Planet of the humans: A reheated mess of lazy, old myths
This is the the first in a series on Planet of the Humans. The other posts are here:
Post 2 – on where we’re at in 2020, with climate and clean tech
Post 3 – on the ‘bigger picture’ of the film, and why the film is so harmful
The film ‘Planet of the Humans’ opens with the director, Jeff Gibbs, operating a fossil-fuelled combustion engine vehicle, on a road full of combustion engine vehicles, followed up with some footage taken from the International Space Station (fossil fuelled rockets put that in space).
This is not a documentary about the environmental damage that had to occur for Gibbs to go on his drive – it is not mentioned. Nor is it about the harm from fossil fuels.
It is about why renewable energy is bad. I used to work in the renewable energy industry – first, with wind farms and later in research, government agencies and advocacy groups. So it was hard to resist both watching and reviewing this one, considering it launched on ‘Earth Day’, and it has been widely promoted.
Not only is the documentary bad, it’s old bad. Please join me on this journey back in time. It won’t be fun, but I’m glad you’re here with me.
All of the stuff in this documentary is ancient
It is clear that Gibbs has been trying to make this documentary for a long, long time.
“He is currently working on a film about the state of the planet and the fate of humanity”, read his bio, in 2012. It is clear, digging into these early posts, that he very passionately loathes the burning of trees to generate energy – a wildly controversial and genuinely problematic thing, for sure.
But as early as 2010, Gibbs was posting HuffPost blogs extending that into wind and solar, too.
This one, for instance, repeats a bog-standard list of anti-wind and anti-solar memes that, back in 2010, were fashionable among climate deniers. The ‘wind and solar are too intermittent’ meme, for instance, is a great hallmark of that era. “How much variable energy can a grid accept? Around ten percent, twenty percent tops it appears”, he wrote back then. I’d include examples of grids with higher percentages operating without a hitch today, but it feels almost cruel.
The extreme oldness of this documentary stands out. In one instance, he tours a solar farm in Lansing, Michigan, in which a bemused official states that a large farm can only power ten homes in a year.
It is the Cedar Street Solar Array, a 150 kilowatt 824 (that’s small) panel farm in downtown Lansing. Guess when that bad boy was built? 2008. Twelve years ago – an absolute eternity, in solar development years.
As PV Magazine writes, “The film reports on a solar installation in Michigan with PV panels rated at “just under 8 percent” conversion efficiency. It’s difficult to identify the brand of panel in the film (Abound?) — but that efficiency is from another solar era”. Efficiency gains in solar have been so rapid that by leaving the dates off his footage he is very actively deceiving the audience. The site generates 64-64 MWh a year, according to the owner – a more recent installation in the same area generates around 436. The footage really is from another era. It’s like doing a documentary on the uselessness of mobile phones but only examining the Motorola Ultrasleek.
Later, they visit the Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) solar farm, only to feign sadness and shock when they discover it’s been removed, leaving a dusty field of sand. In the desert. “Then Ozzie and I discovered that the giant solar arrays had been razed to the ground”, he moans. “It suddenly dawned on me what we were looking at. A solar dead zone”.
Which is a weird one, because the site they were visiting, SEGS-1 and SEGS-2 site in Daggett, was midway through being replaced with upgraded solar PV, which generates significantly more electricity, is cheaper, has no site emissions and has no water usage, compared to the 1984 technology.
Sunray 2 and 3 are now generating electricity – significantly more than the old site. 97,631 megawatt hours in 2018. You could run a toaster for 9,288 years, by my calculations. There is a 650 megawatt expansion planned – to be built over existing human-impacted land.
In a red flag for any veteran of the wind farm debate, Gibbs then uses footage of a collection of old wind turbines – rusted, gross and horrible – to illustrate the short life and lasting damage of these huge spiky bastards.
If you’re familiar with the network of anti-wind farm groups, you’ll recognise that they’re old machines from South Point on Big Island, Hawaii. They were removed in 2012, by the owner of the facility. All that is left now are small hexagonal pads on farmland used by the cattle that roam it:
“Why for most of my life, have I fallen for the illusion that green energy would save us?” It sounds like he’s saying this in 2020, but he is saying it well in the past. Gibbs was posting anti-wind memes roughly 23 full epidemics ago.
Nothing in this is new. With regards to its wind and solar parts, it smacks of 2010s era climate change denial, in which renewables were seen by detractors as expensive, wasteful, low-capacity, heavily corporatised and destined to fail. Things are different in 2020, but the director isn’t. He doesn’t need to be.
