Rescuing Ourselves From Ourselves

Earth Day 2020 Google Doodle

Yesterday was Earth Day so I watched Planet of the Humans, a documentary written, directed, and narrated (poorly) by Jeff Gibbs, an environmentalist and a longtime friend and collaborator of filmmaker Michael Moore.

To be blunt, the film broke me. Specifically, it fractured my worldview in three ways:

1. It revealed the pervasiveness of the ruling elite in manipulating ‘truth’, which stirred a feeling of profound disgust within me.

2. It exposed movements, purporting to offer better options to fossil fuels, as dishonest or at least disingenuous about the ‘embeddedness’ of certain corporate interests within them, which left me feeling betrayed.

3. And then there was the final scene. It features an orangutang in its denuded habitat, at first hanging confused and exhausted on a leafless tree, and finally extracted — traumatized and lifeless — from the muddy furrow of a decimated landscape. This caused me visceral sadness, and these images and their accompanying vocals still haunt me.

As someone who considers myself to be relatively environmentally aware and educated, I’m feeling deflated. The global economy is in tatters. I’m sitting at home, unemployed, and questioning my allegiance to leaders of some of the most respected ‘green’ NGOs. (I’m looking at you Bill McKibbon and Al Gore.) Seemingly unaware or intentionally ignorant of the sources of their respective organization’s funding, these individuals appear to lead causes that are not fully transparent with respect to the influence they receive from certain corporate interests. Or so the film implies.

The movie also takes shots at so-called Socially Responsible Investing. According to the monotonous narrator, certain investment funds position themselves as vehicles to ‘enable a greener future’ but are, in reality, murky collections of exploitative resource companies masquerading as environmentally friendly. Furthermore, the documentary contends that clean energies — fossil fuel alternatives like solar panels and wind turbines — depend upon non-renewable fuels to operate, the extraction of rare minerals, and the devastation of large swaths of land, all in the name of ‘responsible investment’.

It would seem that renewable energy’s offer of “zero marginal cost” is in question. The documentary raises some serious doubts, contending there are unaccounted externalities in manufacturing green energy components, and that the limited lifecycle renewable power generating technologies depend on non-renewables to function. In short, the film claims that renewables (like wind and solar) have not so much replaced fossil fuels, as they have sidelined them as necessary support fuels to the ‘green revolution’.

For me, this was not a revelation as much as the film’s exposure of the extent to which biofuels have dominated the renewable energy mix. I was appalled to learn of the destruction of forests in the name of renewable energy and the extent to which these facilities are ‘under the radar’. I had no idea that the vast majority of renewable energy produced in Germany (2019) — a global leader in solar energy — comes from biofuels. The same can be said for most other European countries and all of North America.

The Climate Reality Project, an initiative led by Al Gore, and of which I am a member, has as its mission to take “urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and speed the global shift to renewables” and to push for “practical clean energy policies”. It makes no mention of biofuels. Why is that given their dominance among renewables?

Currently, global wealth is in free-fall and most countries are in the midst of a downward debt spiral as a result of COVID-19. And as the world attempt to decarbonize — as it must — demand for fossil fuels has plummeted. Presumably renewable energy projects will continue to be deployed post-Coronavirus, and transport will continue to become more efficient and electrified. Fossil-fuel companies — currently with severely depressed stock prices — will have their assets ‘stranded’, a troubling future for a fossil fuel exporting nation such as Canada, if not the global economy.

Is the Carbon Bubble about to burst? Are we at an inflection point where additional investments in green energy (supported by subsidies) will merely result in negative environmental returns?

So much is unclear and precarious at this time that it is hard to remain positive about the future. But as a father of a five-year-old, I have to be. If he asks, I need to look him in the eyes and tell him “everything is going to be OK. The current situation is just temporary.”

But is it?

I’m not sure, but what is clear is that we are going to see more the frequent and destructive climate-related disasters. Where will that leave governments, insurance companies, and everyday citizens is even more troubling.

The illusion of unlimited growth on a planet of finite resources is settling in.

When are we going to rescue ourselves from ourselves?

Screen shot from the final scene of Planet of the Humans

Originally published on

Canadian Capetonian living in Toronto trying to be a good father and husband as I navigate through life on this mysterious planet.

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