environmentalist to support obnoxious machines that kill birds, bats, insects and great swaths of scenery, especially when their net CO2 reduction is mediocre. And CO2 isn’t the only issue that matters, anyhow.

  2. Traci
    Traci says:

    I haven’t watched the film.

    All of the environment experts I follow on Twitter who have mentioned the film have detailed that it is full of erroneous and outdated claims, as well as based on uncritiqued populuation tropes that ignore distribution of consumption. These criticism seem valid and make sense to me.

    However, I’ve been missing from those same sources a critique or acknowledgement of the inherent problems of green consumerism as a path out from environmental problems. It seems like that’s what Moore and Gibbs tried to do and what Brian champions here.

    But, Brian mainly ignores the criticism or shortcomings of the film, and, especially, ignores the elephant in the room: co-opting by the rightwing for their own anti-green propaganda purposes. This co-opting is not just an unfortunate artifact – it is entirely predictable, and the film should have been made in a way that would make such efforts more difficult or impossible. It’s not unlike some people on the Left doing the work of the Trump campaign by incessantly tearing down e.g. Elizabeth Warren (and some other candidates) in the Democratic primaries.

    The fat shaming comment sits pretty ugly here, too, and reflects poorly on the author.

    • False Progress
      False Progress says:

      “I haven’t watched the film.”

      You can’t review something you ignore out of the gate!

      “All of the environment experts I follow on Twitter who have mentioned the film have detailed that it is full of erroneous and outdated claims, as well as based on uncritiqued populuation tropes that ignore distribution of consumption. These criticism seem valid and make sense to me.”

      Actually, those “experts” tend to be the very eco-sellouts the film goes after, like those who think putting miles of ugly wind turbines on mountains is good for nature just because certain people cling to the notion that we can build our way out of messes caused by overbuilding. The same people who support machine-overpopulation make excuses for human overpopulation because they’re growth addicts. Any talk of scarcity or personal restraint offends their rebranded profit motives.

      • Traci
        Traci says:

        Yeah, total rookie mistake to actually admit that I hadn’t seen the film at time of commenting, right?

        The thing is, nobody really disagrees that the film contains outdated facts and population tropes that ignore distribution of consumption.

        People are on different sides of whether they consider that to have significantly derailed the film as a documentary on climate issues.

        • False Progress
          False Progress says:

          Critics keep citing “outdated facts” without giving details that really matter. The fewer details you give, the more glib you look.

          The number of giant wind turbines has grown enormously since the Lowell Mountain segment was filmed roughly 10 years ago. See the USGS wind energy map and you’ll count nearly 63,800 wind turbines now, with about 360,000 worldwide, spoiling millions of acres of viewsheds that used to be rural or wild. Environmentalists used to protect much smaller structures like cellular towers, now they lie about the “beauty” of spiky ridges and flashing red lights.

          Energy sprawl has vastly increased and the world keeps getting uglier. Wind (and solar) projects are still built and backed up with fossil fuels, regardless of whether they’re relatively cheaper per unit (I won’t buy that story-line until the PTC goes away, if ever).

          Biomass is still coming from the same basic sources and the world keeps getting more crowded with roughly 80 million more people each year, all demanding finite and quasi-renewable resources. What exactly has improved with “renewables” over the past 10 years? Do you think more machines littering formerly scenic areas and more dead birds and bats (which oft-cited house-cats don’t kill) has improved the global environment? Is CO2 declining? McKibben’s 350 ppm target is long-breached.

          Explain why the film misses something fundamental, not just technical subtleties. If you stay vague, you’re stuck in a bright green fantasy. That’s the whole point of the film, and many less famous people have been saying the same things for a long time.

  3. Michael Desautels, B.Sc.
    Michael Desautels, B.Sc. says:

    Hello Brian !

    From Michael Desautels, B.Sc. (Calgary, Alberta)

    Great review – I saw the negative reviews, Michael Mann’s included, and was frustrated by their blindness.

    I have been a dedicated environmentalist these last fifteen years (age of our son !).

    “Planet…” is hands down the best environmental film or documentary out there, past or present, imo.

    For me, who read the MIT 1972 Club of Rome Report “Limits to Growth” when it first came out, and has watched as its curves track accurately enough, this brilliant film is the screen version of that Club of Rome report, and, as you say, brings us to the door of your steady state economics.

    This pandemic, for all its tragedy – has cleaner air, quieter skies, and a much better feel than the business as usual rat race – aptly named.

    Of course we are now returning to that road to hell on Earth – Big Money will see to that.

    But your positive review gladdens me – it is lonely being a true environmentalist.


    Mike D & family

  4. REkzkaRZ
    REkzkaRZ says:

    This movie was a hammer that smashed a worldview, destroyed biomass’ disguise as a green fuel, and made a ton of thought provoking arguments that deserve a chance to be discussed in a public forum.

    I don’t necessarily blame the film for being technologically outdated on aspects of Green Sustainable power (solar / wind) bc it takes time to make films & it’s pretty hard to keep it current. But a small text addendum at the end could’ve helped.

