REVIEW: Planet of the Humans Michael Moore produced documentary on The Green New Deal lands the occasional hit, but pulls too many punches

3 May 2020 — Off Guardian

John Steppling

Michael Moore is estimated to be worth 50 million dollars. He is a wealthy man. His political support is for the Democratic Party. He has stumped for Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in New York and for Rashida Tlaib in Michigan (does one need to say more?). Moore is essentially a brand.

Moore came to prominence with Roger and Me, but became a part of the cultural zeitgeist with Bowling for Columbine. Moore was satirized in TV cartoons like South Park (a sort of cultural marker for brand success), but despite his celebrity there has been in subsequent films a gradual yet inexorable expression of the law of diminishing (box office) returns.

He has now granted his imprimatur as producer (a bit like Nike is now branding medical face masks. Well…ok…not exactly like that, but still…) on a new documentary by Jeff Gibbs: Planet of the Humans.

Now, the essential and overriding two problems with this film can be generalized as absence of class analysis, and an absent analysis of western Imperialism.

More succinctly, the military is never mentioned, not ever. And the open Malthusian meme ‘we are the problem’, or what is often called ‘the overpopulation argument’ (or Pogo argument) is a profoundly reactionary and racist idea based on classic eugenics, and the one glaring omission and the other rather disturbing ideology, eclipse the genuine (though limited) truths of the film.

And I say limited because while, yes, Al Gore is a ruling class vulture and Bill McKibben an opportunistic self-promoting liar, and pointing this out is correct and even satisfying, these points are subsumed by Gibbs greater political mystifications.

The curious result of these missing ideas and the criticism of them and by extension the film, means that finds oneself aligned, however fleetingly, with people who hate the film for exactly the wrong reasons — the pro capitalist DNC linked pro climate justice. Green energy supporters, among whom one can count Alexandria Ocasio Cortez who producer Michael Moore supports and campaigns for (cognitive dissonance exhibit A) and all the myriad other corporate interests that Cory Morningstar painstakingly catalogues in her Wrong Kind of Green blog.

There have been hysterical attacks on Gibbs from these people, and they are wrong. And their egregious *wrongness* here still doesn’t mean its not a flawed film.

But herein lies the real issues that need to be carefully tweezed apart. Even Cory Morningstar linked to the film on the above-mentioned blog.

On an importantly positive note, the stuff that Gibbs gets right is important and one wishes dearly he were a more sophisticated political thinker. And that he wasn’t working with Moore. But details on industrial energy, palm oil, all the massive destruction caused by solar and wind power. That the hype for renewable energy is dishonest and manipulative. Gibbs is exactly right (though a bit late to the party one has to say).

The attacks on him from the proto-capitalist green energy people are cynical and dishonest.

The film is not without poignancy. The image of an 800-year-old Joshua Tree being ground up will not soon leave you, nor the image of the Orangutan – that Orangutan – this is the future under capitalism. There is no escape from it.

I want to return to the nature of the acute ambivalence this film elicits, but first, another factor needs to be noted. Timing.

That this film (which was rejected, apparently, by major distributors, although I have no direct evidence of this) is released during the Corona panic (for free), during the global house arrest (and this, in turn, means a necessary sidebar on Bill Gates) is troubling.

One of the most prevalent themes being repeated ad nauseam in media is one that depicts the suddenly clean waters of the Venice canals, the return of wildlife to the suburbs of America and northern Europe, and the generally breathable air of previously polluted big cities. And the message is, like the Gibbs film, “we are the problem”. Get rid of people, or keep them inside, and voila…an Edenic Gaia. The film then becomes tantamount to a marketing campaign for depopulation simply by virtue of its release date.

This, in turn, links to another problem with Planet of the Humans, and that is that it is very white. And I find a surprising number of (surprise) white people who either will object to this description, or simply tell you it has no meaning. But it does have meaning and it has history.

A history where twelve presidents owned and worked slaves. A history in which the U.S. Army gave out blankets, infected with smallpox, to native american tribes. Ponder that. The U.S. history is so interwoven with its slave-owning and genocidal past; add Manifest Destiny, and the Monroe doctrine, and sixty years of intense anticommunism and covert CIA coups – many of which targeted post-independence Africa – that history is inseparable from any cultural or political product.

THAT history colours all cultural discussion, it cannot be escaped. And there is an unsettling sense of privilege (even if not literally true) in listening to a white guy intone for a hundred minutes.

So, when white men narrate films where nearly all humans are white, it is ipso facto problematic. White men with apparently no politics beyond ‘trees are nice’.

Now, having said this, the subject Gibbs is tackling is important. Many of his conclusions are correct, but only up to a point because looming over everything is the spectre of de-population. And this Malthusianism is so threadbare at this point, so utterly at odds with the facts, that for Gibbs to promote it means he loses credibility for everything. And it’s sinister.

There are not too many people; thats simply not true, and in fact across the planet birth rates are cratering (why is IVF such big business?) But again, if one reads the reviews in corporate-owned media (Vox, or Salon et al.) it’s enough to make one root for and defend Gibbs…almost.

In fact, reading the mainstream press on the topic of this film is an object lesson in how propaganda is disseminated. It is a perfect illustration of the internalizing of the meta-narrative for climate, as it is for Covid 19. They can’t be separated, just as drone assassination and US/NATO Imperialist wars cannot be separated from SWAT teams kicking in doors in south-central.