Even the ideas are old
Putting aside the sites they visit and the footage they use, there are some ideas in this documentary that are well worn and highly recognisable memes from the 2009 – 2013 climate denial wonder years.
You can tell when someone’s knowledge of this has formed solely from doing a Google search for “solar panels bad don’t like”, and it really shows in this film.
Early on in the documentary, Gibbs has an exchange with an anti-wind farm protester about coal-fired power:
Protester: You need to have a fossil fuel power plant backing it up and idling 100% of the time, because if you cycle up or cycle down as the demand on the wind comes through, you actually generate a bigger carbon footprint if you ran it straight”
Gibbs: Do you ever go to things where they just go “Oh, that’s not true, it doesn’t matter we’re going to have a smart grid”?
Protester: Doesn’t make any difference, they still gotta– they’re using it. You gotta have it idling. Because, let’s just say the wind stopped right now. Just stopped for an hour. You’ve got to have that power
This extremely silly concept – that coal-fired power stations run at 100% capacity all the time regardless of how much power they output – is so old it hurts my brain. In fact, it was big in 2012, when I came across it in Australian media. It’s wrong. If the power plant generates less electricity, it uses less coal. Gibbs is putting this eight-year-old meme in the microwave and serving it up in for his audience.
Later, he presents the work of a researcher named Richard York, who claims that the addition of renewable energy has no impact on fossil fuel output. I can’t access the paper, which is from – you guessed it – 2012, but the premise is mind-numbingly silly.
Electric grids match supply and demand at all times. Energy generated from one new source has to replace energy generated from an existing source – the grid would collapse, if it didn’t. That is why South Australia’s grid looks like this:
And Denmark looks like this:
Things start to get into proper, outright, anti-vax / climate denier grade misinformation when producer Ozzie Zehner comes in.
“One of the most dangerous things right now is the illusion that alternative technologies like solar and wind are somehow different from fossil fuels”, he tells Gibbs. “You use more fossil fuels to do this than you’re getting benefit from it. You would have been better off just burning fossil fuels in the first place, instead of playing pretend” .
It is, in fact, possible to scientifically examine the emissions associated with making, transporting and erecting renewable energy, and compare it to the emissions saved by using it. There are just so many studies on this, but here’s the Breakthrough Institute’s Zeke Hausfather:
It’s important to be really clear about this: Zehner’s remarks in this film are toxic misinformation, on par with the worst climate change deniers. No matter which way you look at it, there is no chance that these projects lead to a net increase in emissions.
Gibbs attends a solar conference – again in some non-specific year – and is told by a bunch of obviously well-meaning and slightly baffled young renewable energy experts (literally the only young, diverse people in the film) that battery storage is a way of managing intermittency.
“When I looked up how much battery storage there is, it was less than one-tenth of one percent of what’s needed”, he says, presenting a pie chart (augh) of IEA data with a minuscule slice from batteries. But grid scale of batteries doesn’t need massive capacities to be functionally useful for managing the integration of renewables – so it’s a deeply misleading chart.
In checking the information, I can’t find International Energy Agency data for “51 giga BTU” of battery capacity anywhere on their site. 546,000,000 “Giga BTUs” is 546,000,000,000,000 BTUs. which is 160,032,600,000,000 watt hours, or around 160,000 terawatt hours.
This is ‘primary energy supply’ – how much energy was generated, but includes the quantity of energy wasted through inefficiency. If you only look at global annual electricity – the field in which batteries play – it’s around 20,000 TWh (they use a similar deception for Germany’s biomass share). So it’s an extra dodgy comparison.
Gibbs has created a self-sustaining argument here. If someone builds a battery storage installation, he can visit the site and monotone sadly about its presence. If someone decides to not build that battery, he can look up the statistics and monotone sadly about the lack of battery capacity.
In an earlier scene, at the launch of the General Motors Chevy Volt (2010, of course), he complains that the cars are being charged by the coal-sodden electric grid of that state – another great example of the infinite loop Gibbs has created for himself, considering his reaction if more wind and solar were built to make that electricity cleaner.
There’s gas, too. They repeatedly claim that shutting down coal plants results in replacement with gas. And in the US, gas has indeed expanded to fill a decent proportion of the gap left by coal:
The UK has a similar thing too, where both renewables and gas are squeezing out coal. But scroll back up to Denmark, above, where a combination of interconnection with other countries, massive wind build-out and coal and gas shutdown has cleaned up the grid. Or Germany, where gas output remains unchanged as coal plants shut down.
There is nothing inherent to renewable energy that makes gas compulsory. All that matter is how the transition is managed. For a long time, gas was sold as a transition fuel, including by organisations like the Breakthrough Institute. But it is becoming increasingly clear that while it might ease change, it isn’t compulsory, and the urgency of decarbonisation has increased.