    Attacking McKibben & Gore was a surprise blow, but I appreciated the attempt to zero in on the hypocrisy. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater — solar & wind can be a complete power system!! While it’s dark & not windy in one place, it is always sunny and windy SOMEWHERE.

    I did appreciate that they addressed the global destruction required for modern renewables, but they overlooked the “wind farm graveyards” of unrecyclable (unsustainable) turbine-blades getting buried en-masse.

    Most important revelation to me was the Koch Bros & Goldman Sachs connection to Green Power & their attempts to control, extract profit, and ultimately ruin a real future of only Green renewables & zero percent fossil fuels.

    My big question — can we remove natural gas from the Green portfolio? Most of us know nuclear is a horrible fit, and the film points out biomass/biofuels also sucks, but can we shift the entire Green Power movement to agree to this?

    Overpopulation and overconsumption is a valid area for discussion and debate, but it’s clearly a different issue than power. But it is the core issue of the environmental impact of humanity, which is a distinction the film could’ve made.

    • False Progress
      False Progress says:

      “Attacking McKibben & Gore was a surprise blow, but I appreciated the attempt to zero in on the hypocrisy. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater — solar & wind can be a complete power system!! While it’s dark & not windy in one place, it is always sunny and windy SOMEWHERE.”

      That perpetuates a fantasy about the physical grid and transmission distances. Solar in Texas won’t power homes in Maine when the wind fades on a ruined mountaintop. Power needs to stay relatively local to minimize transmission losses. And you can’t ignore that fossil fuels build and maintain all that infrastructure. You need dense, portable energy to build faux renewables.

      The film missed a chance to debunk carbon-credits. Those don’t actually eliminate carbon, they just pass it along to some other entity. Companies like Apple rely on that scheme to claim “100% renewable” status, which is really a massive lie. They have to know it.

  5. Willem Vanden Broek, JD, PhD
    Willem Vanden Broek, JD, PhD says:

    Moore and Gibbs are provocateurs. It’s lots of fun when you agree with the targeting, but when it’s your own ox being gored it isn’t so pleasant. They want to stir things up. If the movie had been a bunch of wonks sitting around a table pondering the net environmental effects of green technologies, nobody would care. The case has been well made that the movie does a hose job on some of these technologies. But the idea that we can *grow* our way out of terminal environmental catastrophe with a 1930s-style industrial policy featuring an immense public works program is grotesque. In the long term we need sustainable consumption by a sustainable population. In the short run we need alternative fuels. Calling the long-run advocates a bunch of genocidal racists doesn’t help. It seems to come up every time anyone talks about limits. … I knew the jig was up when I heard Emily Atkin endorsing the idea that, with the proper utopian miracle of achieving zero net per capital GHG emissions in the next thirty years, we can go on propagating forever to our hearts’ content. ( ) … One aspect of the Big Environmental Organization story is the salaries some of their top officials make, many in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. It fits with their model. Why else would anyone want that kind of money? Think Big and Grow Rich.

  6. Paul Hanley
    Paul Hanley says:

    I must say I am surprised by the review. I of course agree with your main point, that we need a steady state economy, but supporting this argument with a rash of erroneous information, as is the case with this film, is not a good idea. Civilization needs to abandon fossil fuels as a major energy source and switch to renewable sources. The transition will not be perfect, there will be problems involved and there will be those will exploit the transition in various ways, but the transition has to be made. I am not sure what your point really is, that we don’t need to transition to renewable energy?

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      My main point is this: Sustainability is a steady state economy, with stabilized population and per capita consumption. It takes tremendous political energy to establish the steady state economy as the central economic policy goal.

      Meanwhile all the focus on “green” energy takes our focus away from the 800-pound gorilla of economic growth. Look at all the pro-growth corporate interests pushing “green” energy, plus the win-win rhetoric of “green growth” surrounding it.

      We have to put the horse before the cart, if we want to get anywhere sustainable. First we need majority acceptance of limits to growth and the need for a steady state economy. That’s the political horse to pull the policy cart. And yes, then the cart must include energy policy reforms, as well as fiscal and monetary.

  7. Peter Coville
    Peter Coville says:

    Wow – this has really brought out the divisions in the movement that were already there! I have friends saying this film is an unmitigated catastrophe, others saying it is just what we needed! I think we’re going to have to work hard to find a way to move forward together.

  8. Herman Daly
    Herman Daly says:

    A very thoughtful and challenging essay, Brian! Moore and Gibbs put the cat among the pigeons for sure. If they mean what they say, they should be willing to sign the CASSE statement, as you suggest. I hope they will.

    The main message of the “Planet of the Humans” is that unrestrained economic and population growth should be the target of environmentalists’ efforts, not technological fixes. Techno-fixes can be helpful, but belong in second place. If put in first place they are often dangerous (e, g. nuclear power, green revolution, biomass fuel). Technocrats are not humble, and in reviews some have alleged that Moore and Gibbs must be misanthropists, eco-fascists, racists and sexists, as well as shills for fossil fuel interests. When the ideological dust settles maybe there can be a reasonable debate on the win-win proposition “There is no conflict between economic growth and environmental protection” as you suggested some time ago.

