Movie Review: Michael Moore’s “Planet of the Humans” Traffics in Myths, Errors, and Dangerous Misdirection

, Senior energy analyst | May 2, 2020, 9:37 am EDT
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A new film produced by legendary activist and movie-based provocateur Michael Moore appears to take on lots of sacred cows (and cowherders) in the US environmental movement. What it really does is perpetuate a range of anti-clean energy myths, peddle outdated facts and dubious allegations, and end up with a conclusion that is as dangerous as it is wrong.

I didn’t really want to have to write this blog post. Based on what I’d heard about it, I didn’t even want to give the film another hit on YouTube, where “Planet of the Humans” is currently available for free (having premiered last year to less attention).

But I’ve spent almost my entire career working on renewables, and this seemed to be a pretty high-profile anti-renewables piece, from an unexpected direction. (And I heard it took a swipe at an organization I’m rather fond of.) So I watched the movie on a recent stay-at-home evening.

In so many ways, from start to finish, the film lived up—or down—to my low expectations. Even so, and even now, I’m reluctant to give it more attention via our blog. But I’ve gotten enough questions and reactions about it, from friends and others, that there are things I just can’t stay silent about. Here are three.

It ignores more than a decade of clean energy progress

First, there’s the—how do I put this?—lack of academic or intellectual rigor when it comes to some pretty important aspects of the clean energy revolution. It’s stunning, really, to see where their explorations took them; a time machine was apparently involved, given how outdated some of their “facts” were. A few examples:

  • The film includes someone talking about solar (PV) modules that were 8% efficient. When I put solar on my house four years ago, I used modules that are 22% efficient—commercially available ones, not something I stole off a NASA satellite. Why would you highlight a number so low… unless you were trying to make solar look bad?
  • In a related vein, they mention that “Some solar panels are built to last 10 years,” while oddly neglecting to mention that the vast majority of solar panels come with 25-year warranties, and likely last considerably beyond that. So, while there may be some applications for which it makes sense to buy cheaper, shorter-duration panels, in general, why would you?
  • They question the energy payback of technologies like wind turbines—how long it takes to get more energy out than you put into making them—without, apparently, spending the three minutes on the Internet that it would take to see that there’s actually plenty of scholarship on this. And then actually reading a piece or two to discover that the numbers are actually quite favorable for renewables. (See this, for example, from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory.)
  • When they switch from tilting at windmills to tilting at electric vehicles, they paint EVs too in the worst possible light by finding a small utility that was heavily dependent on coal, including a coal plant whose roots go back to 1922. They ignore the loads of data (remember data?), including from my fine UCS colleagues, showing that in every region of the country, even the most coal-heavy ones, EVs beat gasoline-powered cars on emissions. And they forget to mention that, while oil is getting nothing but dirtier, our power grids are getting cleaner all the time. (Even the small utility they include has been cleaning up its act, and “is now committed to providing 30 percent clean energy by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030.”)

The list of errors, omissions, and misdirections goes on. One review just resorted to numbering all the other takedowns based on the film’s factual challenges: “…the film is also full of misinformation (1234567)…” But maybe you get the idea.

There’s no single perfect solution to climate change, which is why we need to consider a wide range of tools and strategies and weigh their impacts—with data and facts. But we know that we need to reduce the emissions that cause climate change, and that the time to take action is now. Misrepresenting, mischaracterizing, or just plain being incorrect about the tools we have available to us does nothing to move us down that path.

The mention of UCS is entirely misleading

Given the above-mentioned challenges with facts, it might not surprise you to know that the one (~30-second) mention of the Union of Concerned Scientists also has a hard time hewing to the truth.

The film takes issue with our work on advocating vehicle electrification, and it does so in a vague and misleading way. With a fuzzy, quick-on-to-the-next-cut backdrop of an IRS Form 990 (for a foundation, though I had to rewind the movie four times to freeze it in the place where I could actually tell that), it implies that UCS took money from corporations profiting from EVs, without (again) stopping to check the facts, or reaching out to UCS about it. It wouldn’t have been hard, either way, to discover that UCS doesn’t take corporate money at all.

