Category Archives: Film Review

Moore’s Law of Entropy

There is but one freedom, to put oneself right with death. After that, everything is possible.

— Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1942-51

For those of us who grew up watching Charlton Heston films, we can recall enactments of heroic courage, both in the early development and later downward decline of human civilization. Heston gave us a magnificent Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956), returning all scraggly from the wilderness, like some people I knew in the Sixties returning from poetry communes, holding up that Decalogue in revolutionary resistance to the gold lust of Baal. He refused to be a slave in Ben Hur (1959). He gave us a Live Free or Die kind of ethos. No debt slavery, no bondage of any kind.

Toward the end of his career, Heston got dyspeptic over gun control and dystopic in his roles, teaming up with Edward G. Robinson (his last film role) in Soylent Green (1973) as Detective Thorn, a contraband-sniffing cop for the State in a world catastrophically fucked up by climate change and overpopulation and resorting to cannibalism (recycled humans, get it?) that he has a late epiphany as he watches his good friend, Sol, old enough to remember beauty, die by euthanasia, fading to a surround screen explosion of splendor and Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony. He’s been told stories by Sol, but Thorn has never seen this before and he weeps, as if to say: My god, that’s the way it used to be?

But arguably his most important role came a few years earlier in Planet of the Apes, where he plays astronaut George Taylor, who, inadvertently time travels, and comes to realize that he’s landed on the future Earth controlled by fascist orangutans. Who can forget the final beach scene, Lady Liberty buried in sand, while an epiphanal Taylor exclaims, “Goddamn you all to hell!” When I remember his roles as a revolutionary, and an orbiter, I’m almost willing to cut him some slack for his last role, before dying, as president of the National Rifle Association, where he promised you’d have to pry his gun from his “cold, dead hands.” (Damn, the way things are going, we may need those 400 million guns after all.)

Apparently, the Taylor role is the one Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs chose to remember for Planet of the Humans, a recently released film on the politics of things Green and the looming environmental catastrophe ahead, once we knock back Covid-19 with some more Happy Zoom and recreational therapy Corona mask decorations. The film is written and directed by Gibbs; Moore was executive producer. The film was released on YouTube, in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (remember Earth?), and was available for viewing for free, until “controversy” over 4 seconds of Fair Use footage caused the film to be pulled by Google. It has since been put up, in its entirety, on Vimeo, without incident thus far.

As we recall, the last time Moore and Heston came head-to-head was in Bowling for Columbine (2002), and things got ugly during the interview, with Moore shooting his mouth off about Heston’s gun rhetoric, but not so much guns themselves (Moore is a member of the NRA). The question is: Why did Moore and Gibbs bring back Heston from the dead to ‘headline’ their environmental film? The answer is simple: Astronaut Taylor realized that They went ahead and did it: They blew up the planet despite years of warnings of impending catastrophe. And Moore and Gibbs are promoting the notion in their new film that we’re an environmental flashpoint away from a planet ruled by fascist orangutans. (Trump as omen.)

As you could almost guess from the title, the film wants to show and explain to us what happens when one species — guess which one — takes over the planet and shits repeatedly in its own well-feathered bed. Well, it’s a Michael Moore film (executive producer), so you can probably see where the film goes, after an opening sequence where passersby are asked the loaded gun of a question: How much longer do you think the human race has? Typically, no one has a clue. Then the soundtrack vibes somber synthetic, Gibbs’ voice-over all disillusioned monotone. Recalls Fahrenheit 9/11. Another bummer rant from Moore ahead.

According to Rolling Stone, “Moore and Gibbs said they decided to release it now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the hopes of getting people to reflect on ‘the role humans and their behavior have played in our fragile ecosystem.’” This hope seems promising, on the surface, where most of us interface and internet, and so many people have already expressed wonderment at how much the world will have changed while we’ve been in ‘lockdown’. Prisoners opine that way: I wonder how the world will be, without me, in 5 to10.

But, we have people expressing the sentiment after just two months of half-assed ‘self-isolation’ (though increased internet activity). The New Yorker has weighed in for the comfy middle class. Psychology Today speaks for the masses. Yesterday, I watched masked baseballers play in an empty stadium (big screens inexplicably lit up) and thought I was hallucinating: How come this vision (of the future) doesn’t scare the shit out of us? (Plus, these guys like to spit: Yuck, when they remove their masks!)