This film is a long, slow painful monument to laziness
It feels so weird writing about these things again. I feel like I’ve been transported back in time ten years, back to my early days in the renewable energy industry. We’d combat these viral memes every single day.
The industry looks different now. Many wind companies have learnt that insensitive, clumsy development leads to backlash that is harmful for everyone, so they’ve started to clean up their act. Solar developers are figuring out more sustainable pathways than the boom and bust of government subsidies. The human rights issues around mining and materials are becoming more prominent. Renewable companies are taking waste removal seriously.
And then this documentary comes along – a dumb old bull in the china shop that is 2020’s hard-earned climate action environment. There’s a lot of fragile, hard-fought stuff to wreck in there, and Gibbs goes absolutely wild. He’s bulldozing a lot of hard work.
Gibbs obviously has a long-running gripe with biomass, which has a whole range of serious issues associated with it. Though I don’t know the industry well, I suspect many of his gripes there are valid.
But the outright lies about wind and solar are serious and extremely harmful. Wind and solar aren’t just technological tools with enormous potential for decarbonisation. They also have massive potential to be owned by communities, deployed at small scales with minimal environmental harm, and removed with far less impact on where they were than large power stations like coal and gas. They do incredible things to electricity bills, they decentralise power (literally and figuratively), and with more work they can be scaled up to properly replace fossil fuels.
Gibbs isn’t interested in this stuff. No one in 2012 was. He’s armed with a list of dot points from climate denier blog Watts Up With That, and he’s ready to go. The key harm of this documentary is that it does what so many communicators struggle, but fail to do – it presents ideas from one ideological cluster into the world of another. It is very actively and successfully escaping the ‘bubble’, and selling far-right, climate-denier myths from nearly a decade ago to left-wing environmentalists in the 2020s, and going by much of the comments, it seems to be doing well. Gibbs is transcending both time and ideological space, held aloft by a system that provides prominence to mediocrity.
It’s tough to look past how popular this has been. The film’s been boosted because many interviews feature the popular and well-known producer Michael Moore, including on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. Ludicrously, it received four stars (four. fucking. stars.) in the Guardian, a media outlet normally careful to not boost climate-denier grade misinformation.
All this prominence despite the fact that the film failed to find a distributor, and was dumped onto Youtube instead. “We’ve talked to sales agents. We believe that there will be a tremendous amount of interest in this film… This is going to get distributed. It will be seen”, Moore insisted last year.
It is clear that Gibbs’ starting point was a loathing of biomass, which then turned into a loathing of every single decarbonisation technology (except nuclear power, which isn’t mentioned in the film).
But he ends up at population control – a cruel, evil and racist ideology that you can see coming right from the start of the film. I wish I had the emotional energy to go into it, but I have spent it all. Earther’s Brian Kahn writes:
“There’s a reason that Breitbart and other conservative voices aligned with climate denial and fossil fuel companies have taken a shine to the film. It’s because it ignores the solution of holding power to account and sounds like a racist dog whistle”
The film features a parade of – solely – white Americans, mostly male, insisting the planet has to reduce its population. There is no information provided on which people in the world need to stop fucking, but we can take a guess, based on the demographics of the people doing the asking.
This documentary – particularly the parts on energy, renewables and industry- is extremely bad. It is Jeff Gibb’s 2010 Huffington Post blog drawn out in one hour and forty minutes, which feels like like a decade. I knew it would be lazy, but the magnitude of laziness here is incredible. It it mostly old. It is obviously re-hashing some specific gripes, like its attacks on the nicest guy in the whole of climate activism, Bill McKibben. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’m like 2,000 words in. I don’t have the energy to glue together every single fragile thing that this bulldozer has destroyed.
It is the ultimate expression of lazy privilege to make something so void of effort, but so widely viewed and promoted. Criticism will be rebuffed as Not Being Able To Handle The Truth, or the classic We Just Wanted To Start A Discussion. It is still a package of old, dead ideas reheated by someone who knew that he did not need to put any effort into updating his thinking. There was no chance he would be talking to climate activists, talking to young people, talking to experts, talking to community advocates, talking to people from other countries, or really talking to anyone who wasn’t already mostly in his vicinity.
It should have faded off into the pit of Youtube’s unwatched terabytes, but it didn’t, because mediocrity is celebrated, boosted and broadcast if it comes from someone who looks and sounds the right way. That is a serious vulnerability. The hard work of climate and energy advocates, as they grapple with challenges like corporate malfeasance, the impacts of mining and bad development can be shattered by the monotone arrogance of a single person inflicted with the Dunning Kruger effect.
