Michael Moore EP'd 'Planet of the Humans' Scores 3.8 Millions Views in First Week, Triggers Furious Blowback
'This is so far beyond our expectations,' Moore says of film's extraordinary YouTube success
Just a week since it became available for free on YouTube, the provocative documentary Planet of the Humans has scored almost four million views on the online platform, quickly making it the most talked-about nonfiction film of the year.
“This is so far beyond our expectations,” Michael Moore, the film's executive producer, said in a statement. His longtime collaborator, environmental activist Jeff Gibbs, directed the film that argues the planet is headed for ecological disaster and that green energy offers the false promise of salvation.
“We knew we were presenting in this film some uncomfortable truths about our beloved environmental movement," Moore added, "but we also knew we could no longer remain silent about its failures and the wrong direction in which we’d all been led.”
The Green New Deal, to the extent it's proposing that green energy is going to save us, it's not going to save us, it's actually going to kill us faster.
As of Tuesday night, the film had recorded more than 3.8 million views and elicited more than 31,000 comments. [Videos of Moore and Gibbs that we posted on Nonfictionfilm.com's YouTube channel in August have also jumped in views over the past week, triggering comments in support of the filmmakers and others excoriating them].
A number of environmental-minded groups and leaders are mounting a vigorous attack on the film, calling it factually wrong and misguided.
"We are disheartened and dismayed to report the film is full of misinformation," declared Films for Action, which had posted Planet of the Humans to its site. It removed the film for a time, then reposted it with a recommendation that viewers read several critiques of the documentary.
"It’s a nihilistic take, riddled with errors about clean energy and climate activism," brayed Leah Stokes, writing on Vox.com. "With very little evidence, it claims that renewables are disastrous and that environmental groups are corrupt."
Oscar-nominated environmental filmmaker Josh Fox (Gasland) blasted the documentary, writing that it "trades in debunked fossil fuel industry talking points that are specious and meant to disparage the efficiency, durability and affordability of renewable energy."
For good measure, Fox tweeted "[Michael Moore] is not an environmentalist. He’s a sensationalist who owes the movement an applogy and a retraction."
Gibbs' film was bound to draw a strong reaction because it goes after sacred cows of the environmental movement from a leftwing, science-based perspective, not a rightwing "climate change denialist" viewpoint.
"The green energy movement's gone off the rails and the environmental movement's been bought out by billionaires and bankers," Gibbs told me in August after the film's world premiere at the Traverse City Film Festival. In the film he criticizes Al Gore, Bill McKibben, Robert Kennedy Jr., the Sierra Club, and other individuals and groups that he maintains have essentially put self-enrichment over appropriate action to reverse climate change and natural resource depletion.
Gibbs asserts the former vice president and others are perpetuating the myth that untrammeled economic growth is possible even as the world transitions to alternative fuels like wind, solar, biomass and bio-fuels. The director argues they are failing to address the root problem -- "overpopulation or over-consumption or the suicide of infinite economic growth."
Gibbs cites statistics showing the introduction of alternative fuels has not in fact reduced demand for fossil fuels -- he says alternative energy sources have simply been layered on top of the pre-existing system (it is worth noting that the film was finished long before the COVID-19 pandemic led to at least a temporary reduction in demand for oil). And he argues that production of electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels involves significant mining of natural resources and consumption of fossil fuels.
"In these wind turbines, there's 800 pounds of copper, there's 1 to 2 tons of rare earth metals," Gibbs points out. As for electric cars, Planet of the Humans producer Ozzie Zehner observes, "The emissions aren't coming out of the tailpipe, they're evolving in other ways. They're through the manufacture of the car -- like aluminum, for instance, which uses 8 times more energy than steel to produce; the batteries, which also have a tremendous impact [on the environment]. But it's not coming out of a tailpipe like we're used to looking for it."
McKibben, renowned for founding 350.org and leading the movement against fossil fuels, defended himself from criticism in Planet of the Humans that suggest he's been compromised by seeking to profits from "green energy" solutions.
"I’ve actually never taken a penny in pay from 350.org, or from any other environmental group," he retorted. "And 350.org hasn’t taken corporate money... 350.org has no financial interest in the campaigns it runs to clean our financial system of dirty fossil fuels, and does not act as financial adviser; it’s untrue to suggest it ever promoted one fund over another or profited from doing so."
McKibben acknowledged that he once supported biomass as a fossil fuel alternative, but he says he publicly reversed course.
"As more scientists studied the consequences of large-scale biomass burning, the math began to show that it would put large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere at precisely the wrong moment: if we break the back of the climate system now, it won’t matter if forests suck it up fifty years hence," McKibben wrote in his own defense. "And as soon as that became clear I began writing and campaigning on those issues."
McKibben added, "I am used to ceaseless harassment and attack from the fossil fuel industry, and I’ve done my best to ignore a lifetime of death threats from right-wing extremists. It does hurt more to be attacked by others who think of themselves as environmentalists."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.