Planet of the Humans, a newly released documentary streaming for free on YouTube, explores the green energy solution myth we’ve been fed for decades. Although it’s challenging to realize that the solution to climate change isn’t as black and white as making a switch to renewables, it’s an important watch. And even more valuable for environmentally conscious individuals seeking to make a positive impact in the climate space.
Big business, innovative engineering, and the media have offered us an alluring lifeline in the form of alternative energy sources. But perhaps it was wishful thinking to believe that several brilliant solutions could single-handedly eliminate the need for fossil fuel-run power stations, reduce our collective carbon footprint, and—most importantly—allow us to continue with the lifestyle we’ve been accustomed to without having to make real change. It’s an answer we desperately needed in our narrative, a source of hope for our planet’s future.
However, Planet of the Humans proves to be one of those eye-opening documentaries that can initially feel as though your bubble has been burst. It posits that every single source of “alternative energy” that exists today, is but a mere gimmick. A very convincing gimmick, used to keep our existential crises at bay while padding the pockets of energy industry titans, who, (spoiler alert), are leaving even bigger urban footprints under the guise of “progress”.
The Jeff Gibbs directed exposé breaks down the sad truth behind the processes of many of these clean energy plants. For starters, Gibbs shows us step-by-step, exactly how solar cells are made. We soar over vast solar panel fields, some 300 times the size of a football field, and note their rows upon rows of metallic panels, all positioned in the same direction. At first glance, they look sleek and futuristic, but in a video montage that seems like it was orchestrated by a Bond villain, we see exactly how each panel came to be. Through a mix of blowing up rocks, extracting silicon, burning polymers, experimenting with chemicals in intimidating factories, something about silver and cobalt, tons of construction sites, of course, coal, and so, so, so much more, solar cells are built. They conclude that the process of making these panels leaves a far greater eco-footprint than using coal plants and these cells are only built to last for about a decade! A decade, until the whole process, starts again. They also argue it’s a similar story for wind farms, biomass energy, and even newer advancements in more alternative sources such as seaweed-fuelled energy.
The film doesn’t try to sugarcoat the situation; in fact, it leaves us with even more of a question mark than when it began. After a couple of conversations with psychologists urging us to accept our mortality, the takeaway seemed to be that if we stay in denial about our impending doom, we’ll continue to put gimmicky band-aids on problems we may never be able to solve.
This got me thinking, does every source of harvested energy possible come at too great a cost? Or have we just not found the right source yet? Equally, if no source of energy seems to be able to sustain the needs of our growing population without wreaking havoc on the environment, what’s our plan of action? Surely, apathy and nihilism are not our only options when it comes to our planet’s future?
Maybe the answer to these questions, lies as much in the socio-economic business models as it does in the energy source itself? Perhaps the most powerful change comes when we stop blindly depending on industry and profit-centric corporations to solve the climate issues, and begin to problem solve from the bottom-up.
These models do exist and are gaining traction. Regenerative Farming is one solution that is not dependent on infrastructure, multi-billion-dollar plants, or high-stakes financial investors. A white paper from regenerative agriculture advocacy group, Kiss The Ground, explains further, “most analysts believe we must stop burning fossil fuels to prevent further increases in atmospheric carbon, and find ways to remove carbon already in the air if we want to lessen further weather crises and the associated human tragedies, economic disruption and social conflict that they bring. But where can we put that carbon once it is removed from the air? There is only one practical approach—to put it back where it belongs, in the soil. Fortunately, this is not an expensive process. But it does take large numbers of people agreeing to take part.”
Project Drawdown is another non-profit (emphasis on the non-profit) organization that believes the solutions needed to begin making change are already here. They believe that their goal to begin drawing down carbon from the atmosphere is feasible, “our work shows the world can reach Drawdown by mid-century, if we make the best use of all existing climate solutions. Certainly, more solutions are needed and emerging, but there is no reason—or time—to wait on innovation. Now is better than new, and society is well equipped for transformation today.”
Obviously, these two schools of thought are challenging to the corporate model. And as always, this makes it easy for them to be politicized, dismissed as idealistic, or drowned out by sexier more profit-oriented solutions.
The biggest takeaway from Michael Moore’s Planet Of The Humans is simply trusting governments and the renewables industry is not working. Perhaps there is still a role for green energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass if executed in a more sustainable way? Perhaps biology in the form of carbon sequestering and regenerative farming can begin to make major shifts? What is for certain, is that our planet is our home, and it is a non-partisan issue. It is up to all of us as humans, to learn to live within Earth’s natural limits. It is time for us to implement the action plans immediately available to us individually, and collectively, and to let hope—not cynicism—be the fuel to continue to fight in new and better ways for Mother Nature.
Sonia Gumuchian is an independent writer and filmmaker based in Vancouver, Canada. She is a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and has worked at ABC Studios, HBO, FOX Broadcasting, and the Hallmark Channel. Her last short film premiered at the Austin Film Festival and screened at the Portland Comedy Film Festival among others. Repped by Ignite Artists Talent Agency, Sonia is currently developing scripted content with various production companies. Find her on Instagram at @zeegum.