Planet of the Humans is a tone poem more than a documentary. The vision is in the title. It suggests not so much defeatism as disturbing resignation in the face of Climate Change. Moore and Gibbs argue that We Just Don’t Get It: The much ballyhooed “transition” from an age of fossil fuel dependency to renewable energy is illusory, ineffectual, and too late. The “intermittent” technologies – Solar and Wind – as well as, biomass burning, will never be fully removed from fossil fuel dependency and/or usage. Even if these technologies have improved exponentially in the last decade (when the film was being produced), we humans should be spending our time preparing for the now-unavoidable climate apocalypse ahead. As far as Gibbs and Moore are concerned, pushing renewables at this stage is little more than stylin’ out Covid face masks.

And, yes, recognized leaders of the environmental movement – Al Gore, Bill McKibben, Sierra Club – even if not personally cashing in, have, by partnering with venture capitalists (like Goldman Sachs), corporates and other oil-associated companies, put the “problem” into the hands of private interests and reduced the role of public policymaking. As far as the filmmaking pair are concerned, putting the problem into the controlling hands of capitalists is exactly the wrong thing to do because their interest is growth and profit, not public interest, or, it seems, the fate of the human race. With the global population expanding, almost out of control, with a projected 11.7 billion people by 2100. Prodded by Gibbs, Penn State, anthropologist, Nina Jablonsky, tells us that population growth “continues to be not the elephant, but the herd of elephants in the room.”

Planet begins by reminding the viewer that we’ve had plenty of warning about disastrous climate upheaval. Gibbs inserts a clip from the 1958 Frank Capra movie, The Unchained Goddess, which graphically warns Americans of flooding that will greatly reduce the land mass. It’s not so wonderful a life anymore. Mother Nature standing behind us on a wintry snow-driven bridge telling us to Jump, after giving us a vision of how much Earth would have been better off if we’d never existed.

It’s clear that Planet is a deeply personal film, and Gibbs begins by laying down some street cred. Observing, as a child, some bulldozers taking down woods near his home, Gibbs lets us know he put sand in one of their gas tanks. More contrite, perhaps, he wonders, “Why are we still addicted to fossil fuels?” And he follows the Green movement to understand and to participate in the Pushback. There’s movement forward. 2008 Obama. A stimulus bill with billions for renewable energy development. (Hope, Change). Al Gore’s brought in for some inconvenient rah-rah. End Coal rah-rah. The New Green Economy rah-rah. Bill McKibben. 350.org. Sierra. The Chevy Volt. Rah-rah-rah. Give me a G. Give me an R. Give me an E. Give me an E. Give me an N. GREEN!

But then Gibbs’s anxiety creeps in (the Moore Uncanny with music) and suddenly he’s interviewing well-meaning ‘folk’ giving us the ta-dah! on the Chevy Volt, an electric car that will lead us into the future, no more mean Mr. Carbon. But how are they recharged? They’re plugged into the coal-powered grid, just like your toaster. And you can almost hear the bagpipe crumple into a bummed out wheeze. On to solar arrays. More despondent bagpipes. A ‘folk’ person tells us the football field sized array before us generates enough electricity to power an underwhelming “10 homes” per annum. Getting worked up, Gibbs reminds us that renewables are intermittent and that we can’t count on sun and wind in most places, and we need to have storage, and storage means dependency. In short, there are “profound limitations of solar and wind, rarely discussed in the media.”

Suddenly, we’re being sold a bill of goods by the snakes of Oil and mining; we’re Koch suckers, who believe we can frack (XL) and mine our way to private Paradise. The manufacture of solar panels and other materials that are not renewable replacements. Gibbs gives us a list of the elements unearthed in name of sustainability and renewableness. We are daunted: silicon, graphite, rare earths, coal, steel, nickel. sulphur hexaflouride, tin, gallium, cadmium, lead, ethylene vinyl acetate, neodymium, dyprosium, indium, ammonium fluoride, molybdenum, sodium hydroxide, petroleum. Sweet Jesus!

“It was becoming clear,” he tells us, “that what we are calling green renewable energy and industrial civilization are one and the same. Desperate measures not to save the planet, but to save our way of life. Desperate measures, rather than face the reality that humans are experiencing the planet’s limits all at once.” And he blames the direction that Greenies are now heading in on sell-outs in the ranks and co-optations by the Cappies. Bill McKibben gets enveloped in extra insinuating mood music because he once championed biomass energy and is caught on camera saying, “Woodchips is the future of energy…It must happen everywhere!” Though McKibben has since recanted, Gibbs is all bongos because McKibben’s enthusiasm got the Koch brothers involved. They own Georgia-Pacific, and “are now the largest recipient of green energy biomass subsidies in the United States.” Lawd, almighty!