    Big Environmentalism had a reason to put techno-fixes in first place—to avoid confronting the god of growth and thereby offending corporate contributors, politicians, and technocrats.. Big Green suggests that a policy of complete substitution of fossil fuels by renewable energy is viable. It would surely be viable at some smaller scale of population and per capita resource use, but not at the present scale, and certainly impossible at the continually growing scale advocated by most economists and politicians.

    A further challenge raised by the documentary is to recognize that the environmental movement is failing. We are losing the game—just read the newspapers! As my high school tennis coach frequently had to remind me, the first rule of strategy is to “always change a losing game.” The documentary invites us environmentalists to change our losing game. The invitation was dramatic, forceful, and rude, but if it had been polite I’m afraid we would not be discussing it.

    • Lee Purcell
      Lee Purcell says:

      If you’re banking on a film overflowing with technical inaccuracies to convince anyone that steady-state economics is our future, I’d respectfully suggest that you’ll just lose all credibility. If you take a systems theory approach to present-day challenges, the man-made economic model is a subset of the environment. Climate change issues (massive wildfires, flooding, agriculture failures, pandemics) are pushing us rapidly toward what Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism, which obliterates any efforts to reach a steady-state economy. If you take renewables off the table (and, yes, there are multiple examples of how that can be done and it is being done by nations that have already taken that path), you’ve don’t have a prayer of stopping climate change. If the population actually goes down and the carbon footprint keeps rising, you don’t have a habitable planet to do business on or expound about economic theories. Big Green and Big Environmentalism are nifty labels, but the more interesting energy work is being done with decentralized, community-based, smart-grid distributed energy on a human scale. I’d love to see us reach a steady-state economy, but I’d also like to see us survive the next 10 to 20 years while we try to get there.

  9. Hazen Cleary
    Hazen Cleary says:

    Hi Brian, I thought you might be interested in the response to the film from Post Carbon Institute, regards Hazen
    Following the release of his most recent film, Planet of the Humans, Michael Moore is being lauded by the right and demonized by the left. We’ve found ourselves in the middle of it all because Senior Fellow, Richard Heinberg, is one of the few shining stars in the film. He stands alone outside of the firestorm of criticism by offering his usual clear-headed wisdom about the true potential of renewables and powering down our out-of-control energy use. Read Richard’s review of the film and listen to the Crazy Town hosts’ take on the latest episode of our popular podcast. RICHARD’S REVIEW:

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      Reply Part I of 2

      Yes, it’s a fine review, as expected from Richard. And I like the spectrum of reviews you noted, from dead opposition to total support, with Richard’s right in the middle. That seems accurate enough to me, and makes it easy to place my own assessment halfway between Richard’s and total support (that is, three fourths of the way to total support).

      In my review, which far surpassed our Herald guidelines in word count, I chose to elaborate more upon the merits and implications of the film than the weaknesses, partly because the weaknesses are quite understandable and somewhat unavoidable. For example, Planet is attacked for including out-of-date factoids on renewable energy. My response is, you (critic) try producing a sweeping documentary that contains nothing but the latest news from every angle you address. Remember, you don’t have Big Money on your side, with film crews all over the country documenting all the issues concurrently. By the time you are finished updating in one sector, your coverage of another sector has become “outdated.” It should go without saying that, by their nature, indie-documentaries will include some dated material; trees that should not obscure the forest.

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      Reply Part 2 of 2

      Another supposed weakness of the film is its overstating the slimness of the marginal benefits of “green” energy, with Planet even implying that there may be no marginal benefits whatsoever, at least for some of the sectors and projects identified in the film. Richard acknowledges the thinness of the margin (in more general terms, regardless of specific projects) but states there are at least marginal benefits. My own opinion is that a solid verdict is nearly impossible to derive if we opt for a truly holistic framework of accounting. For example, what about all the struggles, arguments, institutional reforms, and material rearrangements required to get to a renewably powered grid? We might categorize all the “energy” going to these transformative processes as transaction costs. I haven’t seen those accounted for in the net benefits assessments.

      Clearly Richard and I (and Post-Carbon and CASSE) agree on the biggest point of all: We must replace the anachronistic goal of GDP growth with the goal of a steady state economy. Otherwise, all the handwringing and real sectoral reform toward “green” energy won’t get us an inch closer to sustainability. The longer we wait, the longer the phase of degrowth required to bring us down to a sustainable (even with renewables) GDP.

  10. Rick Cutler
    Rick Cutler says:

    Thank goodness for this article you just sent out!!
    Since I watched the film and agreed with so much of what was exposed, I’ve been hearing nothing but screaming about how bad it is, and should be taken down….. …..There’s a First Amendment slam from the Left, instead of the Right for once!! Total bullshit.

    Also, as a longtime member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, I’m on the daily posts. Of course all his legions came out screaming as well.
    While I’ve always respected Gore for the good things he’s done, I’ve also strongly disagreed with much. Many of which you point out.

    The good news is that as a CRP presenter, I’m completely free to tailor my talks any way I like. So one thing I always talk about is Steady State Economics, and the imperative the concept has to securing a lasting environment.

    So when I replied to some of the posts on the CRP members forum, I received a rash of crap. I was expecting that, knowing what I’ve learned from you, and others about the reality of “Big Green”. And now this film brings home many of the same points.