As an organization, we do fully support efforts to electrify vehicles. And we do that solely because we’ve found (remember research?) that they’re an effective way to reduce oil use and to cut emissions from transportation, which is now the US’s largest source of CO2 emissions. If you understand the science behind EVs and the power grid (see bullet #4 in the previous section), you’ll understand why transportation is a big focus of our climate work.

It gets worse

The film’s factual problems on clean energy and clean transportation should be enough to sink it, but the film moves into even darker territory. The most troubling part of the documentary is its conclusion that people are the problem.

That’s a notion that UCS—which believes in putting science to work to build a safer, healthier world for everyone—firmly rejects as simplistic and dangerous. It’s a small step from “people are the problem” to “some people are a problem,” the all-too-common tool of repressive governments, nationalist movements, and others to target and harm racial, ethnic, or religious groups.

Leah Stokes, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, eloquently addressed this part of the film this way:

…the film Moore backed concludes that population control, not clean energy, is the answer. This is a highly questionable solution, which has more in common with anti-immigration hate groups than the progressive movement.

The fact is that wealthy people in the developed world have the largest environmental footprints—and they also have the lowest birthrates. When this message is promoted, it’s implying that poor people of color should have fewer children.

Not to mention the fact that pushing population control is completely disrespectful of women’s reproductive autonomy. Notably, almost all the “experts” featured in the film are white men.

(For an even harder-hitting critique along these lines, check out the review by Brian Kahn of Earther, who suggests that the movie has “got a bit more than a whiff of eugenics and ecofascism.”)

The way forward is up, not down

There’s plenty more not to like about the film, including its attacks on people and organizations that have been incredible forces for positive change in clean energy and beyond.

Overall, the kinds of arguments Moore and these filmmakers are advancing in “Planet of the Humans” are at best counterproductive to real efforts to build a sustainable world. The film’s arguments around population are not just scientifically dubious but morally questionable, and vulnerable to bad-faith exploitation.

And tearing down strategies to build a more sustainable economy is a huge win for the fossil fuel industry and its political allies. Anti-clean energy forces have gleefully embraced the new movie. They would, since they use similar strategies to promote a sense of futility and despair, and to block action that threatens their power.

The facts, though, come through in so many other venues, even at a time like this. In the power sector, where I spend my time, wind supplies more than 7% of US electricity, and keeps growing. Solar power now graces fields, deserts, and the roofs of more than 2 million US homes and businesses, and is getting ever more efficient, less expensive, and more resilient. Renewables overall were on track to hit 20% of US electricity supply this year. And yes, all of it is really crowding out fossil fuels, despite what certain films may try to tell you.

And people everywhere are mobilizing to push the rest to be a part of the solution to climate change and other environmental ills.

As we mark the 50th Earth Day, even as we renew our commitment to improving our air, water, land, and climate—for humanity and the many species we share this globe with—all that progress deserves to be a strong focus of attention.

Photo: SkillUp/Shutterstock

Posted in: Energy, Global Warming

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  • Frederick Malouf

    Ok. His objective is not to attack renewable energy and to promote fossil fuels. And to say that he wants to build his brand like that’s different to anyone else is stupid. There are a lot more mystical gurus out there that want to build a brand for less reason so that’s not an argument.

    You can argue about the first 70 minutes of the film all you want but that misses the point. What matters is our economic model that makes leveraging renewable energy so difficult. That it’s still promotes a huge amount of whitewash and hope that we can trust what’s happening ahead. of course renewables has got better, but how do you build an economic model that supports using renewables at infinite him without compromise? When renewables create more energy, does that mean that you perpetually licence people for using it?

    what about the fact that bill McKibben didn’t actually remember who is largest sponsors are? Why not address things like that as well? what about that the sustainability funds are on offshore tax free islands? what about the funding from the people mentioned? Is that true?

    Just attacking this doco that it’s against renewables is very short-sighted. It’s addressing something far bigger. I find that a lot of people are saying the same thing against the film rather than looking at it’s bigger picture. When people attack the way that you and others do, then that isn’t sound or reasonable or scientific.

