Is green technology a mirage?

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.  [Attributed to Donald Rumsfeld]

It is possible to ignore reality, but it is not possible to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.  [Attributed to Ayn Rand]

A new Michael Moore movie, “Planet of the Humans,” is an attack on the renewable energy movement.  Environmentalists by and large are outraged, and some demanded the movie be suppressed.

It actually was taken down from YouTube for 11 days, but it’s back up now.  If it is taken down again, you can view it on the Planet of the Humans Home page.

It runs for 100 minutes, which is a long time to watch something on a computer screen.  But it held my interest, and maybe it would hold yours, too.

In the first part of the movie, director Jeff Gibbs shows that solar panels and windmills are built through energy-intensive industrial processes and that they are made of materials such as high-grade quartz and rare earths that are scarce and non-renewable.

Solar panels and windmills wear out and have to be replaced.  In one scene, he visits Daggett, California, which pioneered in the development of solar and wind energy.  He sees a wasteland of dilapidated panels and windmills, because the pioneers couldn’t afford to keep them up.

And they don’t even fully replace fossil fuels.  Because of variability of sun and wind, backup electrical generators have to keep spinning, and the ones that aren’t hydroelectric use coal, gas and nuclear fuel.

In the second part, he looks at the environmental destruction caused by biomass energy.  There is no gain from freeing yourself from dependence on coal companies and embracing logging companies.

He makes a big point of pointing out the corporate ties of environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and of environmentalists such as Al Gore, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Richard Branson and even Bill McKibben.

He questions the whole premise, promoted by advocates such as Al Gore, that it is possible for middle-class Americans to enjoy our current material standard of living simply by adopting a new technology.

Fossil fuels made possible a world with an exponentially increasing population with the average individual using an ever-increasing amount of fuel and raw materials, Gibbs said.  Such a world isn’t sustainable, he said.

The critics of Gibbs’ movie make these arguments:

  • Solar, wind and biomass electricity use less fossil fuels and raw materials overall than coal-fired and gas-fired electricity do.
  • Gibbs worked on the movie over a long period of time, and some of it is out of date.  Progress in green technology is further advanced than he shows.
  • He is unfair to leaders such as Bill McKibben and Al Gore who have done a lot to protect the environment and point out the danger of catastrophic climate change.
  • By criticizing the environmental movement, he helps its opponents and especially the fossil fuel companies.
  • By pointing to population growth as a problem, he aligns with “eco-fascists” who say the world’s problems are mainly due to poor people having too many children.
  • Although he criticizes the environmental movement, he doesn’t offer any solution himself.

I do think the movie is one-sided.  You wouldn’t know from viewing the movie that the U.S. actually has reduced its emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.

I don’t know who’s right about the first two points.  The others are arguable.  None of them refute his basic point,  which is that renewable energy depends on energy-intensive and resource-intensive industrial processes that are destructive and unsustainable.

The fundamental problem is that capitalism requires unceasing growth, and that, up until now, this has required consumption of fossil fuels and other raw materials at an increasing rate.

Each time the system has bumped up against a limit, inventors and engineers have found substitutes and technological fixes, although at increasing costs in terms of environmental destruction.

As a matter of logic, this cannot go on forever.  There’s no assurance it will go on for very long.  This is the inconvenient truth.


Planet of the Humans home page.

Meet the New Flack for Oil and Gas: Michael Moore by Josh Fox for The Nation.

Planet of the Anti-Humanists by Leigh Phillips for Jacobin magazine.

The Real Problem With Michael Moore’s New Film by Shaun Golding for Common Dreams.

Fact Check Bible for Planet of the Humans.

Planet of the Censoring Humans by Matt Taibbi.

Big Green Meltdown Over Planet of the Humans by Josh Schlossberg for Counterpunch.  [Added 6/11/2020]

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3 Responses to “Is green technology a mirage?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Excellent, I wish it could be accepted by all—even if only understood by some—that there are no facile solutions.

    In Murphy’s Law, by Arthur Bloch, there’s this: “The chief cause of problems is solutions.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    If “poor” people have too many children the obvious solution to me is to make them “not poor.” That takes resources. Energy is the limiting factor.

    Solar on every south-facing roof and flat roof in the country would be a good start.

    We have 7 billion people on this planet. I see nothing to prevent that from doubling over the next few decades. I don’t think there is a low tech solution. Short term we need to go with nuclear power. There are much safer options than the nuclear industry is currently pursuing.

    Long term we need controlled fusion or maybe space-based solar. I don’t think there is a low tech solution. Not for so many billions of people.

    I decline to express my opinion of Michael Moore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philebersole Says:

      I want to emphasize that neither Jim Gibbs, the director of the movie, nor Michael Moore nor anybody quoted in the movie literally said that poor people have too many children.

      Critics of the movie claimed that this was implied just by mentioning how rapidly population has increased since the start of the industrial revolution.

      Liked by 2 people

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