Edit note #1 – 28/04/2020 – A kind commenter pointed out I’d snapped the wrong sub-section of SEGS in the satellite imagery (which explains why I couldn’t find the entrance gate on street view!
Turns out they visited SEGS 1, which stopped generating in ~2015, and was replaced by a facility know as Sunray 2. It is a newer, single-axis tracking PV module system, built in 2015-2016, and has generated 74 gigawatt hours since energisation. They must have visited in the short time between this replacement process. The upgrade meant no emissions on site, lower land use, no water for cooling and a lower environmental impact.
Edit note #2 – 29/04/2020 – I didn’t have time to dig into it, but the site Gibbs visit at the start of the doc is the ‘Kingdom Community Wind Farm’ in Vermont. Gibbs compares the construction of the wind farm to ‘mountain top coal’.
Here’s the completed wind farm (Gibbs’ footage is shot in fog, so there’s no perspective or scale):
And here’s what mountaintop mining looks like:
They are still paying the local community on a yearly basis. “As part of the Good Neighbor Fund, payments will be made to the following towns: Eden will receive $77,420, Albany $69,885, Craftsbury $33,851, and Westfield and Irasburg each will receive $10,000. The Good Neighbor Fund provides benefits to the five towns within five miles of the project not including the host town, Lowell, which receives significant tax revenue from the project. The payments are determined based on generation”, GMP said in 2016. As of 2019, they’re running regular tours of the site for locals.
“While some are critical of the turbines, Couture, who runs Couture’s Maple Shop and Bed and Breakfast in Westfield, told GMP that he can see the turbines outside his kitchen window, “and I love it. “I love that they are generating local power. My guests at the B&B love watching the turbines – I’ve never heard a negative comment””, wrote a local paper, in 2014. So much for mountaintop mining.
Edit note #3 – 01/05/2020 – Correcting my own edit! A kind reader pointed out Green Mountain Power was sold a few years back, so have removed a sentence that stated it was still owned locally.
Read the next post here
Sorry dude, you’re so wrong. You may be right on details that have been stretched, and I quibble with several too, and there’s too much on biomass for sure, but you’re so lost in the detail you can’t see the forest for the trees. Sure renewables are being done better all the time, but the idea that we can just go on living as we do, consuming as we do, growing the material economy, is absurd. Focus on the big picture my friend!
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Yes, Ketan Joshi misses the forest for the trees in his article criticizing The Planet of the Humans. Quibbling over details and calling information that is 7 to 10 years old outdated is childish when compared with truly seeing that Tesla, solar panels, and wind farms are not going to save us from global catastrophe. Are these methods working today? No. Just look at the rising CO2 numbers for planet earth. The movie’s main message is that we shouldn’t be complacent and think that what we’re doing is working. Also, the solution is much larger than some new technology. The solution involves reducing the impact of the growing human population and ever-increasing consumption of energy and resources… and no technology will save us from this, when we are continuing to guzzle more and more energy and resources. I would like to see Ketan write a sequel to his critique of the movie, describing how solar and wind will save our planet when we have 10 billion humans. Now that will be interesting.
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Imagine you were doing a documentary in 1959 on polio. Hilary Koprowski demonstrated the first version of a live attenuated virus vaccine in 1950 and Jonas Salk was producing an inactivated vaccine in 1955. It would take time, money, and political will to make a big impact on the disease and it may never be eradicated entirely, but there has been steady progress for a decade. You, making your film in 1959, chose only to use information from 1948-1950 and concluded that Dr. Kaprowski’s vaccine is too expensive and anyway some other people are trying to treat the disease with quack medicine, so the vaccine and the quack medicine is all the same and maybe all the medicine is worse than the disease because the vaccine uses a version of the virus to cure people… Perhaps by using such outdated information and coming to such conclusions, a reasonable reader would determine that you didn’t do your due diligence and perhaps your opinion is questionable. I don’t think Ketan Joshi misses the forest for the trees, I think he points out that if most of the trees are fake, maybe it’s not a forest.
Renewable energy (wind, solar, tidal & storage) is the cure to fossil fuel energy. Yes it is going to be hard to transition the world to renewables and yes, like with a vaccine it takes political will to produce it and get it to everyone who needs it, particularly impoverished regions and groups, but it can be done.
I did not say that renewable energy is the cure to global warming. There are many things that need to happen, re-forestation, restorative agriculture, reducitarianism, reduced consumption, education and prosperity allowing women to control their own reproductive options, but those aren’t reasons to go after renewable energy.