    • TerryS

      If someone puts out a documentary that is filled with misinformation (lies) and refuses to fix the misinformation (lies) even when pointed out then they lose all credibility. Even if the documentary also contains valid arguments and some truth, the documentary is still crap. Kind of like a Sh*t sandwich, even though the bread might be wonderful, it’s still a Sh*t sandwich.
      As for Michael Moore other legitimate points, there are plenty of other documentaries that make those same points with being filled with lies or shilling for the fossil fuel industry.

  • Robert Behrendt

    Planet of the Humans suggests to me, in the context of the Covid-19 pan
    demic, that science and technology is behind the curve of of emerging problems rooted in out of control population growth, demand for energy and global commerce. We need to reverse engineer the growth model of corporate economic development with an emphasis on appropriate technology and living within our local and regional resource constraints! Only moving in this direction will enable us to save the environment, reduce income inequality and protect public health. Green technologies have made
    a giant step forward but at the same time our political and economic systems have taken two steps backwards!

    • TerryS

      And yet this awful movie attacks renewable and even argues that fossil fuels are better for the environment. How does that help the environment?

  • Paul S

    No mention of biomass? Is that an inconvenient truth?

  • FreedomsKrieg

    Truth be reviled…Democrat supporting environmental groups have been revieiled the facts of how things truley are with things they were led to believe, and they repel finding out the truth.
    This just can’t be happening!
    What about man made global warming now?

  • starrose

    You refuse to acknowledge the importance of overpopulation on climate change, playing the race card instead. You also never once mention the possibility of people taking responsiblity for leading simpler lives by cutting down on their materialism and carbon footprint. I noticie all the other arguments aginst this documentary do the same exact thing.

  • Patrick Doss-Smith

    I am not a scientist. Nor am I a very efficient researcher. I’m just a person who reads a lot and looks for contrary opinions to compare. As an architectural / structural drafter I have used most of my professional life to advocate for sustainable building practices my whole life, including all forms of renewable energy and I have done so for corporations who are, of course, interested in profit.
    But I have also always advocated for a realistic discussion (any discussion at all really) of the merits of a Steady State Economy and of the education based, especially for women, discussion concerning population size and it’s effect on any effort at a sustainable lifestyle.
    I agree with your points as to the inaccuracies of the film, mostly, but it is hard to believe that local people watching their mountain top being removed, for any reason are inherently against progress. In that sense it is obvious (again, no scientific basis for this) that both sides to this discussion are harboring ingrained biases; there’s no reason to sling mud unless your “truths” are being exposed to the light.
    All that aside,my main point is my belief that films like this, and like An Inconvenient Truth, serve to instigate discussion. We’ve all watched the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel industry, the automotive industry, logging, fishing, Big Ag, etc., etc., fight the battle to defend their “truths” instead of openly and honestly accepting criticism while actively moving to correct all possibilities that they may have become misdirected.
    I hope I can go to my grave knowing that the environmental movement has the confidence to address these accusations via open dialogue and not resort to a tit-for-tat battle over who is more correct. As for UCS, don’t defend yourselves for the sake of defense; show us you are willing to address your shortcomings (yes, you have them). Post your list of donors, release your tax information. Do something other than tell me how stupid your critics are.


    • TerryS

      “I hope I can go to my grave knowing that the environmental movement has the confidence to address these accusations via open dialogue and not resort to a tit-for-tat battle over who is more correct.”

      If someone was sending emails and facebook posts to all your friends, colleagues, and family asserting that you had stolen from a respected charity. What would be your response?
      Would it be “… open dialogue and not resort to a tit-for-tat battle over who is more correct.”
      Or would you take them to court and definitly battle over who is more correct?

  • chris

    Jeff Gibbs wrote and directed the film, not Michael Moore. He just produced it, ie. funded it.

    • TerryS

      And Michael Moore has been promoting it and defending it and not acknowledging the huge amount of misinformation (lies) in it.

      • chris

        I’m not debating that. But this article says it is his movie. That is also factually incorrect. Misinformation, or a lie, just the same as the ones in the movie.

      • TerryS

        No if someone produces a movie, then it is their movie.
        “If you are talking about the professional industry, there is no doubt. The Producer is the one who comes up with the movie in the first place the finances it and hires the director and the screenwriter with the power to fire them if they don’t meet expectations.”