Gibbs saves some of his best speed bag work for the face of self-appointed Environmental Savior, Al Gore. The Could-Have-Been-President-Had-He-Fought-A-Little-Harder is taken to task for selling his Current TV news company to Al Jazeera, for “that government is nothing but an oil producer,” and Gore picked up the tidy sum of $100m (pre-tax), and he has crowed about how “proud of the transaction” he was. Later Night show hosts lay into his hypocrisy. He doesn’t care.

Gore once claimed to have “created” the Internet because he was part of the Congressional committee that extended funding for ARPANET (the internet’s precursor), which is like tossing some coins into busker Tracey Chapman’s hat and taking credit for her later success. Later, two internet pioneers, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, trying to smooth things over said, Gore “helped create the climate,” which is when Gore got cluey and created the Environmental Movement, in his own mind. Look at the obese beaver get called out by Richard Branson.

Again, Planet of the Humans is a tone poem that begins where astronaut Taylor’s lamentations leave off. Gibbs consults anthropologists and psychologists to explain the mental limitations preventing us from getting it. “What differentiates people from all other forms of life is that we’re not only here, but we know that we’re here. If you know that you’re here, then you recognize, even dimly that you’ll not be here some day,” Sheldon Solomon, social psychologist at Skidmore College tells us. “And on top of that, we don’t like that we’re animals. So we don’t like that we’re going to die someday. We don’t like that you can walk outside and get hit by a fucking meteor.” Like the fuel-producing dinosaurs did. Or Climate Change for us. What a fucking feedback loop.

Gibbs closes the film with an appeal, or closing argument, of sorts to viewers, and it’s probably best to let it speak for itself:

There is a way out of this. We humans must accept that infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide. We must accept that human presence is already far beyond sustainability. And all that that implies. We must take control of our environmental movement and our future from billionaires and their permanent war on Planet Earth. They are not our friends. Less must be the new more. And instead of climate change we must at long last accept that it is not the carbon dioxide molecule that’s destroying the planet — it’s us….

This is the nub: We are looking for scapegoats instead of acting radically to save ourselves from extinction. Far from being outliers with their view, the New Yorker’s Jonathan Franzen asks the very same questions the film queries and responds: “What If We Stopped Pretending?

Apparently as anticipated, criticism from fellow Greenies came fast and furious. Though, if you were inclined, you could have pointed out that Moore/Gibbs films have been for years more psychodrama in their approach than documentarian in, say, the mode of Ken Burns; suddenly, fellow environmentalists were complaining vociferously about the accuracy of Moore’s films. Nobody has been more reactive, so far, than Bill McKibben. It’s clear he feels personally bushwhacked. In a Rolling Stone piece, “‘A Bomb in the Center of the Climate Movement’: Michael Moore Damages Our Most Important Goal,” he bitterly denounces the film’s ethos and damage it is said to have done to the Movement, and avers that it was not only made “in bad faith,” but “dishonorably.” Ouch.

“Basically, Moore and his colleagues have made a film attacking renewable energy as a sham and arguing that the environmental movement is just a tool of corporations trying to make money off green energy,” says McKibben, and continues, “The film’s attacks on renewable energy are antique, dating from a decade ago, when a solar panel cost 10 times what it does today; engineers have since done their job, making renewable energy the cheapest way to generate power on our planet.” It short, the science cited in the film is bad, he says. Gibbs wants to raise consciousness, says McKibben, “But that’s precisely what’s undercut when people operate as Moore has with his film. The entirely predictable effect is to build cynicism, indeed a kind of nihilism. It’s to drive down turnout — not just in elections, but in citizenship generally.”

McKibben also defends his previous championing of biomass energy, saying, “I thought it was a good idea [at the time],” but, he goes on, “And as that science emerged, I changed my mind, becoming an outspoken opponent of biomass. (Something else happened too: the efficiency of solar and wind power soared, meaning there was ever less need to burn anything.)” So, McKibben may justifiably feel as if he’s been called to task for a view he no longer holds. But he’s most irate about the insinuation that he’s a “sell out.” McKibben feels the need to spend much space in the Rolling Stone piece defending his record of achievement over the years. And this may be entirely unfair to his activism.

However, McKibben may be off when he says little science is at play in Planet of the Humans. While it’s true that it relies heavily on anthropological and psychological considerations (because that’s really the concern of the film), Moore and Gibbs do cite a relevant study by Richard York, a much-lauded professor of environmental studies at Oregon State University, who published a peer-reviewed article in Nature magazine, “Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels?” His answer is No, not really. Other pieces there suggest similar findings, such as York’s more recent article, co-written with Shannon Elizabeth Bell, “Energy transitions or additions?: Why a transition from fossil fuels requires more than the growth of renewable energy” and the Patrick Trent Greiner (et alia) piece, “Snakes in The Greenhouse: Does increased natural gas use reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal consumption?” They say, No, not really.

