Documentary Review: Planet of Humans - Yüksel Yasemin Altıntaş

Planet of Humans is a documentary that was presented by Michael Moore and directed by Jeff Gibbs. In this one and a half hour, long documentary Moore and Gibbs talk about the dark side of renewable energy and its negative effects on the environment.

People tend to believe that anything renewable is good; however, this document shows that renewable energy resources harm the environment as much as non-renewable energy recourses, if not more. Manicuring process of renewable energy producing items, their expected life, and productivity analysis are explained throughout the documentary.

In addition to scientific reports that they indicate, documentarians also show numerous interviews with environmentalists, experts and businessmen’s. These interviews not only clearly show the differences of opinion between experts and the majority of businessmen, but it also reveals the lack of information about renewable energy production. Towards the end of the documentary, documentary makers show that majority of the renewable energy sector is funded by famous beverage, food chain companies, banks, timber, and non-renewable energy companies.

It also shows that the majority of politicians and environmentalist lacks the necessary information about green energy production. Moore and Gibbs divide renewable energy resources into two categories and focuses them separately. In the first part of the document, when they talk about the green energy movement, they focus on solar energy windmills. In the second part of the documentary, they concentrate on biofuel energy.

These parts can be summarized under five headings.

1. Renewables like solar panels and windmills are intermittent, which means they cannot be seen as reliable continuous energy providers.

A cloud can cover the sun; it may start to rain or wind blowing may stop in that case your solar and wind generation will significantly decrease. To compensate for the power outages, you have to have a backup system or a generator. Because these systems cannot store enough energy to counterbalance one household’s daily needs. Energy storage systems have less than 10% of the needed amount (according to International Energy Agency’s data global battery capacity is 54 Giga btu meanwhile global annual energy use is 546.000.000 Giga btu).

Therefore we can easily say that it’s almost impossible to switch to 100% green energy. In the time of technology, even the amount of electricity required for our technological items to keep operate is quite a lot. During the covid’19 pandemic, people started to use their electrical items even more. In the case of such emergencies or crisis, renewable energy sources cannot be seen as a reliable solution.

2. You need suitable platforms to implant solar panels and windmills; to do that, states tend to coverntrize forestall eras.

Lowel Mountain case was given as an example in the documentary. Part of the mountain got deforested for the installation of 21 windmills. The life of these windmills are approximately 20 years, and their lifetime long carbon reduction can only compensate a year of carbon sequestration done by the trees demolished for the windmill construction.

For windmills –just like other renewable energy production systems- power plants should be backed up and idle with fossil fuels all the time because if the system continuously cycles up and down as the demand of winds comes through, then it generates a bigger carbon footprint. As another example in the Mojave Desert, Joshua trees were torn down to create spaces for solar panels implementations.

3. Construction of renewable energy systems requires lots of rare earth minerals, which significantly harms the environment because of their carbon emission.

Some solar panels only last up to ten years. In general, solar and wind technology installations can only last a few decades than they needed to be torn down and replaced by the new ones. It takes a lot of energy to mine and process materials. For more solid examples, the production of windmills can be given. To maintain its fundamental components, usually, high-quality quartz and coal are used. These components are furnace up to 1.800 degrees to get the silicon metal that you need for the windmill production. However, this reaction reveals large amounts of carbon dioxide.

Lithium is classified as a toxic mine, Graphite, which is another form of carbon, and they both heavily used in the renewable energy systems manufacturing process. Uranium, Thorium, Cobalt, Coal, Steel, Nickel, Sulfur, Silver, Hexafluoride (which is 23.000 times worse than CO2), Copper, and other radionuclides can be given as an example to rare earth minerals which was used by the sector after these mines were extracted radioactive waste debuts. Instead of disposing of these leftover minerals and toxic materials, firms tend to left them out on nature.

As I mentioned in my previous writings, rare element mining is a problematic issue. In addition to environmental concerns, it leads to the exploitation of certain groups and/or nations. It creates not only developmental injustices but also violates human rights due to working conditions in many mines. Time to time, people –especially the natives- are forced out of their lands for the exploitation of the mines.

4. Renewable energy systems cannot maintain functioning without the support of non-renewable energy.

The clean tech revolution is not that clean as it sounds—for instance, electric cars. Manufacturers tend to introduce them as cars powered by wind or sun energy, but in reality, they use the electricity from the grid.

People hardly ever question the main source of that grid. Usually, electric cars use city grids, which is mostly provided from non-renewable energy resources.

Alternative energy sources, aka green energy, is not that different than fossil fuels. Renewable energy production and storage systems increase carbon footprint with a mass scale implication.

Solar gas facilities burn natural gas almost every day to get the energy that they need to start up their productions. In the documentary, Ozzie Zehner indicated that by using non-renewable energy sources to gain clean energy, we are using and losing more non-renewable energy. In another saying, by burning fossil fuels instead of using them in renewable energy facilities, we can get a better yield.

If these renewable energy facilities were 100% eco-friendly, they would not have to fill acid rain permits for nitrous oxide emissions, or they did not have to apply for carbon offset permits. They need to offset the carbon dioxide that they produce as a result of their chain of action to assemble renewable energy.

There is no facility runs by 100% renewable energy (wind and sun); they all keep their grid connections, and to continue operating, they have to do that. As it’s indicated in the documentary, the sun can be renewable, but it’s not accessible all the time, and solar arrays are not renewable at all.

5. Biomass harms nature as much as other green energy sources.

Biomass has the highest share among the green energy providing systems, yet it’s one of the most none-ecofriendly energy providers. In the documentary, Moore and Gibbs give the example of McNeil Biomass power plant where they burn trees ( approximately 400.000 tons of trees per year) to produce electricity, in addition to natural gas that they use to support their energy production.

Along with deforestation, the carbon footprint created during the cutting down these trees and transporting them from the forests to these power plants significantly harms the environment. Some biomass plants use artificial subsidies to increase the temperature that they get from burning the trees like tire chips. These substitutes contribute to air pollution drastically.

To cut a long story, short none of these renewable energy facilities are not carbon neutral. None of the green energy providers can sustain its operations without the support of non-renewable energy sources. They all pollute and harm the environment as much as, maybe more than non-renewable energy resources.

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