    Granted, it’s not a perfect film. But after watching I was both surprised and disappointed by the vitriol of protests against it.
    I guess I should have seen that coming.

    So you can imagine what a relief to was to read your post just now. I’ve already sent it to a number of people, with whom I’ve be discussing the film.

    Thank you so much for being a voice of reason among all the ignorance and insanity surrounding this film.

    Keep safe and keep up the good work.
    I will spread your words far and wide.

    Rick Cutler
    West Barnstable MA

  11. Dave Gardner
    Dave Gardner says:

    I’m with Brian Czech on this. Renewable energy advocates and climate activists, and especially their NGOs, have focused intently on pushing the technology and have ignored the concurrent need to begin shrinking the scale of the human enterprise (both our economy and our population). That’s the inconvenient truth of this era, and a few factual inaccuracies – while unfortunate – should not distract us from the ultimate truth that we have created a “planet of the humans” – we’ve gotten way too big for our planet.

  12. Frank White
    Frank White says:

    Brian writes: “It’s hard not to notice, then, that numerous clips in Planet suggest McKibben got too far in bed with Big Money. His movement picked up steam—and for that he deserves credit—but naturally it attracted tempting suitors. McKibben found comfortable rafting in the river of political economy, as powerful corporate and political interests sidled up to him to get their slice of the “green” energy pie. By the time he was involved with the Green Energy Fund, he was a de facto collaborator with mining corporations, oil and gas companies, McDonalds, ADM, and Coca-Cola, along with a laundry list of banks. Advocating a steady state economy in that crowd would be like pushing for gun control at an NRA convention”

    Re Brian’s allegations against “Green Energy Fund, he was a de facto collaborator with mining corporations, oil and gas companies, McDonalds, ADM, and Coca-Cola, along with a laundry list of banks,” can the author provide footnotes or URL links to the sources of those making these charges?

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      Watch the clip from approximately 1:15:15 to 1:16:52, with Gibbs’ tracking of the SEC filings. When you advocate a fund you are assisting and facilitating the success of the corporations and banks comprising that fund. The take-home point is less about McKibben than about the nonsense of these pro-growth funds (and which ones aren’t?) being somehow “green” or even off the fossil-fueled grid.

      As for McKibben, we hope he starts advocating more for steady-state policy reforms and spends less time pushing “green” energy funds. I think he will, thanks partly to Planet of the Humans.

  13. Silvia Leahu-Aluas
    Silvia Leahu-Aluas says:

    You just lost my support with this review. I don’t like to waste my time with documentaries made by amateurs, but let me give just of a few examples on why the doc is null, your support of it is poorly argued and why we should not debate it

    1. “Union of Concerned Salesmen”: puerile and false. You want a professional like me, who relies heavily on their expertise and analysis, and a UCS member, to take anything that contains such “goring” seriously?

    2. We are running out of time to solve the climate emergency and all the other crises that pose an existential threat to us and the entire biosphere (including the current economic model, which might or might not be displaced by a steady-state model, as there are competing alternatives) and you want us to waste our time with some guys who know nothing about what they are targeting and talking about. Are you trying to convince us that these guys know what energy is, what entropy is, how each energy conversion works?

    3. It is not true that activists like me, a 350 member, do not understand the need for multiple, systemic changes, including zero growth, degrowth, etc. And yes, I also want to see the sources proving that corporations have bought 350.

    4. I don’t know if you have deleted the offensive commentary on Gore’s physical appearance, it was there when I first read the post and I found that completely unacceptable. Because of that, I have no item 5 to mention.

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      You see, this was the genius behind Planet. It’s gotten you and thousands of others—many of them UCS, TNC, WWF, etc. members—talking loudly about how we need “zero growth [steady state economy], degrowth, etc.” Keep it up; make sure the board members hear you!

      We’ll miss your support at CASSE (although it looks like you weren’t a member anyway), but it’s a net gain for all if you go back to UCS, membership card in hand, and tell them to start weighing in, loudly and clearly, on limits to growth. Loudly and clearly means prioritizing that over pushing “green” techo-fixes. It means putting the horse before the cart and helping precipitate the paradigm shift from the growth fixation to steady statesmanship.

      While you’re there with your membership card, you might tell them I used to love UCS until my research brought me into ecological macroeconomics. Now I say, where was UCS during the 10 years of struggling to get the Society for Conservation Biology, American Fisheries Society, and Ecological Society of America to adopt a position on economic growth, a position recognizing the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection? UCS sat on its hands and watched us lose by the narrowest of margins in all three venues. They could have tipped the balance in each case! I for one tried to bring them into play on several occasions. Only The Wildlife Society, U.S. Society for Ecological Economics, American Society of Mammalogists and a few other smaller scientific, professional societies had the diligence and then the integrity to learn some eco-macro and tell it like it is, respectively.

      Not UCS. But now that members like you are getting so vocal about limits to growth—all at the same time, prompted by Planet—maybe they’ll finally do something, such as help us advance the Full and Sustainable Employment Act.

      Planet sure was rough around the edges, but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate it. I think at some point you will too!