In a private communique to me, York clarifies how his work was used in the film, “My research that Gibbs draws on found that in recent decades, nations that have added more non-fossil energy sources don’t typically reduce their fossil fuel use substantially (controlling for economic growth etc.) relative to nations that don’t add a lot of non-fossil energy. Thus, it’s not a simple case where there is a fixed energy demand so that adding renewables necessarily pushes out fossil energy, but rather adding energy sources is typically associated with rising energy consumption.” So, again Gibbs and Moore, if somewhat inarticulately, are drawing attention to renewables a s an expansion of energy options without a significant drop in the use of fossil fuels. “I find the movie frustrating,” writes York, “because I don’t think they do a good job of articulating a vision for action.”

Even a recent Guardian article meant to defend McKibben and the environmental movement against the slights of Planet accidently, it seems, underlined Gibbs’s point. Oliver Milman links to a study touting the extraordinary increase of efficiency in renewable technology designs – a study that brags, “Decarbonization of electric grids around the world by an average of about 30% will result in approximately 17% lower battery manufacturing emissions by 2030.” This, to Gibbs and Moore, is merely improvement (and only a best guesstimate at that) and insufficient for the long haul. Milman writes, “Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to head off disastrous global heating, which would likely spur worsening storms, heatwaves, sea level rise and societal unrest.” By 2050. That’s exactly why Moore and Gibbs seem to be throwing in the towel. That’s not going to happen.

Moore and Gibbs have put together a sober and quiet response to the reactions of fellow environmentalist against Planet of the Humans. (You could argue that the 17 minute discussion is better than their film.) Once done with watching Planet and listening to rebuttals and getting dismayed, you may want to pull an Edward G. and have a lounge-down with a bev or bone and remember how much you love Being and Nature by watching the Qatsi Trilogy at Documentary Heaven. You could start with Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance. A Palate cleansing after a hard-to-swallow reality check.

Or you could go the whole Earth Abides route, and prefer to see it the late George Carlin’s way. Cynical, but realistic, for a species that just doesn’t seem to give a shit about most things for very long. Distracted from distraction by distraction, as T.S. Eliot puts it. Of course, Carlin’s Way is unavailable to anyone with a family.

Still Fighting “Whatever” in Afghanistan

This just in:  Cable news presenter-hero Jake Tapper finds new spotlight at the Movies with the Millennium Media studio release of The Outpost, based on Tapper’s 2012 book The Outpost:  an Untold Story of American Valor. Tapper’s tale tells the story of a locally massive attack by Taliban-types on a remote American forward operating base, Combat Outpost Keating, in the precipitously rugged Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Nuristan, which borders Pakistan. This violent incident occurred on October 3, 2009, and is known as the Battle of Kamdesh, named for a village near the base.

At first glance, Mr Tapper’s literary foray into the American-Afghan war appears rather off-topic for a cable news teleprompter-reader, especially when Tapper was never “embedded” with the Troops “over there.”  So: what “American valor” is the Dartmouth-educated Tapper talking about?  What drove the perpetually peevish-looking Tapper to write upon a current conflict he never personally reported on happening in a galaxy far, far away?  Cable news anchor guilt?  A mid-career crisis, because our fearless Tapper has suddenly almost realized–even though he can’t quite form the words–that he’s just another paid tool echoing corporate War Machine talking points?  Recently, Tapper was interviewed by Yahoo Movies person Ethan Alter (July 2) in coordination with the roll-out of the film, and some of his answers are revealing

But first, a note about our man Tapper’s current employer (since 2013), CNN. CNN hit the jackpot in 1991 with its breathlessly promotional coverage of Iraq-Attack-One. Tapper’s elder-in-chief @ CNN, Wolf Bullshitzer, also cashed in on CNN’s “Desert Storm” news coup. Blitzer’s career as a hawking-head had suffered the great good fortune of joining America’s first 24-hour TV news network in May of 1990, as CNN’s Pentagon spokesperson, and he has been cheering on America’s “Whatever” wars from that desk ever since. Whatever Ted Turner’s original vision was for a round-the-clock TV news service (1980), by now it is quite clear that CNN was tailor-made for the War Department of the United States of America: “Only carefully scripted awkward questions, please!”

