The Bizarre Blindspot in “Planet of the Humans”

May 1, 2020

So, was the film “Planet of the Humans” a hit job on the environmental movement disguised by the filmmakers’ phony claim to care about Mother Earth?  Or was it an honest, get real, exposé of its assertion that, “The takeover of the environmental movement by capitalism is now complete”?

There are two things to consider when pondering this question.  What were the filmmakers’ motivations and intentions?  And what was the film’s actual impact on this movement and the planet the filmmakers claim to care about?

The fact that most large liberal environmental organizations are attacking the new film “Planet of the Humans” as a hit job is understandable.  It has the potential to hit them where it hurts—funding, membership, and public support.  That’s why their conservative enemies are gleefully praising and touting the film.

Groups like the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, and the Natural Resources Defense Council depend on wealthy corporate and foundation donors for much of their operating funds.  The rest comes from concerned middle class supporters who really want to believe that they can green capitalism and save the planet by sending in their membership dues and buying “sustainable” products, without fundamentally altering their lifestyle or dismantling this profit obsessed system.

This leaves liberal environmental groups in double bind.  Neither their members nor their corporate funders want to admit that industrial capitalism is as deadly as a cancerous tumor and many green technologies are little more than deceptive placebos.

The film highlights the way major corporations have passed themselves off as “sustainable” by promoting fake-green technologies like biomass, or by falsely claiming they run on 100% renewable energy.  Worse yet they have promoted the lie that “renewable” energy technologies, like solar panels and wind farms, are not heavily dependent on fossil fuels and rare minerals.  In addition, they conceal the fact that the net energy return from these alternative energy sources is not nearly enough to sustain—much less grow—our ravenous industrial civilization.

The film points out that major Green groups and some prominent environmental figures like Al Gore have been either slow or unable to admit that some of these alternative energy sources and over-hyped green technologies are very environmentally destructive.  Why?  Because they need the money, as well as the legitimacy, the political influence, and the public support that money can buy.  They have used it to broaden their base of support from environmentally concerned folks who desperately want to believe the corporate hype that endless growth on a finite planet is sustainable as long as it’s “green.”  Yet the film makes it abundantly clear that “green growth” is an oxymoron…with an accent on the MORON.

HOWEVER, this film has a serious flaw that makes me question its motives.  For all its claims to be concerned about the planet, it fails to make any mention of the thousands of honest, clear-sighted, grassroots groups who aren’t deluded or on the take.  Instead the filmmakers insist, “The takeover of the environmental movement by capitalism is now complete.”  Really?

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If that was true then how did they find honest movement leaders, like Vandana Shiva and Richard Heinberg, to drive home the reality that industrial capitalism is a dead end and “the party’s over”?  The film completely ignored their efforts to abolish this system and build a genuine Green transition.  It paid zero attention to the emerging Green resistance movement trying to break our addiction to fossil fuels, reduce our over-consumption, and dismantle the parasitic system that profits by exploiting people and trashing the planet.

This leaves the filmmakers’ motives suspect.  Ironically, it also leaves them in the same company as the insidious green corporations and the compromised environmental groups they attacked.  They too wish to ignore the groundswell of radical resistance building all over the world against cancerous capitalism.  The film leaves people feeling like there’s nowhere to turn, nothing they can do.  But there are numerous—though not enough—groups genuinely committed to transforming humanity’s relationship with the Earth.

If the filmmakers were really interested in building a movement committed to these same goals, why did they completely ignore the very activists trying to accomplish this?  Instead of writing off the entire environmental movement as green shills for corporate greed, they should have recognized that there is an ongoing struggle for the soul of the environmental movement.  The film missed the opportunity to support those trying to forge a more courageous, honest, far-sighted movement.  It could have weighed in on the side of these dedicated activists, criticized those being tempted by the dark side, and exposed those who have become hopelessly compromised by their quest for money and members.

But they didn’t.  And this failure played right into the hands of those who don’t give a damn about the planet.

Craig Collins

Craig Collins Ph.D. is the author of Toxic Loopholes, which examines America’s dysfunctional system of environmental protection and the international system’s failure to confront climate chaos. He teaches political science and environmental law at California State University East Bay and was a founding member of the Green Party of California. His forthcoming books: Marx & Mother Nature and Rising From the Ruins: Catabolic Capitalism & Green Resistance reformulate Marx’s theory of history & social change and examine the emerging struggle to replace catabolic capitalism with a thriving, just, ecologically resilient society.

Tags: critiques of capitalism, environmental activism, film review, green growth, renewable energy transition