Among climate deniers and American conservatives there is a certain schadenfreude about the movie “Planet of the Humans,” presented by Michael Moore.
I was actually implored to watch it by a climate change denier who was quite excited about it. Before watching I asked myself “how on earth could democratic socialist such as Michael Moore make something conservatives would like?”
I looked curiously at the comment fields. And sure enough climate deniers and conservatives where quite ecstatic about this documentary.
So first off, this is not narrated by Michael Moore but it is done in quite a similar style although not with the same comedy punch that Michael Moore is known for.
My Enemy’s Enemy is My Friend?
It quickly became clear to me what environmentalist angle this documentary was following. I have spent a lot of time reading about environmental issues, so I am quite familiar with the different types of people who exist in this field.
The big mistake conservatives have made looking at this movie is to think that their “enemy’s enemy is their friend.” To them people like Al Gore is somebody they really hate. This documentary is not kind to people like him.
To explain what is going on here requires a bit of unpacking. A bit of discussion of political ideology. In the US this is invisible because the US only has two political parties. But in Europe there will usually be a wide variety of parties, so I am well familiar with e.g. the difference between green parties which are socialist and green parties which are liberal. Most Americans have not really been exposed to the difference.
Al Gore is in the liberal green tradition. Liberals are pro-capitalism unlike socialists. Thus their approach to environmentalist is focused on making the market work in service of green goals. That is really what is being discussed in “Planet of the Humans.”
But Michal Moore and Jeff Gibbs (narrator) are not part of this tradition. Had they lived in Europe they would likely have been part of the socialist green parties. Michal Moore has made clear before that he supports Democratic Socialism.
Liberals and Socialists are not best buddies at all. American conservatives however tend to be rather clueless about this because they are so accustomed to accusing American liberals such as Obama for being a socialist. Naturally because socialist is a swear word in America.
The socialist thinking around environmentalism is entirely different. It sees capitalism itself and consumer culture as one of the key culprits. And as someone sympathetic to democratic socialism, I actually think they are right on target.
It is simply madness to believe that a planet with finite resources can keep growing infinitely, consuming ever more resources. However that is exactly how our capitalist system is setup. Companies answer to shareholders which demand increasing sales and profits. If people are not buying enough they must be enticed to do so. And hence we go from yearly fashion to seasonal fashion. But at some point that cannot increase sales. Time to move to monthly fashion. We see the same with smart phones cars etc. We are pushed to replace and consume at ever more rapid rate, while our products become ever harder to reuse and repair.
That is why e.g. Greens on the Socialist side of the political spectrum in my native Norway has on their program that products must be made easier to repair. Certifications of repairability will be needed. Warranties will have to be extended. Today companies deliberately make their products hard to repair to push further consumption.
Compare this to the Greens on the capitalist side of the political spectrum, what you may call the Al Gore’s and they prefer to talk about the circular economy and recycling. Their idea is really to just keep increasing consumption. In their mind it is all fine because we should just be recycling the products. It is basically a rejection of the idea that there are limits to growth.
This is the point where conservatives may start to feel uneasy. Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs are actually not anti-environmentalists. They are simply a different kind of environmentalists than the ones Americans are used to seeing. The liberal environmentalists. Michael Moore is a a Green Socialist.
Conservatives Will Hate These Solutions
The kind of solutions to our environmental problems that people like Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore are likely to suggest are anything but what a conservative would want.
They are anti-capitalist and will seek to reign in consumption.
Conservatives love to deflect and talk about population growth as the problem. And yet that is also an issue although not as big of an issue as consumption.
Just like we cannot simply keep consuming more, we cannot keep growing the population indefinitely. How do you solve that problem? Not through methods conservatives like. That means introducing family planning, sex education and contraceptives in the third world.
Exactly the kinds of programs that George W. Bush and his buddies sabotaged. If you want fewer kids in this world, then teaching Christian virtues and abstinence is not going to work.
When conservatives watch this documentary and see shade being thrown on solar panels and wind turbines, then they automatically think it implies that they can feel good about filling up their big SUV with gasoline. It is because they are programmed to think the alternative to renewables is fossil fuels.
Reality is that this documentary is preaching lower consumption. That means if they had their way, you would more likely to be living more like a European or Asian. In a densely populated city where you bike or take public transportation. No more big SUV for you. No more McMansion either. It consumes too much energy.
So the question is. If this is the alternative and you are a conservative. Are you really that much against wind turbines and solar panels?
If the Al Gore solution means you will continue to live your typical American life in a big suburban house with a big car, there will just be some big fields of wind turbines and solar panels outside of town. Which future would you pick? Continuing life unchanged is not actually an option.
I advice conservatives to watch again and actually listen to what they say about consumption and growth. If you want as little change to your lifestyle as possible, and as little government intervention in your life as possible then you actually have to go with Al Gore.
What is said between the lines of “Planet of the Humans,” is a far more radical transformation of your lifestyle.
What Do I Think?
I will write a more extensive analysis of what I think about their analysis of the environmental problems later.
I both agree and disagree. I think the documentary is right on target in calling out the delusion that we can just keep on growing consumption. I do in fact favor a far more radical transformation of the economy.
But I have feet in both camps. I also favor wind, solar panels and EVs as well. “Planet of the Humans,” is actually far more radical than I think anyone is willing to live.
If we are not ready to sacrifice some of nature for a CO2 free future, then we will have to reign in the quality of our lifestyle substantially. Far more than I think most people in the west are willing to do.