Planet of the Suicidal Maniacs

The movie Soylent Green debuted when I was in high school. I identified less with the detective hero, played by Charlton Heston, than with his “book,” Sol Roth. An aged character portrayed by Edward G. Robinson (his valedictory role), Roth could read, research, and analyze, rare skills in the faraway future of 2022. What he learned during a murder investigation left him, shall we say, terminally depressed.

I thought back to Soylent Green while watching Planet of the Humans, a hundred-minute documentary executive-produced by Michael Moore. Seeking a wide audience in the midst of a pandemic likely to keep theaters indefinitely closed, Moore has posted the movie to YouTube, and you can view it free for the next thirty days.

Do I recommend it? Yes and no. Yes because it casts necessary scrutiny on the environmental movement millions of us look to for rescue from the horrors of climate change. No because it leaves you as depressed as Sol Roth.

Spoilers follow.

Longtime Moore associate Jeff Gibbs made the low-budget but visually impressive film. His thesis is stark: alternative fuels are a fraud, and the only way to escape an ecologically-rooted societal collapse is to reduce population and consumption.

Planet of the Humans punctures the illusion that such widely-respected environmental champions as the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy, Al Gore, and (oh most sacred of cows!) Bill McKibben know the path forward. Instead, Gibbs charges, environmental leadership has been co-opted by big money, literally buying into the lie that solar power, wind power, and biomass fuels are alternative sources of energy. All three, it turns out, depend heavily on fossil fuels to thrive, and biomass production—a euphemism for tree-cutting, mostly — represents a double whammy in that it not only spews carbon but deforests the earth, depriving us of a key tool for alleviating atmospheric CO₂.

I searched for a factual refutation of the movie’s premise. I even read the review at Breitbart (it came from the Associated Press). Evidently Gibbs’s argument is so tight it prodded Bill McKibben into renouncing his support for biomass energy after the movie premiered at a Michigan film festival. As for Al Gore, let’s just say he’s having an easier time ignoring inconvenient truths these days.

Like Soylent Green, Planet of the Humans is more about revelation than resolution. But halfway through, Skidmore College social psychologist Sheldon Solomon suggests a way out:

We don’t like that we’re gonna die someday, we don’t like that you can walk outside and get hit by a fuckin’ meteor. What humans beings did back in yesteryear is to envelop ourselves in culturally constructed belief systems . . . . Then the question is, well what happens when you bump into people who don’t share those beliefs? Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, that’s undermining the confidence with which you subscribe to your own views, and exposing you to the very anxiety that those beliefs were constructed to eradicate in the first place. If we’re to make progress, whatever that word means, or even to persist as a form of life, we’re gonna need to radically overhaul our basic conception of who and what we are and what it is that we value.

We are so screwed.

No doubt MAGAcrats will crow that Planet of the Humans proves environmentalism is a crock. But if anything makes us better than our brothers and sisters on the right, it’s that we’re willing to question our basic assumptions and change our opinions and behavior when evidence warrants. They refuse to question their bedrock assumptions — that free market fundamentalism solves all worldly problems and that prosperity-gospel Christianity is the formula for righteous life and immortality — and it’s killing us all.

Planet of the Humans ends with a quote from Rachel Carson: “Humankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery — not of nature, but of itself.” Sol Roth, I’m seeing myself in you more and more.

Moore, Gibbs, and producer-writer Ozzie Zehner. (From the movie’s press kit.)

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.