Now: back to that Tapper interview…

Our news hero Tapper’s spectrum of non-committance-to-cognitive-dissonance is more than manifest in his reply to a relevant question concerning the U.S. finally leaving Afghanistan altogether, as cartoon President Donald Trump has frequently falsely promised.  Indifferently chomping at the bit, Tapper blithely states that the “Taliban is the enemy,” but goes on to say that America should still maintain “…some sort of counter-terrorism presence, just in case ISIS, or Al-Quaeda, or whatever, rises up again.”  This “or whatever” really captures Tapper’s otherwise elusive conceptualization of the conflict.  Unfortunately, the interviewer–Ethan Alter–fails the Consumer-reader by not following-up with an uber-relevant question such as:  “Gee, Jake, but what would ‘whatever’ look like in Afghanistan today?  Are you so certain that We are not the Enemy over there?”  At this imaginary point in the “presser,” our successful info-tainment personality looks more peeved than usual:  Could we be the Enemy? ricochets around the echo chamber of his cable news brain…

Jake Tapper did eventually visit Afghanistan, that “galaxy far, far away,”  and was oratorically able to unleash this nugget from his “on-the-ground” experience there:

When we got to FOB Bostick, the mission was providing security for building a road so that there could be commerce, and improve the way of life for Afghans in that province. It’s just otherworldly, because you’d think building a road would be a basic project, and U.S. troops were killed for just being there.

This is a truly striking statement. Has our befuddled–or possibly even lobotomized–anchor-protagonist never heard of the “White Man’s Burden,” the sentiment of which he perfectly recapitulates in this quotation of his very own words? Again, one hears whizzes, zips and tiny bangs! whipping across Tapper’s unconsciously Kiplingesque mind as an Idea–behold, almost!–nearly forms there: Maybe the “Afghans” see the Americans as Stormtroopers like in a Star Wars movie– or whatever–as the Enemy, as opposed to how we prefer to Luke Skywalker ourselves...

Yet questioning nearly 2 decades of violent partial occupation of Afghanistan is not Tapper’s true mission; he’s “not a policymaker,” after all.  Instead, our Yellow Press agent concludes that “…we wanted to have respect and reverence for the fact that this story is about real people who died there.”  By “real people,” of course, Tapper means Americans, not Afghans, whom he barely mentions in the interview.

Despite Mr Tapper’s critical cluelessness concerning his subject of note, the fact that his book is now a movie reveals a curious collusion of interest between a Major Media News outlet and Hollywood.  Presumably, Tapper could have shopped his “story” to a documentary filmmaker, but instead chose the Hollywood outfit Millennium Media, which deals primarily in gung-ho testosterone fests.  A quick look at the trailer shows that The Outpost will indeed be an action-packed testosterone fest.  The tone of the film is most likely set in the last spoken line of the trailer:  “We’re taking this bitch back!” (Evidently, this movie is not being marketed to feminists…). By this mini-climax in the action of the film (which I will not be watching, as I have probably seen more than one-too-many jacked-up war movies in my time), Holy Camp Keating has been largely overrun by the Infidels, who were most likely not even Taliban, but fighters employed by the notorious Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who, ironically enough, is said to have received the most CIA funding of any Mujahideen leader fighting the Soviet Russians in Afghanistan during the 1980s.  Perhaps a figure like Hekmatyar fits the description of “or whatever” in Jake Tapper’s this-worldly, reality-challenged brain?  The Outpost, the movie, probably does not answer this question either, as one of the leading characters in the trailer informs his “men” that their mission is to “separate the Taliban from the ordinary people.”

How Many Green Berets Can be Physically Fit into a Hurt Locker?

The Outpost will most likely not be separating any Oscars from the mitts or myths of the Motion Picture Academy any time soon.  However, a war film of the “War on Terror” era that did delight the hawkish Hollywood elites was the 2009 release The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, which gobbled up 6 Oscar trophies, including “Best Picture.”  Needless to say, Major Mainstream Media critics universally praised the movie as well, which is quite telling, since the Hurt Locker totally whitewashes the criminal invasion of Iraq (a country run by a well-known criminal, by the way), as well as any lingering “liberal” institutional guilt over that crime.

At its soulless core, this movie focuses on the personal trauma of the American soldier–this mercenary–while ignoring the civilizational catastrophe that Iraq-Attack-Two was, and still remains.  Really, it’s kind of clever how this much-lauded propaganda piece accomplishes its aim, by substituting  the “IED” for the “WMD” story that was used to sell–or “justify”–the invasion.  This is the same move that CNN-guy Tapper makes with his Afghan battle book:  Fucking focus on the heroic” American soldier!, while the larger–and illegal–context of the “war” blurs into a contour-less, unaccountable background; after all, you can’t charge a shape that you can’t identify with a crime–and Afghanistan is one of the most shapeless places there is from an American point-of-view.