      • chris

        Your link is not relevant to the discussion pal. Stick to what you know which is obviously not film. Anyone who watches movies goes to see them due to the writer and director (and actors). Goodfellas is a movie written and directed by Martin Scorsese. Most people can’t name the producer however. Producer provides the money.

  • Paul J. von Hartmann

    The real problem with the technology in the film, and all other efforts to resolve atmospheric imbalance, is that they do not consider the most timely solution to accelerating climate imbalance. Essential properties unique to Cannabis agriculture continue to be overlooked due to pernicious, obsolete misconceptions regarding the hemp plant.

    Simply building machines to generate “clean energy” is not enough. To heal Earth’s atmosphere in time to avoid global systemic collapse, carbon sequestration, oxygen production and stratospheric terpene replenishment need to be linked with human economics. “Gaiatherapeutic industry” is environmentally beneficial to air, water and soil.

    Fortunately, this can be done. All that’s needed is a polar shift in Cannabis value, from illegal to essential. The greatest difficulty is in overcoming people’s resistance to ideas that have been obscured by “drug war” propaganda used to disallow an objective, scientific valuation of the world’s most useful agricultural resource.

    Ironic as it may seem, Cannabis agriculture is mankind’s functional interface with the Earth’s Natural Order. Until people overcome the vestiges of “Reefer Madness” that obscure recognizing the essential value of Cannabis, our species will never achieve sustainable existence on this planet.

    The list of critical environmental services unique to Cannabis are explained in my book and film:
    Cannabis vs. Climate Change


    Full length film

    When the Union of Concerned Scientists finally becomes concerned with the effects of increasing solar UV-B radiation, global warming, over-population, endless wars, and other symptoms of global systemic collapse to objectively consider all solutions, then please contact me directly to understand further.

    Most important to keep in mind is that ‘time’ is the limiting factor in the equation of survival. Spring planting season is upon us. If we don’t plant the Gaiatherapeutic organic agricultural feedstock, needed to heal the atmosphere as it produces cellulosic hydrogen, then we will not be successful in repairing the interconnected systems of this planet.

    Best wishes,

    Paul J. von Hartmann
    Cannabis scholar, photographer, biodynamic gardener
    projectpeace at yahoo dot com

    • Paul J. von Hartmann


      Cannabis is the ONLY crop capable of replenishing Earth’s atmosphere with aerosol terpenes (lost with the deaths of the boreal forests & marine phytoplankton that used to produce twice the volume of aerosols they do now) in the time we may have left to make a difference.

      Cannabis is the ONLY crop that produces complete nutrition and sustainable biofuels from the same organic harvest.

      Cannabis is a non-invasive pioneer crop uniquely capable of expanding the world’s arable base with a protein-rich, cellulose-rich abundance, effectively regenerating damaged lands, while increasing the carrying capacity of the planet.

      Global distribution of essential resources is the cure for war. Most people won’t fight if they have everything they need to stay home & be with their families. People fight when they lack essential resources.x

  • Roger

    Great review, thank you for weighting in and I’m sorry you had to. Too bad Moore and Gibbs didn’t have a competent technical expert to help them make the points they wanted to about consumption without resorting to misinformation and slander.

  • Don

    The reflexive act of suppresing discrediting degrading censoring and demanding the removal of any voice that dissents or criticizes the very partisan left wing enviro faction reveals a suspect source of information .
    When you accuse Moore of lacking data to back his claims to discredit him, and then say ” dirty getting dirtier ,” when evidence to refute that subjective questionable unscientific unsubstatiated verdict is publicly made , you do what we see most liberal scientist do which has reduced your credibility…sanctimoniously accuding others of things to discredit them while being guilty of the accusation yourself.

    • Roger

      If oil production continues to go with marginal producers as it’s depleted then yes, we’ll have more dirty oil like tar sands in our future.

      Jeff Gibbs makes massive errors in almost every scene (or lets others do that for him), which anyone with even a basic energy background would see through and shake their head at. I was so disappointed with this film’s sloppiness.

  • lukecd

    I took a different viewpoint out of the film, which is simply that we should all use less power and there is no simple solution. Biomass energy seems like an environmental disaster and should be dumped immediately. The film does a great job of deconstructing this.

    I feel the film was a little heavy handed at times, but it is great to have the environment on the agenda once more.