      • Dave Gardner
        Dave Gardner says:

        Silvia, you may “understand the need for multiple, systemic changes, including zero growth, degrowth, etc.” but those items have not found their way into the messaging from any of the big environmental NGOs. And you’re picking a fight with Brian Czech, who has been around this block a few times. He has a long history in the fight, and has seen how everyone runs from telling the truth about economic growth.

      • Silvia Leahu-Aluas
        Silvia Leahu-Aluas says:

        It was your post that prompted my response, why would I watch the documentary? I need time to read and apply actual analysis and solutions, including the SSH, until now. I and many others did not need the doc or your post to understand the need for limits to growth. Isn’t it proof enough that I was interested in CASSE and signed its position, a long time ago? If you think that talking about physical appearances and assuming that many of us have just discovered the causes and solutions to climate change is a good strategy for expanding support for SSE, please persevere.

      • Dave Cannon
        Dave Cannon says:

        Brian, I just flashed back to the contentious AFS session in Anchorage in 2005 and the frustration you and others experienced during the discussion/debate/knockdown dragout over the resistance to support the economic growth policy. It’s been an uphill battle for sure; kudos to you on your dogged determination!

  14. Haydn Washington
    Haydn Washington says:

    Hello, I am an environmental scientist and writer as well as a Co-Director of a CASSE branch in Australia. I was deeply shocked by both the Planet of the Humans doco and the support for this by CASSE. It is essentially a PR hatchet job designed to turn people off renewable energy. The film talks about the problems of denial, yet itself denies the facts around renewables. Key problems are:
    * It interviews an anthropologist, a sociologist and a psychologist – but NEVER an environmental scientist or renewable energy expert
    * Its footage is way out of date, over 10 years in the past
    * It does mention the need to control population and the endless growth economy (great), but only in passing, yet there is no real support for the steady state economy. A passing criticism of overpopn and the growth economy is NOT in fact support for the SSE.
    * It has in fact no real solutions, yet the film is desperate to discredit renewables, one needed solution.

    Read the response in the Guardian where energy expert Mark Diesendorf explains the many errors in the doco. I would agree that many climate scientists and activists fail to grapple with the reality that endless growth is the cause of the climate crisis. However, two wrongs do not make a right. Using PR techniques, old data and shonkly science is not a solution. For a sustainable future we need a SSE, with a society that uses less energy than now, BUT the energy must be from renewables. We need both.CASSE should support appropriate renewables. Mostly that is not biofuels (but certain of these do pass the test). However CASSE should not praise a doco that is inherently biased, does not interview real experts in the field, and cherry-picks its examples from many years in the past.

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      I had the occasion of re-watching Planet for purposes of participating in the following “Sequel” webinar hosted by Growthbusters:

      This particular comment by Haydn Washington, that Planet director Jeff Gibbs “interviews an anthropologist, a sociologist and a psychologist — but NEVER an environmental scientist or renewable energy expert,” had stuck in my mind because it didn’t corroborate my first viewing. Indeed the comment is incorrect. Steve Running is a renowned Regents Professor of Ecology at the University of Montana. Richard Heinberg is quite rightly classified as an energy expert (among others in the film). Neither one played a minor role; both were prominently featured.

      So, I find it ironic that Haydn has disparaged the documentary for being wrong on the facts, when his own comment is wrong on the facts.

      I also find it somewhat painful and slightly embarrassing to correct an admired colleague who has performed so admirably as a CASSE chapter director. But what to do? People are still reading this thread, and Haydn’s comment, which is put so authoritatively and emphatically, and has circulated widely, is simply wrong and importantly so. I believe it belies a tendency among the film’s critics to overreact to perceived weaknesses, and perhaps in some cases (surely not Haydn’s) to simply parrot the accusations of others without an actual—much less a thorough and objective—viewing of the film. I also don’t want readers thinking that CASSE representatives are out there issuing false information, or at least failing to catch and correct it. Thus the correction.

  15. Mark Diesendorf
    Mark Diesendorf says:

    As a member of CASSE in NSW, Australia, as well as a renewable energy researcher, I was disappointed that Brian so easily accepted the misrepresentations of renewable energy in “Planet of the Humans”. In summary, the film’s content on renewable energy is out-of-date, superficial, simplistic and misleading. I give five examples in my article “Five reasons why Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans is a bad mistake” published in RenewEconomy on 4 May 2020 (

  16. Brian Czech
    Brian Czech says:

    We need to get back to the big-picture basics of sustainability, and stop wasting our time discussing whether documentary footage becomes outdated and counterfactual at 1 year, 5 years, or 10. When you have mountaintop removal for ANY kind of power, it’s a mountaintop removed, along with the ecosystem it hosted.

    Let’s consider #3 in the “Therefore” clauses of the CASSE position on economic growth:

    “3) Technological progress has had many positive and negative ecological and economic effects and may not be depended on to reconcile the conflict between economic growth and long-term ecological and economic welfare.”

    Of the 16 sentences in the CASSE position, this one is by far the most understated. We recognized when crafting the position that the full, systematic, nuanced story about technological progress could not be provided in a quickly readable position that we expected to be signed by thousands and hopefully millions of individuals.

