Planet of the Humans - Stimulus for change

If the clash of differing opinions brings forth the light of truth, Michael Moor’s new film, Planet of the Humans, will trigger revelations.

There has been a clash!

The film implies that the fossil energy required to build solar and wind generating equipment is greater than the amount of “clean” energy that those installations provide; that we would produce less carbon emissions by just using the fossil fuels. A shocking assertion for those working to minimize climate change by switching to renewable energy.

The argument would have been more compelling if the information on renewables wasn’t ten years old. Making electricity by burning trees has lost support. The efficiency and durability of solar and wind equipment has increased greatly, and the energy needed to make it has diminished along with the price. Renewable electricity is now less expensive to bring on-line than fossil fuel generation. That said, renewable energy only takes care of a portion of increasing energy demand. Fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions have continued to rise.

This is a failure of society, not of renewable energy.

As long as the goal of society is to continuously expand, the consumption and waste of natural resources will increase.

We need to reassess what our purpose is as a civilization.
This key point of the film (see minute 51) is easy to miss following the intense attack on renewable energy efforts. It is more clearly stated in an interview with Michael Moore and his associates.

Planet of the Humans doesn't say which way to go, but the direction is stated again and again by others concerned with our dilemma.

We need a value shift toward a less materialistic civilization, one where well-being is sought for ongoing generations within planetary limits.

Sustaining our industrial growth system is impossible. Planet of the Humans clearly illustrates how human expansion* was very slow for tens of thousands of years. Then, when fossil energy was harnessed, our impacts multiplied 100 fold in less than 200 years. We were no longer restrained by the limited day by day flow of sunshine through living things.

To see how dependent we have become on oil, one need look no further than modern agriculture. And that is only one dependency.

While renewable energy provides places for capital to grow, the goal itself is mistaken. Growth has gone from being a tremendous boon for humankind, to becoming a medium of our destruction.

Perpetual growth never was viable, but when humankind adopted that goal, our impact was minuscule and planetary limits were far out of sight. We started touching planetary limits in the 1970s and are now plunging destructively past them.  Growth for growth’s sake has become suicidal.  

Planet of the Humans shows how capitalism aims to continue expanding our energy intense life-styles. More than once, the exposé of industrial momentum brought to mind the dramatic final image from the film Thelma and Louise.  Fasten our seat-belts – or not – push the peddle to the metal and drive with unwavering faith over the cliff of cultural extinction.


Is there an alternative?

The industrial vision of renewable energy aims to perpetuate the growth ideology. The alternative is the goal of setting families and communities up with local energy supplies. Rather than growing-until-we-drop, the new renewable energy vision looks toward domestic security.

Everyone I have met on a renewable energy system has become deeply aware of their energy consumption and minimizes it accordingly.  This is a huge step away from the take-as-much-as-you-want opportunity encouraged by conventional energy utilities.

These differing values are embodied in responses to Covid-19.  Some decisions intend to get the money flows of production and consumption going again.  Others are made to serve the needs of people.  The excuse given for the production and consumption model is always that it serves the people, but proponents tend to lose interest if the necessary steps don’t make money for somebody.  When our perspective is to serve people directly, action is taken as needed, relying on the people themselves to apply their creativity to fulfill the needs.

It is difficult for many in the West to grasp the necessary change. We have spent decades within the ideology that “there is no such thing as society”, that the economy is only individuals pursuing their self-interest.

Domestic renewable energy can provide all the night-time lighting we could ever want, power for our computers as well as Internet information and communication. On sunny or windy days it could assist with laborious tasks.  Ultimately, if such strategies are to succeed at offering the grandchildren and their children a secure future, we have to adopt a culture based on what we can do with life, rather than on transforming natural resources into consumer products that are soon thrown away.

More Fun, Less Stuff is a drum beat for transformation toward a sustainable culture. “Fun”, represents in a single syllable, all the satisfaction that we can get from living.

It is possible to live well on a small fraction of the energy that is currently thought to be normal.  While Planet of the Humans has initiated discussion, it is up to us to visualize what is possible.

Take up the drum beat. We need a culture based on living, rather than on having.  That said, Thelma and Louise rule and their billions of passengers need to see that there is an alternative to the virtual reality remnant of our once great industrial civilization.

It is a question of direction.  Grow-until-we-drop, or provide for human needs within the limits of our planet. 

Perhaps, if the population was aware of this choice, we might head resolutely toward a sustainable world.

Otherwise, hold onto your hats, gather what knowledge and tools you feel will serve you, and hope that we can endure the fireworks as industrial society piles up on the canyon floor.

* Human impacts = population X level of consumption.

The most successful way for countries to resolve excess population is to enable their people to provide each other with sufficient food, shelter, education (particularly of women) and health care.