Rising CO2 is not the fault of renewable energy and we need to replace as much fossil energy with renewables as quickly as we can.
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re: “Renewable energy (wind, solar, tidal & storage) is the cure to fossil fuel energy.”
Wow. You REALLY don’t understand the scope of the energy issue, do you? And, likely never will; at this point these ‘things’ are “articles of faith” and NOT even engineering parameters in a ‘real world’ scenario …
You obviously didn’t notice that this is a review of a documentary and not an article about climate change and solutions. Focus on the intention of the article my friend!
Such a long article, remarkably discusses in full detail how much “old” the argument is, and through absurd and unjustifiable accusations that the film is on the “climate denier” agenda, that the producers are racists and even right-wind anti-vax supporters. Woh! Impressing, comming from a consultunt in “renewable” energy companies. Even more impressing the fact that, in such a huge article, there are onlly 4 sentences, in just one paragraph, “addressing” some serious issues. And how does it addresses them? It says, for example on the 4th sentence: “Renewable companies are taking waste removal seriously.” Nice argument. There is also a link there. If you follow it, you will get to this article: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51325101 This is an article saying that this is still a problem for the industry, and some solutions proposed are: burning the matterial(!), making Pyrolisis, and use some of them to construct children’s playgrounds. REALLY?
PS: why is it not possible to see all the comments bellow the article.
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“Such a long article” seriously? read much?
I’ve also been involved in some of this for a long time, I hear you that it was tiresome to have to go through this film and slog through old issues that were put to bed long ago, but *THANK YOU* for doing this work, and for doing a good job of it. Your thoughtful response is helpful to my morale, but also is specifically helpful to me. I have been hearing from an old friend who knows little about climate change issues and who unfortunately has initially been very convinced by the documentary. I was struggling to articulate what some of the many issues are and told him that I watched 30 minutes of it only because he is my friend. What a painful experience it was to have to watch even 30 minutes of this! Yes, I like that it started to bring the biomass issues much more to my attention, and that it was a reminder to me in general that we still have an enormous amount of work to do and that we must remain open to criticisms, but goodness, those conversations should be grounded in at least some real ingenuous effort from all sides.
In any case, your response is I think the articulate response I was searching for, and I will send it to my friend.
Hi – I don’t know wordpress very well, is there something I should do to expedite having my previous comment get through moderation?
The Michael Moore documentary was inevitable. If not from MM, then somebody else. I contend that the Green Movement has brought this on all by themselves. Unnecessarily. It will now take a long and arduous effort to work through the issues raised in the documentary to rebase the economic advantages of green energy—sorely needed more than ever in all parts of the World. Advocacy has not been enough. Intuitively sound needs substance, facts and evidence. And arrogance around change has hampered or severed connection with many professionals, scientists and engineers who want to get onside. Sometimes to move ahead, you have to back up. But how far? Well, far enough to regroup and participate in rebuilding the post pandemic world that truly values a healthy society. And certainly beyond just advocacy and intuitive reason.
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re: “It will now take a long and arduous effort to work through the issues raised in the documentary to rebase the economic advantages of green energy—sorely needed more than ever in all parts of the World.”
Unfortunately, those with ‘green’ desires and wishes are usually the least equipped to bring green to fruition. Namely, they are are not versed in engineering, physics or any related hard science, therefore, they can ‘only’ shop at the world equivalent of ‘WallMart’ and pick from the shelves either wind, solar or conventional nuclear!
NOT found shrink-wrapped, bubble-packed on those shelves are the NEW energy sources based on science being developed now … like the NANOR by Dr. Mitchell Swartz or the SunCell(tm) by Dr. Randell Mills. I won’t mention the numerous ‘cranks’ who claim “energy from magnets” b/c they have never had a successful demo unlike Swartz and Mills.
So, THAT is where I am coming from on this …
re: demeaning “green” energy customers – that is some pure evil of You.
There are many green customers coming from industry sector – car manufacturers, store chains, cement producers, aluminium smelters… To name just biggest ones.
Calling those “least equipped” is just doing another harm.
Then there are corporations like enercon. Thousands of startups trying to create power efficient devices.
After them go agriculture producers and nature reserve maintainers – europe has hundreds of world heritage sites, parks, recreational areas – all of wchich heavily depend on having steady supply of energy not disrupting anything – often even power lines can be a problem.
so again – update your facts.
re: curious who says: “There are many green customers coming from industry sector – car manufacturers, store chains, cement producers, aluminium smelters… To name just biggest ones.”