    • Roger

      It went way beyond the point we should reduce consumption, though, with falsehoods about solar, batteries, wind, EVs and more. Yes bioenergy has major problems but it’s sub 2% of US electricity and many environmental groups are fighting to reform it.

      It’s unhelpful to have a film that recommends no solutions, makes no call to action as citizens coming together in a movement, and paints environmental leaders as bought off by corporations.

      • starrose

        It does recommend solutions. Just not any most of you wanted to hear. Have fewer kids, lead simpler lives . Take responsibility for the part you play in harming the planet ever day.

      • TerryS

        People have been putting out that message for decades and look where it has gotten us. Lecturing people on living more modest lives (although helpful) is not going to save the planet.

      • starrose

        Then how do you explain the strong reductions in air pollution all over the world after society has shut down due to the corona virus? It can save the world .

      • TerryS

        “In China, carbon emissions were down an estimated 18 percent between early February and mid-March due to falls in coal consumption and industrial output…”
        “Meanwhile, in the European Union, declining power demands and depressed manufacturing could cause emissions to fall by nearly 400 million metric tons this year, a figure that represents about 9 percent of the EU’s cumulative 2020 emissions target, according to a preliminary forecast issued last week.”
        ” In China, emissions are already rebounding as the country restarts its factories. Absent strong governmental support for clean energy moving forward, experts say the pandemic won’t reverse the upward march of global carbon emissions, something that needs to happen immediately in order to help the world meet its climate targets.”

        “For now, US power sector CO2 emissions appear to have turned a corner. While CO2 emissions from the U.S. power sector increased between 1990 and 2005, they peaked shortly thereafter, and then decreased to the point that by 2015, they had fallen by 20% (or 480 million metric tonnes CO2) compared to 2005.

        The drop from the Coronavirus is a temporary reduction, while the drop from renewables is permanent. We are still in the early days of renewables, and every year they become more efficient and cheaper and are already starting to out compete some fossil fuels.

        “The cost of renewable energy has tumbled even further over the past year, to the point where almost every source of green energy can now compete on cost with oil, coal and gas-fired power plants, according to new data released today.”

  • David

    “Misrepresenting, mischaracterizing, or just plain being incorrect about the tools we have available to us does nothing to move us down that path.” Thank you for pointing this out…

    The movie is not about the efficiency of renewable energy, it is about a climate movement that has placed its hopes for human survival on renewable energy at the expense of all other factors. It is about how we use the promise of 100% renewable energy to avoid talking about our out-of-control consumption, and it is right, this is a huge problem. Because of this fact more than any other, the aims of the current climate movements will never be achieved. How can you discuss the movie and not mention this? The efficiency of solar panels is barely relevant here.

    How can you repeat the claim that the movie advocates population control? Eugenics and ecofascism, really? How can you reference the misinformation on by Josh Fox? I recommend everyone to go to and take a look at the description for Planet of the Humans and compare it to other movies from the site. And why do you credit the movie to Michael Moore? The movie is directed and produced by Jeff Gibbs.

    All of the negative reviews you cited reference each other as sources and all repeat the same attempts to misdirect from the main arguments of Gibbs´ film. All of the organisations who have repeated this slander have exposed themselves and their interests. You are destroying the credibility of the scientific community in the eyes of the public who can very well see what is going on here.

    The only critical review of this movie I have read that is not based on straw man arguments and misdirection is by Richard Heinberg at

    • Roger

      This movie attempts to make a serious point- that we need to radically cut consumption and change our way of life. I completely agree! However, the director doesn’t know enough about energy to make this case and decides to rely upon contrarian academics and ambush interview various technology salesmen to falsely imply renewable energy, electric vehicles and batteries are illusions with no climate benefits. It just isn’t true, and if you look at Hawkins’ drawdown or Mr. Heinberg’s own website you’ll see a substantial role for clean renewable power.

      I also encourage everyone to look at Films for Action’s statement on the film including a list of critical reviews and factchecks. This movie has fundamental errors in almost every scene.

      The only part even close to reality is on biomass, but a far better referenced source is Burned: the Movie.

