The present geological era has been named the Anthropocene, meaning an era characterized by the significant impact of the human race on our Earth’s environment. If any of us doubted our species’ impact, the pandemic shutdown has brought a stunning degree of positive change from the decline in resource-intensive human activity such as air travel, car commuting, manufacturing, and shipping. People everywhere are commenting on the clearer skies, clearer waters, clearer air; increased sightings of birds and other wildlife.
The other day, as part of my Earth Day video-viewing fare, I watched a film called Planet of the Humans. In a nutshell, it’s about how there is no “clean-energy free lunch.” No matter how badly the mainstream environmental movement might want to believe there is, there just isn’t. This is a message I’ve been trying to get across to people for a long time, and I deeply appreciate this film for making my job a bit easier.
In my book Deep Green, I point out that (for example) solar farms take up miles and miles of land, as well as the panels having a significant manufacturing and mining footprint. So I advise readers that before even thinking about installing solar photovoltaic systems, it’s best to shrink one’s demand to an absolute minimum. Better yet (or in addition), everyone would do well to explore the robust, low-tech DIY paradise of passive solar. I said this without having any kind of last-word scientific source to back me up. But Planet of the Humans provides all the backup I need.
And in the same vein, electric cars (EVs) are widely seen as clean, but they still depend on coal and other not-so-clean energy sources. I mention this in my book, and now can point to Planet of the Humans to substantiate my point. As I point out in my book, EVs also of course have that manufacturing footprint, as well as sidestepping the ills exacerbated by a car-dominated landscape: debt, obesity, isolation, street crime, a fraying of the community fabric.
Ditto for biomass. Biomass-generated energy would seem to offer promise, and might be one answer, in a world of more moderate demand. After all, trees are renewable. But in today’s high-footprint world of crazed consumption, biomass production chews up forests to a horrifying and unsustainable degree.
And then there is nuclear…
This film is a sobering wakeup for people who have wanted to believe in some pure world of clean energy, with no requirement to change our luxurious upper-echelon USA lifestyle in any way. Many people might not be ready to face that. It’ll stick in the craw of the type of environmentalists who are pretty much living a mainstream lifestyle, with big houses and big lawns, and cars and air travel at the drop of a hat, and living-rooms and kitchens bursting with consumer electronics, while feeling perfectly virtuous because after all they never cease calling on the government to “switch to clean energy.”
(This is one of the things that really stood out to me when I moved back to the USA from Japan and started becoming active in the environmental protest movement. I started noticing, Hey! These “green” people are still living a fancy unsustainable middle-America life! They’re just calling on the government to fix things by magically switching to clean energy! That’s not gonna work! But I lacked credentials or evidence to prove my point; I was just a girl who’d been raised to love nature and to think for herself.)
Not only will Planet of the Humans stick in the craw of that type of environmentalist, it already has done so, as some EV-touting environmentalists are actually calling for Moore to retract his film! This to me is always a sign of something rotten. The truth will out, and it’s always better to allow all viewpoints to be exposed to the sunshine, where people can sort them out, than to censor viewpoints. Update: a friend/fellow activist just sent me a link to a YouTube vid where Moore responds to the critics. Haven’t had time to watch yet, but will later.
My acerbic words aside, I understand the appeal of the “green paradise” mind-set, and have certainly at times been in denial about the planetary cost of my choices. Ultimately we are all here to wake up and create a more compassionate way of being.
For people who sense that the much-vaunted “clean energy paradise” is a myth and are ready to wake up from it, Planet of the Humans offers a refreshing tonic.
Planet of the Humans is a Michael Moore film, with Moore’s trademark muckraking style operating in full flourish. To anyone inclined to deride Moore, or muckraking-style journalism in general, I would simply suggest we remember how muckraking exposed the hideous conditions at meat-packing plants back in the early 1900s, in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. There is a place for this type of journalism; it’s a much-needed reality check in society.
Planet of the Humans is available free to stream (as of this writing); I provide the link in the Further Exploration section at the end of this post.
On that note, a word about the importance of developing critical thinking. No matter how many authoritative articles or films we might see, by experts with many credits or lots of letters after their names, at the end of the day we still each have to decide for ourselves what to believe. This used to drive me insane and keep me up at night. Like, how do you decide? If one expert over here is putting out one set of facts, and another expert over here is putting out a contradictory set of facts, how are we supposed to decide, especially if we do not have our own eyewitness perspective? This is where having a “B.S. detector” comes in.
There are many ways to cultivate a B.S. detector even if your upbringing did not help you get one. One major way I know of is by spending time in nature alone, and just tuning in. You can of course consciously observe how nature works, and that’s great. But even if you just spend time hanging out in nature, you’ll naturally become tuned (or should I say re-tuned) to her rhythms. Our own minds are part of nature as well, so besides recommending that everyone spend as much time in natural outdoor settings, I am also a strong advocate of personal introspection; getting familiar with our minds and how they operate.
