Planet of the Humans, directed by Jeff Gibbs but featuring Michael Moore as its “presenter”, has been viewed by almost five and a half million people since it popped up on YouTube last month. In case you haven’t heard, it’s quite a provocation, and the response from almost every quarter of the environmental movement has been outrage. It traffics in disinformation and scurrilous personal attacks, they say, and I can’t argue. Two big problems: it falsely claims that more carbon is emitted over the lifespan of a photovoltaic cell than by generating the same energy through fossil fuels, and it uses dishonest editing techniques to portray activist Bill McKibben as having sold out to billionaire ecological exploiters. You can read about the misrepresentations elsewhere; my point is that, whatever else it is, the film is a logically consistent statement of the de-growth position.
Alas, much of the “left” has concluded that the chief obstacle to meeting our climate and other environmental challenges is the “capitalist” faith in economic growth. Capitalism requires growth, they say, and growth is destroying the earth, therefore we must abolish capitalism and embrace de-growth. Anything less is a sellout.
This philosophy is central to Planet; twice (at least) Gibbs proclaims, “You can’t have endless growth on a finite planet.” He shows charts depicting human population and consumption growth that portray us as a metastasizing cancer. Early in the film, when he’s setting the tone for what’s to come, he asks, “Is it possible for machines made by industrial civilization to save us from industrial civilization?”
But movies are not just words; they make their arguments visually as well. Planet has horrific scenes of mining and logging, as well as speeded up, frenzied shots of manufacturing, warehousing and shipping. It ends with heartbreaking footage of doomed orangutans amid a wasteland of deforestation. The message is clear: human use of nature is a travesty, and any activity that imposes a cost on Mother Earth is immoral.