 The Hurt Locker also serves up steaming piles of “White Man’s Burden.” The Iraqis depicted in the film are, stereotypically enough, either victims or villains, with nothing but a killing ground in between; they are never granted, as real world actors, an ounce of so-called agency–unless it’s absolutely malevolent, of course. The one Iraqi that the American Bomb Disposal Unit befriends, a teen-age boy, naturally, gets callously sacrificed to show both the Americans’ good intentions, while also proving the absolute viciousness of the Iraqi “Improvised Explosive Device” makers–as if the United States had nobly invaded Iraq in order to rid the former British Mandate of it of its “IED” problem (“Never mind the WMD, folks:  They never existed in the first place!”). Incidentally, an Improvised Explosive Device pre-existing condition was not a pre-existing condition in Iraq until the United States arrived “in-Country”, in 2003.  In any case, the one Iraqi who is granted any kind of “identity” is quickly reduced to a symbol, or plot device.  Deus ex machina:  Hello!

On top–or over-the-top–of everything else that is wrong with this movie, the Oscar Award winning  Hurt Locker, there is the fundamental visual issue that the camera work is shoddy-to-terrible.  The basic camera work is “shakey,” as if the cameraperson needs a drink, because they are “shaking” because of their alcoholic condition. Or the camera zooms in too fast, which indicates that the cameraperson’s medication was inappropriately taken, and contra-indicatory effects are formalizing, so the scene looks weird, even though it is, which is nothing unusual, even though it is.

In other words, strictly speaking, The Hurt Locker is not a very good movie–never mind the “Best Picture”; or, it’s a very gratuitous play on what Iraq-Attack-Two really was.  Nevertheless, Hollywood really loved it just as much as the Mainstream Media embraced it–all of which indicates the wildly pro-War bias of both institutions: Hollywood and the Mass Media.  Who knew that both were playing the same Pentagonal tune?

Nevertheless, in the storied annals of pro-War pornography, not all War movies are loved the same. Although paternity is still difficult to determine with absolute certainty, even in this advanced age of DNA testing, it is highly probable that the “War on Terror” baby’s-Daddy was the undeclared war on Vietnam. With this hypothesis in mind, one war movie the Major Media establishment lovingly loathed was John Wayne’s explicitly pro-War film The Green Berets, which was released in the summer of 1968 while the American war on Vietnam was in full-tilt boogie mode. Although a cliche-ridden testosterone fest in its own self-righteous right, The Green Berets is light years more honest than its bastard offspring The Hurt Locker, as the propaganda agenda of Wayne’s film is flaunted, not hidden. Still, there is a basic deception woven into the “Duke’s” attempt to re-enlist the movie-going Public’s support for an undeclared war that was fast becoming demonstrably unpopular.

The real Green Berets are an elite U.S. Army unit, whereas the vast majority of the half million Americans fighting in Vietnam were mandatory draftees who did not have a choice to opt out, unlike famous non-combatants like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Dick Cheney, etc. By dwelling on an elite fighting unit, Wayne’s instrument for winning back “Hearts and Minds” on the Homefront would appear to have been out of tune.  Nevertheless, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense because the American war against Vietnam was launched by elites–just as all subsequent American “undeclared” wars have been ever since. The average American citizen has zero stake in any of these foreign wars. I can hear Jake Tapper’s brain rattling: If we de-fund the Pentagon I’ll be out of a job, so…

Of course, John Wayne’s jingo Vietnam movie did not make too much of a splash–although the “Duke” did brag about the box office cash at the time. Live television coverage probably had as much as anything else to do with turning the American Public against the war, and so the plug was finally pulled on that atrocity. In the meantime, the Pentagon’s fixed that Media image problem; our current series of wars are “special access” only. We’re occasionally allowed the “Live Look-in,” but only with carefully curated framing. CNN’s Jake Tapper is just such a curator. If one were to say to Jake: “This Afghan War’s vainglorious genocidal bullshit!” the Tapper would shift or swivel uncomfortably, look extra peevish, and tell the too far left-or-right critic that it’s all about “valor,” which is exactly what he’s paid to do.

Just to wrap up:  even though I gave CNN’s Jake Tapper the “lead,” so to speak, in this article, I would like to give a real journalist the final words on the subject. Concerning the multiple Academy Award winning movie The Hurt Locker, the venerable John Pilger had this to say: “It offers a vicarious thrill via yet another standard-issue psychopath high on violence in someone else’s country where the deaths of a million people are consigned to cinematic oblivion.”