They only “buy into” the green scheme b/c their potential customers may express ‘green desires and wishes’ and, the good press they can glean out of this. Note well the language I used in my post: “those with ‘green’ desires and wishes are usually the least equipped to bring green to fruition.”
Those companies are looking at profit and loss statements at the end of the quarter and year, NOT simply expressing simple ‘desires and wishes’, and all those consumers of energy you cite do not have the wherewithal to supply that ‘green’ power either. So, we’re back to my original operative statements, aren’t we?
This article is one long, lazy and repetitive cheap shot. It fails to address huge points in the movie. I’m not going to waste time on this other than to second the excellent comments already made here by wildgoanna, Sky Chaney and Nelly Psarrou.
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And all this destruction for nothing! AGW is just an UN deception! A gigantic hoax staged by the Club of Rome and other globalists persuading their own goals!
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Thanks for taking the time to debunk this dreadful film.
Back in 2012 I was working in the PV industry assessing large projects. I never came across PVs with such a low efficiency and dismal life span. The lifecycle data is clearly wrong.
The film is absolutely dreadful. It’s just doom and gloom without a proper discussion. Simply pulling people like Bill Mckibben out of a protest rather than having a proper interview with him tells you a lot about the quality of this documentary.
He missed the opportunity to enter an intelligent discussion about problems and solutions.
re: “Thanks for taking the time to debunk this dreadful film.”
Yes; The many ‘words on a page’ work wonders for the innumerate and scientifically illiterate, those who know only emotion and not rational, fact-evaluating thinking thank you, I am sure.
re: “Thanks for taking the time to debunk this dreadful film.”
Yes; The many ‘words on a page’ approach works wonders on the innumerate and scientifically illiterate, those who know only emotion and not rational, fact-evaluating thinking. The former crowd I’m sure thanks you, not so much the latter.
For all of the faux outrage in this “reply”, there are remarkably few actual facts offered. Yes, solar panels are now capable of more than an 8% conversion rate (depending on how much you are willing to spend, you get somewhere between 12% and 18%), but the efficiency increase isn’t even close to enough to justify the use of solar panels for direct conversion to electricity, and probably never will be. These panels also have a limited lifespan of well under 20 years, and that is unlikely to change significantly over the next quarter century: the extreme costs of the panels themselves, coupled with the extreme carbon footprint required to extract all of the rare Earth metals required to manufacture these panels, lay waste to any arguments that may be raised in their defense. Solar energy by direct conversion is a non-starter, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.
All of the arguments against direct solar apply to wind turbines as well, except for the added nastyness of the direct damage to wildlife which the turbines exact on their local ecosystems. Wind is a non-starter.
So, why is it that all of these Green Proponents ignore the one green power generation technology that we DO have available (nuclear)? Modern nuclear plants all operate on a fail-safe principle, making them an almost perfect source for green power generation – so much so that we can dispense with the Malthusian nonsense required to help justify all of the “mainstream” green generation methodologies. Nuclear has but two drawbacks: first, the plants have a limited lifespan. Depending on the design, you get somewhere between 20 and 50 years per plant. Secondly, the nuclear waste is a clear and resent danger that so far has been brushed under the rug by both proponents and opponents of nuclear fission. The waste issue disappears when the first nuclear FUSION reactors come on line – likely somewhere in the next 25 years – the “waste” from the fission plants will become a mixture of fuel for the fusion reactors, and a source for the many radionuclides needed in todays world (everything from medicine to manufacturing has uses for these). The waste products will be stripped of useful radionuclides, and the remainder will be refashioned into fuel rods for the fission reactors, this immediately doing away with the “nuclear waste question”. Of course, every Green proponent is going to freak out at the very mention of mass construction of nuclear plants – Chernobyl and Three Mile Island still live on in the popular consciousness, and most people still believe that modern plants can become the next 300 mile Exclusion Zone (they can’t). What happened in Chernobyl was a function of a design error in the reactor itself – an error that the former Soviet Union fixed a few years after root cause analysis for Chernobyl was understood.
Malthusian style population controls are NOT going to happen, regardless of whether it would be a “good idea” in the technical sense: nuclear power is the one solution we have today, and it’s also the solution we know we will have tomorrow (fusion), so we might as well lean in to it.
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Solar panels can be recycled. no need to mine “minerals” used to make them over.
Most precious element of solar cell is indium oxide. Then a bit of copper or silver for cables. Rest is silicon, wchich is enough pure it can be re-melted , but it makes no sense now. Just use indium and copper.
Rest of solar panel system – inverters, suports, protective glass – can be recycled aswell.
Most important point for panels is that they are portable and produce power where demand is. That is important for modern world, defined by Migration.