    So, here is a fuller version of #3: Technological progress, whether in “brown” or “green” technology, is not manna from heaven. It requires tremendous amounts of agricultural and extractive surplus at the base of the economy to free the hands for the division of labor into a full trophic structure that includes a robust R&D sector. This whole process is explained in my book Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution and also here:

    The heavy environmental impact required to generate the money for techno-progress explains why we cannot reconcile the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection through techno-progress. For sustainability we must emphasize, focus on, and prioritize scaling back production and consumption in the whole, integrated economy, which always has that trophic base of agricultural and extractive activity.

    And in that context of emphasis, yes re-route tech toward renewables too.

    • Traci
      Traci says:

      Thanks, Hayden.
      Facts and nuance matter, and it’s disappointing to see Brian doubling down on the “factual accuracy isn’t that important” view.

      Some issues are pretty black and white. Mountaintop removal is wrong in all cases. It is a legislative issue, not an indictment of renewable energy. Potential merits of working with “natural enemies” of big business to try to affect positive change at large scale are complex and much debated. Different actors (organisations & activists) weigh those trade-offs using varied metrics. This doesn’t make them fundamentally “sell-outs”.

      “Starting a conversation” on false or deeply incomplete information is not helpful. This type of “exposé” can be applied to any big industry, e.g. waste disposal (recycling) or agriculture (organic farming). However, if a documentary focuses only on the perverse impacts of big money, it does a disservice to all the people – including community activists, scientists, farmers, educators, entrepreneurs, etc. – working for equitable and planet-smart solutions. It functions as propaganda for those against change and muddies the waters for everyone else.

      We need multiple approaches. Others have pointed out that many solutions are small scale and decentralized. Transitional and bridge solutions are also useful, as are multiple-benefit solutions. Changing a polluting coal power plant to a biofuel plant powered by hay from seashore meadows in a national park (Estonia) is a local solution that improves air quality, carbon balance, as well as achieves biodiversity objectives (semi-natural grassland management). Powering cars with ethanol produced from organic waste at decentralized plants attached to food processing facilities helps make old cars more climate friendly (Finland).

      We need space for innovation and legislation for the common good. “Why bother” doesn’t help.

      I think most of us can hold in our heads the simultanneed to reduce consumption and develop more sustainable forms of energy.

      • Brian Czech
        Brian Czech says:

        Wait a minute. I never said “factual accuracy isn’t that important!” I said we should “stop wasting our time discussing whether documentary footage becomes outdated and counterfactual at 1 year, 5 years, or 10.”

        What the facts were about, say, energy return on investment 5 years ago may not match the current figures, but that doesn’t mean the producers were wrong on the facts, much less lied about them. They gathered the facts and figures that were current at the time. Yet I see conflation left and right in the negative reviews, whereby reviewers think that older facts are somehow “wrong” just because the figures have changed.

        And, as I remarked earlier, the critics need to get off their high horses about how “dated” the material in the film is. Big Money wasn’t behind this production; the producers didn’t have film crews scouring the country, getting the very latest on all the issues they covered. That’s the reality with documentaries, and especially those swimming upstream in the river of political economy.

        The much more important point is that they did cover major issues from multiple angles, and they wound up seeing the forest and not just the trees. They got the big picture right, no matter how many of their facts and figures have been superseded a bit with the passage of time and technology.

        So, let’s get the facts straight, starting with what I really said in my review—especially when you’re going to use quotation marks.

      • False Progress
        False Progress says:

        Traci wrote: “Some issues are pretty black and white. Mountaintop removal is wrong in all cases. It is a legislative issue, not an indictment of renewable energy.”

        If you watch the film, you’ll see a direct comparison between scalping mountains for wind projects and coal mines. That’s the Lowell Mountain, Vermont segment where they talk about Bill McKibben’s hypocrisy. The film should have shown the final ugly result but it’s easy to find online. Less rock is disturbed vs. full mining but it’s still too much and the resultant spiky landscape looks less natural than a restored coal mine, or even a raw one (e.g. natural talus slopes).

        You claim that mountaintop removal is wrong, so presumably you’d only support industrial wind power on flat lands, true? I find that many “clean energy” apologists just make rationalizations.

  17. Traci
    Traci says:

    Hi Brian,

    I agree that my use of quotation marks created ambiguity, as I rather aimed to express the view that I think you have doubled down on, as in: factual-accuracy-isn’t-that-important viewpoint. Although you have edited your article since the first time I commented, I cannot edit my comment, so this additional acknowledgement will have to suffice.

    I won’t belabour the point, as I think my criticism is otherwise clear enough. I signed CASSE’s position probably in about 2009 and certainly feel aligned with the overall mission statement. I don’t think either the documentary or this review are particularly effective advocacy for SSE.

  18. Dave Cannon
    Dave Cannon says:

    Brian, I just flashed back to the contentious AFS session in Anchorage in 2005 and the frustration you and others experienced during the discussion/debate/knockdown dragout over the resistance to support the economic growth policy. It’s been an uphill battle for sure; kudos to you on your dogged determination!