Still Fighting “Whatever” in Afghanistan

This just in:  Cable news presenter-hero Jake Tapper finds new spotlight at the Movies with the Millennium Media studio release of The Outpost, based on Tapper’s 2012 book The Outpost:  an Untold Story of American Valor. Tapper’s tale tells the story of a locally massive attack by Taliban-types on a remote American forward operating base, Combat Outpost Keating, in the precipitously rugged Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Nuristan, which borders Pakistan. This violent incident occurred on October 3, 2009, and is known as the Battle of Kamdesh, named for a village near the base.

At first glance, Mr Tapper’s literary foray into the American-Afghan war appears rather off-topic for a cable news teleprompter-reader, especially when Tapper was never “embedded” with the Troops “over there.”  So: what “American valor” is the Dartmouth-educated Tapper talking about?  What drove the perpetually peevish-looking Tapper to write upon a current conflict he never personally reported on happening in a galaxy far, far away?  Cable news anchor guilt?  A mid-career crisis, because our fearless Tapper has suddenly almost realized–even though he can’t quite form the words–that he’s just another paid tool echoing corporate War Machine talking points?  Recently, Tapper was interviewed by Yahoo Movies person Ethan Alter (July 2) in coordination with the roll-out of the film, and some of his answers are revealing

But first, a note about our man Tapper’s current employer (since 2013), CNN. CNN hit the jackpot in 1991 with its breathlessly promotional coverage of Iraq-Attack-One. Tapper’s elder-in-chief @ CNN, Wolf Bullshitzer, also cashed in on CNN’s “Desert Storm” news coup. Blitzer’s career as a hawking-head had suffered the great good fortune of joining America’s first 24-hour TV news network in May of 1990, as CNN’s Pentagon spokesperson, and he has been cheering on America’s “Whatever” wars from that desk ever since. Whatever Ted Turner’s original vision was for a round-the-clock TV news service (1980), by now it is quite clear that CNN was tailor-made for the War Department of the United States of America: “Only carefully scripted awkward questions, please!”

Now: back to that Tapper interview…

Our news hero Tapper’s spectrum of non-committance-to-cognitive-dissonance is more than manifest in his reply to a relevant question concerning the U.S. finally leaving Afghanistan altogether, as cartoon President Donald Trump has frequently falsely promised.  Indifferently chomping at the bit, Tapper blithely states that the “Taliban is the enemy,” but goes on to say that America should still maintain “…some sort of counter-terrorism presence, just in case ISIS, or Al-Quaeda, or whatever, rises up again.”  This “or whatever” really captures Tapper’s otherwise elusive conceptualization of the conflict.  Unfortunately, the interviewer–Ethan Alter–fails the Consumer-reader by not following-up with an uber-relevant question such as:  “Gee, Jake, but what would ‘whatever’ look like in Afghanistan today?  Are you so certain that We are not the Enemy over there?”  At this imaginary point in the “presser,” our successful info-tainment personality looks more peeved than usual:  Could we be the Enemy? ricochets around the echo chamber of his cable news brain…

Jake Tapper did eventually visit Afghanistan, that “galaxy far, far away,”  and was oratorically able to unleash this nugget from his “on-the-ground” experience there:

When we got to FOB Bostick, the mission was providing security for building a road so that there could be commerce, and improve the way of life for Afghans in that province. It’s just otherworldly, because you’d think building a road would be a basic project, and U.S. troops were killed for just being there.

This is a truly striking statement. Has our befuddled–or possibly even lobotomized–anchor-protagonist never heard of the “White Man’s Burden,” the sentiment of which he perfectly recapitulates in this quotation of his very own words? Again, one hears whizzes, zips and tiny bangs! whipping across Tapper’s unconsciously Kiplingesque mind as an Idea–behold, almost!–nearly forms there: Maybe the “Afghans” see the Americans as Stormtroopers like in a Star Wars movie– or whatever–as the Enemy, as opposed to how we prefer to Luke Skywalker ourselves...

Yet questioning nearly 2 decades of violent partial occupation of Afghanistan is not Tapper’s true mission; he’s “not a policymaker,” after all.  Instead, our Yellow Press agent concludes that “…we wanted to have respect and reverence for the fact that this story is about real people who died there.”  By “real people,” of course, Tapper means Americans, not Afghans, whom he barely mentions in the interview.