Also, reading a lot. When I say reading a lot, I mean all topics you can manage, and I mean fiction as well as nonfiction. The thing is to develop a discerning ear for tone and manner. Many statistics and figures sound plausible and are hard to get to the bottom of if you are not a specialist or just don’t have more than 24 hours in the day to wade through conflicting figures; we need an additional filter beyond just being able to look up numbers and facts. That filter is intuition, of which the “B.S detector” is a part.
I have been absolutely astonished over the years to see people who I think of as being a lot smarter than me (because they are engineers or scientists, lawyers, etc. while I’m just an English Lit/Art/Sociology person) watch a YouTube video or read an article that is clearly absolute BS, yet they totally believe it and cannot tell that the speaker is not playing with a full deck.
Reading a lot should include getting news from multiple sources. It allows us to triangulate so, for example, when I saw the decimation of the landscape in Planet of the Humans, I knew it was true because I had seen pictures of strip mining, solar farms, etc., in numerous recognized news outlets (and also in some cases in person, which also helps).
(Note, getting news from different sources does not mean be a news junkie, clinging to the TV for minute-by-minute updates. That behavior isn’t healthy; it feeds fear, which actually undermines critical thinking.)
One thing that can damage a person’s BS detector, or prevent them from developing one in the first place, is any kind of spiritual path that derides and devalues the thinking mind. We need our thinking minds to operate out in the world. No matter how spiritual we are, how we love hanging out on the spiritual plane, we are also on a physical planet. I’ve seen people who are very spiritually evolved, but get themselves into very obviously bad situations in the everyday world. Pursue your spiritual development (I’m all about that!) but do not throw away your thinking mind. It’s one thing to do a meditation practice where you let your thoughts flow and drop away (that’s valuable); it’s another thing to put your thinking mind permanently in jail.
Further Exploration: I’m really loading you up with videos today! I highly recommend watching all of the following films — and that’s saying a lot from a person who is ruthless about her time. I generally prefer reading to watching videos not only because it takes less time, but also because it consumes less bandwidth. And yet I found these to be essential viewing, and am cutting my footprint in other ways to balance out my increase in bandwidth use over the past month or so.
These films show the grimmest aspects of human footprint. Yet I found hope in watching them, and find hope in sharing them with you, because sometimes the only thing that gets us to change our ways is to face head-on the sheer ugliness wrought by our current ways. May we all be inspired by love of our beautiful planet to find kinder, saner ways of being in the world. I am deeply grateful to the makers of each of the following films.
Planet of the Humans: Described above. There is no “clean-energy free lunch”; we really just need to scale back our immense human footprint. Viewing is free; donations accepted.
Earth: “EARTH was filmed at seven locations where humans are transforming the planet on a grand scale: Entire mountains being moved in California, a tunnel being sliced through rock at the Brenner Pass, an open-cast mine in Hungary, the world-famous Carrara marble quarry in Italy, a copper mine in Spain, the salt mine used to store radioactive waste in Wolfenbüttel and a Northern Canadian tar sands site where the destruction of indigenous lands threatens local communities.” Oh, and in case some naysayer tries to tell you the scenes of eco-desolation in Planet of the Humans are exaggerated or not real, you’ll see the same level of human-wrought devastation in EARTH. Filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter is a sensitive and skilled interviewer, remaining unobtrusively in the background yet eliciting articulate, nuanced responses from the workers at the various sites, who often express ambivalent attitudes about the destruction caused by their operations even though in many cases they love their jobs. This link offers streaming rental for $12.00 through April 30, 2020. (The price is well worth it, especially as half goes to support Cinematique, a nonprofit indie cinema that offers a lot of important films on environmental awareness and social justice.) If the date has passed, hopefully you can find the film elsewhere.
Within Reach: Follow the filmmakers (a young couple named Mandy Creighton and Ryan Mlynarczyk) as they bicycle 6,000+ miles across the USA visiting ecovillages, cohousing neighborhoods, co-ops, Transition Towns, and other settlements to explore how people are living sustainably in community right now. If you want to see loads of examples of how low-footprint living can be a much richer, healthier, more satisfying lifestyle than our “normal” modern life is, don’t miss this film. The page says “find a screening near you,” but actually this link lets you watch online for free by giving your email address.
Schooling the World: “If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a ‘better’ life for indigenous children. But is this true? What really happens when we replace a traditional culture’s way of learning and understanding the world with our own?” Earth-shatteringly powerful; at times grimly ludicrous. I include it here because it shows the devastating consequences, for local communities and ecosystems, of encouraging families to send their children away for formal schooling, sometimes for years on end. Young people become disconnected from their culture and birthplace, and grow up with no land-stewardship wisdom. And to top it off, most of the young people do not end up getting the great jobs that are touted as the reason why formal education is essential. This film is offered free by Films For Action; viewers are invited to make a donation after viewing the film, based on what we feel it’s worth.