Planet of the Humans, released on YouTube, contains so much misinformation about clean energy and climate activism that a film distributor temporarily removedit from its website.
While climate deniers are promoting and praising this video, the film has been almost universally condemned by leading climate and energy experts, writers and activists for its misinformation about clean energy and climate activism.
The video raises important questions that need to be addressed, but unfortunately they are undermined and sidelined by misinformation and an absence of solutions that already exist.Rather than offer a detailed rebuttal of the many inaccuracies – see the articles below for that – we’d like to offer some thoughts on the questions raised that are worthy ofdiscussion.
Sierra Club BC has long taken the position that technology is not a silver bullet fix to the climate crisis1.Renewable energy and electric vehicles, combined with smart grids, energy efficiency and storage solutions,have far smaller environmental impacts than fossil fuels and are absolutely keytoclimate action. However as we discussed in our podcastMission Transitionthere are many environmental costs of building these technologies that need to be factored in; with the implication that as we transition away from fossil fuels we also need to be reducing our energy demand and increasing energy efficiency.
Renewable energy is a core, crucial part of the transition away from burning fossil fuels and towards a livable climate. However, there are social and environmental costs that must be factored in (Photo by David Dodge).
We have grappled with how to address these nuances in our work. We know from community organizing that in order for people to get involved in speaking up for climate action, it’s important that they feel some hope and see a path to a livable future. Renewable energy is part of this path. Solar panels, for example, cost one-tenth what they did a decade ago and are far more efficient. Their cost, along with wind, continues to drop rapidly. And yet there are costs associated with renewable energy, for both people and the planet. In our podcast we had a Rethinking Land episode about how renewable energy has at times displaced Indigenous peoples from their land and cultural sites, and how even though renewable energy is needed as an energy source that replaces fossil fuels we still need to consider how much energy we need, where it is sited, and who controls it (corporate vs community control).
As an organization that has fought for many years to stop the Site C dam, we are well aware that so-called ‘solutions’ can be sources of massive problems. Touted as clean energy, Site Cwill – if completed – flood productive farmland and burial grounds against the wishes of Indigenous peoples who have called the Peace River Valley home since time immemorial. Site Cisalso intended to provide subsidized electricity as giveaways to fracking and LNG corporations that will worsen our greenhouse gas emissions. This is not ‘clean’ energy.
A woman sits peacefully in the Peace River Valley, the location of Site C. This project is an example of a proposed ‘clean’ energy solution that will actually increase emissions (Photo by Sierra Club BC).
And when we have promoted electric vehicles as part of climate solutions, for example in our Mission Transition podcast, our discussion was nuanced, in recognition that there are environmental and justice barriers to simply switching all our transportation over to electric. We welcomed the campaign by Amnesty International to address the human rights violations and environmental impacts related to mining the minerals in lithium batteries for electric cars. The dialogue around climate-safe transportation needs to also include discussion around car and bike sharing, public transit, cycling, making cities more walkable, solutions that work for rural communities, and the recognition that electric vehicles are not yet affordable for everyone.
Solutions – whether transportation, renewable energy generation, or where we get our food – need to be equitable and systemic, accessible to all and address both environmental and worker costs associated with many mass-produced goods.We had a podcast episode about this as well, questioning who should bear the burden of the energy transition, and that we need systemic change not just individual choices. A global environmental justice perspective would recognize that the richest people and the richest countries are disproportionately responsible for undermining the life support systems of the planet.
And in any quest for solutions, we must challenge the human arrogance that we can control the environment – as thatis what got us into this climate mess in the first place. Assuming we know the answers and can control everything is not what is going to save us.
What’s needed is humility, in ourselves and our organizations and our economic systems. Humility that we are but one species amongst many and that our very survival requires respecting ecological limits.
At Sierra Club BC we aim to bring an ecological economics approach to our advocacy; respecting that on our finite planet there are limits to what ecosystems can take, if we are to avoid collapse.
And we recognize that we need to learn from Indigenous peoples about how to shift our awareness to an understanding that humans are an interdependent part of broader ecosystems.
Bringing this perspective absolutely means that we need to take a hard look at our consumption, as the video suggests. How do we learn to live more lightly on the earth? This is a key question, and one that thousands of years of Indigenous stewardship are well posed to teach us something about.
We have been clear that burning biomass for energy is not the answer(with few exceptions, where limited, local use of waste material might play a role, after careful analysis of all options). Sierra Club BC has a long history of pointing out the role of forests as a carbon sink and the importance of protecting forests and ending destructive forest management.
An aerial view of clearcuts on Vancouver Island (Photo by TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance)
We have consistently educated the public that burning wood is not carbon neutral. We spoke about the challenges with biomass in our ‘What is Clean Energy?’ Mission Transition podcast episode, and in 2019 we published ecologist Dr. Jim Pojar’s findings regarding biomass on our website; sharing his Forestry and Carbon in BC report where he specifically debunks myths about biomass. In response to the misconception that generating energy by burning woody biomass is both renewable and carbon neutral, Dr. Pojar wrote: “Large-scale production of bioenergy from forests is not GHG neutral, nor is it sustainable or environmentally friendly. Yes, wood is renewable but its regrowth takes several decades at least (mostly more than 75 years in BC). Wood also has low energy density. For equal heat, you must burn more woody fuel than fossil fuels, giving off more CO2. Burning wood pellets will not help reduce human-caused emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere by 2050.” (Myth 7 from the summary, for more see the full report).
In conclusion, we invite you to listen to our Mission Transition podcast (available on our website or on ITunes or wherever you get your podcasts) and we welcome the opportunity to further dialogue on these important topics. There is no magical technological solution that comes without any impacts to workers or the natural world. And yet renewable energy IS a core, crucial part of the transition away from burning fossil fuels and towards a livable climate. To imply otherwise is irresponsible and dangerous, as our very survival depends on coming together to urgently and collectively face the climate crisis with all the smarts and humility that we can muster.
Here is a short list of some of the better critiques of Planet of the Humans:
 Sierra Club BC is a registered charity under the Canadian Income Tax Act. We are occasionally confused with Sierra Club Canada and Sierra Club in the US; however, all three organizations are separate and independent. Our work is focused on issues affecting the land and waters known as British Columbia. We are governed by an independent board of directors, determine our own strategic priorities and positions on issues, and raise our own funds independently.