The fact that the U.S. has over two million people in prison, which is the most per capita and real in the world, and that two million with a disproportionate number of black prisoners, is also suggestive of a deep intractable terror of a planet with dwindling white power.

But cutting across this, as I say, is the frightening erosion of democracy in the Covid 19 emergency. Never mind Malaria killed 400,000 last year, or that even the slimy frontman for Gates and his friends, Dr Fauci, admits the case mortality rate will be very low. It doesn’t matter because this stopped being about the virus long ago.

Here is essential reading regarding Gates….two pieces. One from Jake Levich and the next from Alison McDowell.

I read in social media how people are so inspired about ‘frontline medical workers’ (you see there is always a new vocabulary, much like with climate and carrying capacity and wet bulbs and 6th mass extinction etc) and yet, in fact, huge numbers of hospitals are closing (likely to never reopen) and those doctors and nurses and now among the growing mass of unemployed in the US.

It seems the American bourgeoisie want to believe this is a dire threat. They want to self isolate. Perhaps this massive quarantine is a time of leisure that they don’t often get. I have no idea, honestly. But I do know for certain the quarantines will kill far more than the virus, in the long term, and that the new mass upticks in surveillance and invasions of privacy won’t ever be rolled back. But the bigger question is in terms of global travel and the Gates agenda (see Fourth Industrial Revolution, smart cities, etc).

What Gates wants is everyone to carry a certificate (or microchip) that indicates if they have had this or that vaccination. This is exactly what your dog has to have when you fly them out of the country.

I am deeply sorry Gibbs did not resist, or maybe actively joined, the agenda of the eugenicists. And as to the lack of mention of the military, well, I honestly don’t know how that is even possible if you claim to be making a documentary about destruction of the planet. The US war machine cuts across ever aspect of human existence today. That is not hyperbole. And yet Gibbs ignored it. I want to defend Gibbs against the corporate attacks against him, but I find it hard. And a final thought on all this.

The white liberal educated class so hate Trump that all rational perspective is lost. Anything that throws shade on Trump is a good thing. And this hatred is being enjoyed far too much; it is as if Trump came along and answered their unconscious prayers for active exercise of a deep soul-crushing hate. It bonds people, a negative bonding to be sure, but that is better than nothing.

The pimps for lockdown seem impervious to the loss of millions of jobs (just today in Norway SAS airlines cut 5000 jobs, and nobody expects them back. Or in Hollywood, as shooting resumes, crews are decimated. Thousands of jobs that likely won’t return). The importance of specific facts in Planet of the Humans are undeniable. I sincerely hope people will watch it, but watch it with an educated critical eye. For Gibbs is in bed with this man.

Two multi-millionaires performing the role of concerned citizens, and confused, confused I tell you, why people don’t want to lose their jobs and ability to feed their families.

Cory Morningstar wrote just the other day:

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies found that, while tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs during the #coronavirus pandemic, America’s ultra-wealthy elite have seen their net worth surge by $282 billion in just 23 days.”

There seems an almost class divide actually, for both climate discourse and corona discourse. The working-class fear loss of food and shelter far more than an only moderately lethal virus. They fear the excesses of federal bureaucracies, and the boot-heel of domestic US city police departments, not to mention custodial supervision. The white educated bourgeoisie fear but are also exhilarated by this contagion. As the lockdown began the top viewing film on Netflix that week was Contagion (Soderbergh, 2011).

This is exciting they think, and it allows yet another new vocabulary. So in social media where once one was confronted with endless white guys who were getting to play being scientists and climatologists, now one is running into a constant stream of Epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists and biologists.

I’m going to quote myself here, with apologies, from a recent blog post:

The pandemic is fetishized and much like the climate alarmism associated with Greta and The Guardian paper, there is a curious fetishized and cultic response in much of the population. And it is the latent masochism of the already terrorized. It also feels like a faint cry of Puritan angst, a call to piety. This is a very American sensibility, this punitive moralism.

And I want to quote Paul Haeder, who is a social worker and writer in Oregon. This is a comment he made on his blog (which you should all read) here:

And the underlying message is population control. They great white hope of Michael Moore and I guess Jeff Gibbs is really the underpinning of the flick – and no credence is given to the millions upon millions of people fighting this bastardization of humanity, of life, called Western Capitalism. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of groups that Gibbs could have put front and center who are local, indigenous, part of the peasant movement, others, who are real forest protectors and water protectors and life protectors.

The for Evidence-Based Medicine (Oxford University) has the infection fatality rate at between 0.1% and 0.36%. That is pretty much what seasonal flu comes in at. Something many of us said a month ago. The comparisons between the climate discourse and the Covid discourse are striking. One might even think there was an agenda here. But such topics are nowhere to be seen in the Gibbs film.

Which is fine, I suppose, if he only had viewed the lies and venality of the boosters for New green capitalism in something like a political frame. His obvious personal disappointment ends up feeling like, again, privilege.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is one meant to permanently eliminate humans from their work and livelihoods. This is the dream of the 1%. The fact that western capital continues to promote the “we are the enemy” meme should make us suspicious. It does not seem to have made Gibbs suspicious at all.

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