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Michael and Me

May 11, 2020 - 15:50 -- Admin

How did the
radical film maker Michael Moore become a hero of the far right?

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th May 2020

never dies; it just goes quiet and waits. Today, after years of irrelevance,
the climate science deniers are triumphant. Long after their last, desperate
claims had collapsed, when they had traction only on alt-right conspiracy
sites, a hero of the left turns up and gives them more than they could have
dreamt of.

Planet of
the Humans, whose executive producer and promoter is Michael Moore, has now
been watched 6 million times on
YouTube. The film does not deny climate science. But it promotes the
discredited myths that deniers have used for years to justify their position.
It claims that environmentalism is a self-seeking scam, doing immense harm to
the living world while enriching a group of con artists. This has long been the
most effective means by which denial – most of which has been funded by the
fossil fuel industry – has been spread. Everyone hates a scammer.

And yes,
there are scammers. There are real issues and real conflicts to be explored in
seeking to prevent the collapse of our life support systems. But they are
handled so clumsily and incoherently by this film that watching it is like
watching someone starting a drunken brawl over a spilled pint, then lamping his
friends when they try to restrain him. It stumbles so blindly into toxic issues
that Michael Moore, former champion of the underdog, unwittingly aligns himself
with white supremacists and the extreme right.

the film lands a punch on the right nose. It is right to attack the burning of
trees to make electricity. But when the presenter and director, Jeff Gibbs,
claims that “I found only one environmental leader willing to reject biomass
and biofuels”, he can’t have been looking very far. Some of us have been
speaking out against them ever since they became a serious proposition (since 2004 in my case). Almost
every environmental leader I know opposes the burning of fresh materials to
generate power.

There are
also some genuine and difficult problems with renewable energy, particularly
the mining of the necessary materials. But the
film’s attacks on solar and wind power rely on a series of blatant falsehoods.
It claims that, in producing electricity from renewables, “You use more fossil fuels to do this than you’re getting benefit from
it. You would have been better off just burning fossil fuels in the first
place”. This is flat wrong. On average, a solar panel generates 26 units of solar energy for every unit of fossil energy required to
build and install it. For wind turbines the ratio is 44 to 1. 

Planet of
the Humans also claims that you can’t reduce fossil fuel use through renewable
energy: coal is instead being replaced by gas. Well, in the third quarter of
2019, renewables in the UK generated more electricity than
coal, oil and gas plants put together. As a result of the switch to renewables
in this country, the amount of fossil fuel used for power generation has halved
since 2010. By 2025, the government forecasts, roughly
half our electricity will come from renewables, while gas burning will drop by
a further 40%. To hammer home its
point, the film shows footage of a “large terminal to import natural gas from
the United States” that “Germany just built”. Germany has no such terminal. The
footage was shot in Turkey.

There is
also a real story to be told about the co-option and capture of some
environmental groups by the industries they should hold to account. A
remarkable number of large conservation organisations take money from fossil fuel companies. This is
a disgrace. But rather than pinning the blame where it lies, Planet of the
Humans concentrates its attacks on Bill McKibben, the co-founder of,
who takes no money from any of his campaigning work. It’s an almost comic
exercise in misdirection, but unfortunately it has horrible, real-world
consequences, as McKibben now faces even more threats and attacks than he
confronted before.

But this
is by no means the worst of it. The film offers only one concrete solution to
our predicament: the most toxic of all possible answers. “We really have got to
start dealing with the issue of population … without seeing some sort of major
die off in population, there’s no turning back.”

Yes, population growth does contribute to the pressures on the
natural world. But while the global population is rising by 1% a year, consumption, until the pandemic, was rising at a steady 3%. High consumption is concentrated in countries where population growth
is low. Where population growth is highest, consumption tends to be extremely low. Almost all
the growth in numbers is in poor countries largely inhabited by black and brown people. When
very rich people, such as Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs, point to this issue
without the necessary caveats, they are saying, in effect, “it’s not us
it’s Them breeding.” It’s not hard to see why the alt-right loves this film.

is where you go when you haven’t thought it through. Population is where you go
when you don’t have the guts to face the structural, systemic causes of our
predicament: inequality, oligarchic power, capitalism. Population is where you
go when you want to kick down.

We have
been here many times before. Dozens of films have spread falsehoods
about  environmental activists and ripped
into green technologies, while letting fossil fuels off the hook. But never
before have these attacks come from a famous campaigner for social justice,
rubbing our faces in the dirt.