  • petrel

    Are renewables without problems – no. Are they better the fossil fuels – yes. Can we reduce our energy demand to zero – no. The perfect is the enemy of the good – even with a dramatic population decline, we would still need some energy, which will come from either from fossil fuels + nuclear or renewables. To which Moore attacks … renewables.
    Soviet Russians had a name for it – “useful idiot”. You can’t be more useful to the fossil fuel lobby, and Russia or Saudi Arabia than Moore is. By their fruits you shall know them.

    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks, Petrel. Yes, I’m still shaking my head over this one.

  • davidgumpert

    One major point of the movie you ignore is its claim that the bulk of supposed green-energy benefit is coming from “biomass”, and much smaller amounts from solar and wind. This amounts to substituting trees for coal/oil/natural gas. There are some amazing shots of Middlebury College, Burlington VT and other such places showing mass deforestation and logging going on to provide “wood chips” and other such “green” fuels. Of course, these are even more questionable sources than natural gas in terms of pollution and overall environmental impact. There are also some pretty devastating interviews with Bill McKibben, where he seems totally tongue tied when asked about his sources of funding and such. Overall, more credible than you let on.

    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks for weighing in, David. Bioenergy is controversial, certainly. Our webpage on biomass energy includes this: “Assessing the potential role of biopower as a climate solution requires a look at its lifecycle carbon emissions­­­­—which vary according to the type of feedstock, the manner in which it is developed and harvested, the scale at which it is used and the technology used to convert biomass into electricity.”

      It also points out that biomass has a hard time competing with other renewable options, and the numbers sure bear that out: While biomass used to be the biggest of the non-hydro renewables, wind and solar now generate 7 times as much electricity in the US, according to EIA. So I’m not sure what “much smaller amounts” refers to.

      As for Bill McKibben, that’s another example of the way the film got it wrong with their half-truths and innuendos, and I’d recommend Mr. McKibben’s rebuttal here: It’s well worth a read.

    • Roger

      For a more intelligent discussion of biomass I recommend which has scientists in it, unlike this film. Forest biomass has major issues with it, though there are some use cases that make sense (a pulp mill burning its own waste products for example).

      The film spent way too much time on a marginal and declining technology, though, and left the impression this was the major form of renewable energy. It’s not. It also misled on Germany on biomass, showing a graph of total German energy consumption (which includes burning wood for heat) while talking about biomass for electricity, where solar and wind are both greater in scale. It also misled as to the role of NRDC and Dogwood Alliance on biomass- both are aggressively fighting against exporting US forests to be burned.

      It also falsely implied environmentalists were disingenuous on this issue by showing up to an anti-fracking event in PA in 2012 and talking to volunteers and staff there without any forewarning. Why would Clean Water Action’s central PA natural gas organizer know anything about biomass? Ditto Sierra, a multi-issue organization, and frankly, the issue of biomass power just doesn’t come up much here as the industry died years ago. (The film doesn’t even identify half the people it shows to further muddy the waters.)

  • Doug

    Actually population growth control is not disrespectful if you do it in a way that attends to the wishes of the women involved. I suggest you look into family planning. Many women in poor countries live in patriachal systems where they have no control over their reproductive rights, they would have less children if they did. And if they had access to contraceptives as well. I agree with the rest of the criticism. Population control can be liberal or it can be authoritarian.

    • ucsjrogers

      Appreciate those points, Doug. Definitely a topic that merits more than the few sentences I included. – John

    • JRo

      I believe that population over-growth is the real elephant in the room. Why can’t we talk about it. It is not a racist concept. It is one of responsibility and adherence to science rather than emotional/religious beliefs. There is not enough water for everyone. That is a simple enough concept. We have been given the free will to control ourselves.

  • A_Siegel

    Excellent discussion. Thank you. Added to this annotated bibliography of dissections of this Gibbs’ written/directed/produced & Moore promoted mockumentary (a mockery of a documentary).

    • ucsjrogers

      Thank you. That was a great collection of dissections, which I unfortunately found only after I finished my post. Appreciate your work in compiling that range of pieces about the film. – John

      • A_Siegel

        Still (sigh) compiling — interesting Jacobin piece just added, for example. Easily a good MA thesis worth of material there, already, and perhaps enough structured for a PhD dissertation dissecting the film … your call on whether it makes sense to add it (ex post facto) in the discussion.