  19. W.V. McConnell
    W.V. McConnell says:

    The diverse gut reactions to Brian’s review reveals an unfortunate lack of a common vision, a shared goal that would would unite us in our efforts to “save the planet”.

    May I offer one distant and uncertain vision of a sustainable civilized world which features a Steady State Society characterized by:
    • reduced and stable world population
    • mitigation of and adaption to climate change
    • economic stability (constant gross world product)
    • an ethos of individual and regional interdependence, common concerns, and mutual goals (globalism)
    • world government, rather than nationalism
    • gender and racial equality
    • focus on quality, not quantity
    • emphasis on the non-material, not the material
    • more equitable distribution of world wealth

    Achieving such an auspicious future will require new values and new norms supporting a sustainable and resilient global system. Above all, it will require enlightened leadership and an educated public. Change will take place incrementally, and current generations will not see its fruition. Successful adaption will be difficult, costly, painful and prolonged, but within the realm of the possible.

    Failure to mitigate and adapt will be catastrophic. If humanity continues on its path of uncontrolled growth and increasing greenhouse gas emissions it will endure a never-ending series of adversities: (food, water and energy shortages, mass migrations, resource-related wars, pandemics, extreme weather events, and a host of others, as yet unknown). Because of the changed world conditions, these events will occur at frequencies and intensities previously unknown to mankind.


  20. Jeremy Williams
    Jeremy Williams says:

    The problem with this review is that it implies that the end justifies the means. It suggests that the important message is the limits to growth, and since this film has that message, it must be worthwhile. I agree with the limits to growth angle and am an advocate of degrowth, but the film is terrible as a film and desperately unhelpful in its exaggerations, insinuations and generalisations.

    Laudato Si makes its degrowth points with grace and generosity. This makes them with cynicism, a disregard for the truth, and in some cases even malice. Whatever valid points there may be in the film are inundated by the things it gets wrong. You only have to look at the people who are championing it to see that how badly it has backfired as a piece of advocacy.

  21. ishi
    ishi says:

    I assume donating to CASSE and funding more movies by M Moore equals ‘degrowth’. Rather than do something like create better solar one should just make movies and make more redundant websites advocating ‘degrowth’—let a 1000 flowers bloom–rather than plant a tree, do a website and online newsletter saying ‘profound things’ like ‘mother earth–love your mother’.

    Maybe H Daly can fly to Japan again to give a talk on ‘degrowth’. Perhaps he should have his own private plane with a bar in it so he can fly everywhere all the time to spread the message like the plague. I assume by now Virginia Tech is the leading example of degrowth. Its actually likely a carbon sink similar to the amazon jungle. People coulld be planting Va Techs in their own backyard on on the shopping mall’s parking lot. They would absorb alot of hot air and similarily decrease the high levels of IQ in the world.

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      I get your point about websites and movies, but you’re barking up the wrong tree. CASSE’s work in the areas of public policy, international diplomacy, scholarship, academic training, and activism speaks for itself. So, no, we’re not just out there “saying ‘profound things’ like ‘mother earth–love your mother’.”

      By the way and ironically enough, your “contribution” here is but a comment on a website, which CASSE has provided for you.

      Next, I’m not sure what you’re insinuating about Virginia Tech, but I quit Tech approximately six years ago when the Natural Resources Program in the National Capitol Region (where I’d served as visiting professor) converted from a solid curriculum with ecological economics and sustainability science to an “executive” business model of flying entire classes to India, China, etc., with plenty of scouting trips thrown in for the new sustainability “leadership.”

      As for Herman Daly, he hardly ever flies and I don’t think he drinks at all; no “private plane with a bar” would be forthcoming. And no one in the world has done more for advancing the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth.

      So, please find another tree to bark up. Better yet, do something, perhaps starting with visiting your congressional representative to discuss the Full and Sustainable Employment Act, calling for the transition to a steady state economy (or the equivalent in whichever country you reside in).

  22. Richard Laverack
    Richard Laverack says:

    Perhaps the following statistics of atmospheric carbon content from Mauna Loa Observatory may bring some “accuracy” to discussion on limits to growth, and Planet of the Humans”. I take it as understood that carbon particles in the atmosphere drives global warming, just 1 factor but I feel the overriding one.
    MAY 2010 386ppm
    MAY 2020 418ppm
    A difference of 32ppm, if this is added to current carbon content,
    MAY 2030 450ppm.
    I am not a scientist, but I have been informed by scientists since 1988 that the 2.0C “target” of global warming was to be avoided at all costs, reinforced by any UNFCC/IPCC document. Scientists have also informed me that the atmospheric carbon content of 450pp would ensure a global warming of 2.0C above pre industrial times.

    Nowhere is this indicated in Planet of the Humans, and yes we have to go low carbon, but can we do that in the remaining carbon budget?
    I have watched failure on this issue for 30 years, the expectation and hope as the Copenhagen conference took place, and the sense of disaster that followed. The last 10 years has been the “missing 10 years”, when so much could have happened but never did.
    And so to the next 10 years???.