Try move around nuclear power plant…
Nuclear argument is not really brilliant. Nuclear has Huge political costs – all stages of nuclear power system require Military by big M.
You cannot run private nuclear plant, staffed by savages. Too many things can go wrong.
And this thru entire life cycle od the plant, uranium mines and waste sites – that is Long time, longer any political system can safy handle – note how communism changed to neoliberalism and then to far-right populism in many countries, backed by same nuclear reactors.
Sure that many dangers of nuclear power are overblown.
I agree on that and it also drives costs of nuclear.
F.E. Tschernobyl is only RBMK reactor that failed.
But it made all western countries implement far less effective, and much more expensive technology – negating benefits.
We could have half of nuclear reactors if obly RBMK reactors would be built. Used quarter od the fuel. Have better nuclear waste (more usefull isotopes in waste)
Again, note that NONE of RBMK reactors failed since Tschernobyl, at least none catastrophically.
Lighter containment means less costs, less concrete. Simpler design means less moving parts to inspect and replace.
Finally look at average lignite coal mine with power plant footprint, like in Boxberg.
Then look at Tschernobyl and it’s entire exclusion zone…
Can you spot the scale? Tscherbobyl woul fit with entire Prypyat into just one of used lignite pits of Boxberg.
Now get a grip how much uranium is in lignite… and how much radioactive emissions lignite power plant causes…
That said i do not see reason we would Need nuclear in 2020 – especially some overengineered systems. Either RBMK snap-on plants, would call them “disposable” ones to combat poverty and boost critical places like smelters or big cities, or state-of-the art renewables.
Renewables are much simpler – solar water heating, solar concrete (STEP concrete), solar panels for civilians, and finally just more energy efficient devices ARE enough to curb the “energy crisis” .
I disagree on population control.
It simply must be done, old habits of humankind to reproduce are rooted in empoeriums desperately in need of soldiers or industrial empires in need of workers.
And finally religions needing more followers than other religions…
This reality does not hold nowadays, and culture simply needs to change. There must be drastically less people, and peolple have to be wiser – know more. read better. drink less.
All focus should be made to tackle this issue first – without wiser societies even best technology will be done wrong.
The top 5 monocrystalline PV panels listed by Energysage are all above 20% conversion efficiency (https://news.energysage.com/what-are-the-most-efficient-solar-panels-on-the-market/)
These are not hero lab cells but mass-produced products from large manufacturers. You reinforce the post’s accurate observation that the film relies on very outdated denialist tropes.Can you point me to a PV panel that is currently being marketed with only 8% efficiency?
re: “You reinforce the post’s accurate observation that the film relies on very outdated denialist tropes.”
Really? Are they burning higher-efficiency [sic] trees for biomass too?
Still ‘straining for gnats while swallowing camels’ as the saying goes …
I don’t remember nuclear energy being talked about either in the movie planet if the humans or on this site.
I am against nuclear on the basis of excessive waste that is too hard to get rid of but we might have to go nuclear jyst to save the forest’s and jungle’s of the world.
I am against destruction of these jungles as they are the lungs of the Earth, habitat for wildlife (which we have no right to destroy) and provide clean water and rain. Without them we are dooming ourselves and dragging every other life form to extinction.
So, who is Ozzie Zehner? Doesn’t hold a job, wrote a nasty book in 2012 with the ideas of this movie and has not much of a life according to his social media. Somebody must pay his salary, right?
There’s a talk from Ozzie Zehner on YouTube called ‘Ozzie Zehner: “Green Illusions” | Talks at Google’.
I think he makes some interesting points in that talk. It’s just a shame they weren’t part of the film.
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re: “and has not much of a life according to his social media”
Ahem. Not everybody lives on the internet, or on ‘social media’.
I’m with you on a great many of your criticisms of the film. I also agree that it was lazy and sloppy. I further believe that what narrative it had was poorly constructed, lacked nuance, and did not not lead the viewer, in a clear fashion, to the conclusion.
You may share my opinion that energy statistics are some of the most, if not THE most, abused statistics on the planet. So, I was, for example, happy to see you single out the Chart of Global Annual Energy Use, in the context of battery storage, as I had done in my own private review.
Where you chose the “bull in a china shop” analogy, I chose Godzilla shopping for earrings, for that special something, at Tiffany’s.
Also, the omission of LCA was glaring.
I could go on and you have laid out a good many criticisms that I agree with.
