Planet of the Humans is reckless and careless, but we can learn from what it gets right
By Executive Director Hannah Askew, May 2020
(Please note: Caitlyn Vernon, our Campaigns Director, has also written a piece about Sierra Club BC’s positions on renewable energy, biomass and other issues raised in Planet of the Humans.)
Much has been written about what Planet of the Humans gets wrong and I share the concerns and eloquent criticisms put forward by so many of my colleagues, allies and friends in the climate movement. To be clear, I think the film is reckless and careless about accuracy and impact, and I am disappointed by Michael Moore’s endorsement and promotion of it as I have admired much of his past work.
That said, I am grateful that he and Executive Producer Jeff Gibbs have created an opportunity for all of us to become better educated on some of the issues that the film engages. In particular, the film explores renewable energies and our campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon engages substantively with that issue in her post here.
In defending the film, Michael Moore has stated that it is important that those of us who identify as environmentalists be able to critique one another, in the interests of correcting our mistakes and making our work as a movement stronger. On this point I agree with him, and in the interests of using the conversation this film has generated to move us to a stronger place, I want to talk here about what the film gets right.
The film is accurate in stating that we as a human society are in crisis. It is right when it says our crises have their origins in a dominant economic system that demands infinite growth powered by endless consumerism. It is right when it says narrow technological and technocratic solutions alone, including those provided by renewable energy, are not the entire solution.
Acknowledgement of these truths and the direction they point us in, offer the promise of common ground on which we can meet to build a better world, rather than miring us in the divisiveness that will move us further into crisis. As our recently released strategic plan lays out, to build a better world we need a values shift. Our relationship to the natural world needs to change. And our understanding of what constitutes a good life needs to change too. At Sierra Club BC, we are making that shift through a process grounded in learnings from Indigenous knowledge and law, and from learning from the perspectives of those most impacted by the crises we face.
Indigenous knowledge and law has much to teach us about learning to live intentionally as part of the natural world, rather than imagining that we are separate from it.
In reflecting on Planet of the Humans, all of us at Sierra Club BC were encouraged to be curious about what hunger the film is feeding in those who watch it. As over 5 million viewers have streamed the film already, this is an important question for us to ask. Looked at from this perspective, I wonder if the draw of the film reflects viewers’ collective understanding that, in spite of the work of the environmental movement, the painful truth is that much of life on this planet is still losing in its struggle for survival.
We are profoundly anxious — an anxiety no doubt amplified by the weight of a global pandemic — about the climate and ecological crises. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are all in this together and we are stronger together. It has opened up our imaginations to new possibilities built on community and cooperation, rather than individualism and competition. Only community and cooperation can flatten the curve of a pandemic; and only community and cooperation and willingness to learn from one another and work together will flatten the curves of deforestation and global temperature rise.
Coming out of the pandemic, we could attempt to recreate an old world built upon a flawed understanding of our place in the natural world in which we pursue endless growth and consumption. Or we can imagine and build a better world together, one that recognizes nature’s limits along with nature’s abundant gifts, and better appreciate our fragile and precious place on the planet.
Planet of the Humans got a lot of things wrong. But if the things it got right help spark such a transformation, it will have moved us forward, not set us back.