    As if there was all the time in the world, Christine Figueres stated in 2015 in Paris that temperatures would be reduced “in the second half of the century”. We can be “model fetishists” all we like, but “Planet of the Humans” brings reality back into the discussion. Perhaps not in the film’s content, but in the discussion happening now.

    IMHO there is only 1 discussion, how to avoid 2.0C warming. Forget 1.5C, nothing to save, and with that must come the realisation that for the planet, we have come too far, the limits have been reached and we must degrow.
    I await with interest whether or not these Mauna Loa observations will form part of the debate as I believe they must.

  23. Steven Wallerstein
    Steven Wallerstein says:

    I’m brand new to this site, so please excuse my naivete. Obviously this planet can’t take unlimited economic growth. But help me understand what limiting growth looks like. Does everyone live fairly modestly like I do? Do tens of thousands of children and adults go to bed hungry or do we allow economic growth for them? Do we allow growth for those who might guide tourists to see wildlife, or do we limit that and keep the status quo with poaching? Extreme example, I know. Do we focus on a redistribution of wealth? What does a steady state economy mean for billionaires and homeless folks in their everyday lives? Please nudge me toward the discussions and links that speak to this.
    Regarding POTH: We “need” energy to at least maintain our semblance of civilization, and we need to cut back on fuels that exacerbate climate change and deadly pollution. Isn’t it really as simple as that? The movie had many messages, some well laid out, such as the co-opting of environmental groups, and some very badly told, like the crazy montage of the earth elements needed for solar and wind technology. And dying orangutans doesn’t add to the conversation. We’ve already had Koyaanasqatsi. Nor do I need to see arguments with security guards reminiscent of Moore’s interaction at the Saudi embassy. Oh well, that marginal movie got me over to this site; some silver lining. Thanks

    • Brian Czech
      Brian Czech says:

      The short answer is that the push for perpetual GDP growth forces millions to go to bed hungry as the global economy exceeds ecological and agricultural capacity. And yes, the transition to a steady state economy—at least a transition without wider-spread hunger—does entail some redistribution of wealth or at least some rules changes to level the playing fields.

      I asked myself the same questions you’re asking, took a long time to study and envision answers, and wrote Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution. I recommend it. For a lighter start, please join CASSE and get a gift copy of Best of The Daly News: Selected Essays from the Leading Blog in Steady State Economics, 2010-2018.

      Regarding Koyaanasqatsi, I think your point is off base. I’m in the older set, and I never even heard of Koyaanasqatsi until now. I doubt that “We’ve already had Koyaanasqatsi” is a compelling argument against Planet.

      Finally, you don’t think the dying orangutan—a very sentient victim of human economic recklessness as well as a mighty metaphor for its near relative H. sapiens—adds to the conversation? Might you be out of touch with a significant portion of humanity? I certainly hope so!

      All that said, thank you for exploring and asking some good questions.

      (Also, produces a 404 error message.)

  24. James MJ
    James MJ says:

    The underpinning logic of the film’s message is the most important thing: neither the EROI nor the complexity of green energy make them reasonable options to substitute for coal, oil, nuclear, or even hydro. We need oil as a substrate to get resources out of the ground, and then make and distribute green energy. If that’s the case, it means that the best we can do with green energy is marginally reduce resource use (particularly carbon emissions). It would, therefore, be more efficient to instead focus on reducing growth overall.

  25. Richard Cook
    Richard Cook says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary, Brian. It’s like everybody’s fighting over treatments for lung cancer and continuing to smoke.

  26. Henry Barbaro
    Henry Barbaro says:

    Hi Brian,

    I thought your review of the Michael Moore’s “Planet…” movie was excellent.

    I recently blasted the Sierra Club about its denial that population growth is a concern for the environment. The great thing though is that you and I have independently arrived at a similar conclusion about these overgrown and drifting “environmental” organizations, where you stated — “Let’s drop our memberships in these time-wasting…“environmental” NGOs and join, instead, organizations that explicitly raise awareness of limits to growth…”

    Here’s an excerpt from my letter with a very similar message — Wendy Becktold of the Club is trying to lobotomize her readers into thinking that America’s population growth does not matter. What an outrage. Becktold throws her best smoke screen at the argument by citing renegade carbon-dioxide molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere, high fertility rates in Africa, excessive consumption by Americans (as if reducing consumption rates will make up for more than a million consumers pouring into America every year), and last my favorite — that if you are concerned about America’s rapid population growth, driven by mass immigration, then you must be a racist, xenophobe, and/or eugenicist. If an argument cannot be won on its merits, then name-calling will surely do the trick.

    How far the Sierra Club has fallen as the once-important leader in America’s environmental movement. Why be a member of the Club, when there are other more truthful, effective, and deserving organizations that are in dire need of financial contributions? My guess is that most members believe that the Club’s Board of Directors is serving their interests by working to protect America’s majestic natural beauty and, in turn, the quality of life for future generations of Nature-lovers. If only that were true. I urge you to stop giving money to the Sierra Club and put it towards an organization that cares about America’s environment and its people.”

  27. Tormod V. Burkey
    Tormod V. Burkey says:

    Actually, the movie seemed much better when I watched it a second time and tried to forget about how it will be misused by the crazies and the ignorant, and the vested interests.


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