Let me change tacks, however, and preface my coming comments with the puzzling result of searching your blog entry for the word “growth.” It’s not there. Also, in your rebuttal there is no forthright mention of the scale of the challenge that we face in removing fossil fuels from our energy system. All that I can find in your post bearing any relation to the size of the problem is:
“[Wind and solar] also have massive potential to be owned by communities, deployed at small scales with minimal environmental harm, and removed with far less impact on where they were than large power stations like coal and gas. They do incredible things to electricity bills, they decentralise power (literally and figuratively), and with more work they can be scaled up to properly replace fossil fuels.”
In that paragraph, I think, you give some validation for the filmmaker’s blurry tirade against advocates of renewable energy (of which I am one).
(Let me preface the following by directing you to: Pacala S and Socolow R 2004 Stabilization wedges: solving the climate problem for the next 50 years with current technologies Science 305 968 (Google says it’s been cited 3377 times but I can’t confirm that without access to Web of Science); together with subsequent updates and additions. You may have a problem with such “old” research given the unnuanced comments in your blog about “old” ideas. If you aren’t familiar with this paper, I can only ask “why not?”)
The scale of the re-invention of the planetary human energy system is mind-bogglingly massive yet you propose that “with more work” “[deploying] at a small scale” we can scale them up.
Clearly, you have mastered understatement.
Further, you ought to have added, “OK Boomer” to your shameful blanket inference of old white guys who want to wipe, what, non old white guys(?) from the planet. Richard Heinberg has long written about ecology and human impacts; he’s not Johnny-come-lately, and he’s not Brietbart. Yes, of course, we must always look beyond old white guys for commentary but are you inferring that you believe the planet has no limits to its human carrying capacity, even at a minimal level of resource consumption?
Now, let’s turn to your selections of energy statistics. You offer a chart for “ENERGY” in South Australia (mmmm,, look at that ENERGY), thereby propagating one of the greatest misuses of energy statistics which is conflating/disguising/misrepresenting//too-lazy-to-verify “Energy” with, in this case “Electricity.” It happens that comparisons of electricity are favourable in reports of renewables because they make up a larger share of electricity supply then is their far smaller impact on TPES. To demonstrate this, let’s zoom out a little and look at Australia, that paragon of forward-thinking (sarcasm) energy policy, as a whole. I’m taking my numbers from https://www.iea.org/countries/australia
Energy production: 411 Mtoe (+160.13% from 1990)
Total primary energy supply: 128 Mtoe (+48.84 from 1990)
Electricity final consumption: 247.23 TWh (+69.34% from 1990)
Total CO2 emissions: 383 Mt (+ 47.31% from 1990)
Looking farther down the page to the big Primary Energy Supply Chart (from which one really can’t hide), of the aforementioned TPES of 128 Mtoe, the breakdown is as follows:
Hydro: 1,366 ktoe
Wind, Solar, etc.: 2,551 ktoe
Biofuels and waste: 4,999 ktoe
Natural gas: 32,691 ktoe
Coal: 42,267 ktoe
Oil: 44,506 ktoe
What is the percentage of wind, solar, etc? ~2% TWO PERCENT! (ah, but it’s 2% with a bullet!)
Then, to enhance my incredulity, you invoke one of the great canards heard so often from those who resist change from fossil fuels and aim to “shame” activists: driving a car fueled by oil to make the film. .
All of which leads me to think that, in your indignation and pique, you entirely missed the conclusion of the filmmaker and, in my view, the point of the film which is pretty well captured by the final images of orangutans.
You know, more than most, I should think, why those forests were demolished. Usually, it happens so that palm oil plantations can be grown. Whether for soap, processed foods or to help Europe meet mandated renewable energy portfolio standards. This isn’t old news – well, actually it is, sadly, but it is still happening. Not to mention Gore’s careful choice of words, as captured in the film, regarding possible threat to the Amazon from increasing Brazilian sugar cane capacity for biofuels.
If we advocate for action on climate change in a one-dimensional manner – i.e. let’s just address climate change cuz it’s really urgent (like, that’s going well but with cost parity of solar PV that can only help) – the risk is that the rest of the planet will pay an enormous price even if we are able to knock GHGs down to zero. Further, it doesn’t really solve the problem because capital is always hungry for more and, as the examples in the film of the “alligator oil” and Koch brothers investments in renewables demonstrate, capital will look in any nook and cranny for feed stock. And, when that stock is consumed, it will look for other feedstock, never-ending until, to quote Al Gore, “The Entire Planet!” becomes Easter Island.
As I see it, the filmmaker is saying, simply but really very poorly, that we need to get our heads out of our one-dimensional asses, take a look around, and see what the real problem is and it’s not simply fossil fuels.
And tantrums can be useful. We’ll see whether or not this one proves to be.