Despite Mr Tapper’s critical cluelessness concerning his subject of note, the fact that his book is now a movie reveals a curious collusion of interest between a Major Media News outlet and Hollywood.  Presumably, Tapper could have shopped his “story” to a documentary filmmaker, but instead chose the Hollywood outfit Millennium Media, which deals primarily in gung-ho testosterone fests.  A quick look at the trailer shows that The Outpost will indeed be an action-packed testosterone fest.  The tone of the film is most likely set in the last spoken line of the trailer:  “We’re taking this bitch back!” (Evidently, this movie is not being marketed to feminists…). By this mini-climax in the action of the film (which I will not be watching, as I have probably seen more than one-too-many jacked-up war movies in my time), Holy Camp Keating has been largely overrun by the Infidels, who were most likely not even Taliban, but fighters employed by the notorious Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who, ironically enough, is said to have received the most CIA funding of any Mujahideen leader fighting the Soviet Russians in Afghanistan during the 1980s.  Perhaps a figure like Hekmatyar fits the description of “or whatever” in Jake Tapper’s this-worldly, reality-challenged brain?  The Outpost, the movie, probably does not answer this question either, as one of the leading characters in the trailer informs his “men” that their mission is to “separate the Taliban from the ordinary people.”

How Many Green Berets Can be Physically Fit into a Hurt Locker?

The Outpost will most likely not be separating any Oscars from the mitts or myths of the Motion Picture Academy any time soon.  However, a war film of the “War on Terror” era that did delight the hawkish Hollywood elites was the 2009 release The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, which gobbled up 6 Oscar trophies, including “Best Picture.”  Needless to say, Major Mainstream Media critics universally praised the movie as well, which is quite telling, since the Hurt Locker totally whitewashes the criminal invasion of Iraq (a country run by a well-known criminal, by the way), as well as any lingering “liberal” institutional guilt over that crime.

At its soulless core, this movie focuses on the personal trauma of the American soldier–this mercenary–while ignoring the civilizational catastrophe that Iraq-Attack-Two was, and still remains.  Really, it’s kind of clever how this much-lauded propaganda piece accomplishes its aim, by substituting  the “IED” for the “WMD” story that was used to sell–or “justify”–the invasion.  This is the same move that CNN-guy Tapper makes with his Afghan battle book:  Fucking focus on the heroic” American soldier!, while the larger–and illegal–context of the “war” blurs into a contour-less, unaccountable background; after all, you can’t charge a shape that you can’t identify with a crime–and Afghanistan is one of the most shapeless places there is from an American point-of-view.

 The Hurt Locker also serves up steaming piles of “White Man’s Burden.” The Iraqis depicted in the film are, stereotypically enough, either victims or villains, with nothing but a killing ground in between; they are never granted, as real world actors, an ounce of so-called agency–unless it’s absolutely malevolent, of course. The one Iraqi that the American Bomb Disposal Unit befriends, a teen-age boy, naturally, gets callously sacrificed to show both the Americans’ good intentions, while also proving the absolute viciousness of the Iraqi “Improvised Explosive Device” makers–as if the United States had nobly invaded Iraq in order to rid the former British Mandate of it of its “IED” problem (“Never mind the WMD, folks:  They never existed in the first place!”). Incidentally, an Improvised Explosive Device pre-existing condition was not a pre-existing condition in Iraq until the United States arrived “in-Country”, in 2003.  In any case, the one Iraqi who is granted any kind of “identity” is quickly reduced to a symbol, or plot device.  Deus ex machina:  Hello!

On top–or over-the-top–of everything else that is wrong with this movie, the Oscar Award winning  Hurt Locker, there is the fundamental visual issue that the camera work is shoddy-to-terrible.  The basic camera work is “shakey,” as if the cameraperson needs a drink, because they are “shaking” because of their alcoholic condition. Or the camera zooms in too fast, which indicates that the cameraperson’s medication was inappropriately taken, and contra-indicatory effects are formalizing, so the scene looks weird, even though it is, which is nothing unusual, even though it is.

In other words, strictly speaking, The Hurt Locker is not a very good movie–never mind the “Best Picture”; or, it’s a very gratuitous play on what Iraq-Attack-Two really was.  Nevertheless, Hollywood really loved it just as much as the Mainstream Media embraced it–all of which indicates the wildly pro-War bias of both institutions: Hollywood and the Mass Media.  Who knew that both were playing the same Pentagonal tune?

Nevertheless, in the storied annals of pro-War pornography, not all War movies are loved the same. Although paternity is still difficult to determine with absolute certainty, even in this advanced age of DNA testing, it is highly probable that the “War on Terror” baby’s-Daddy was the undeclared war on Vietnam. With this hypothesis in mind, one war movie the Major Media establishment lovingly loathed was John Wayne’s explicitly pro-War film The Green Berets, which was released in the summer of 1968 while the American war on Vietnam was in full-tilt boogie mode. Although a cliche-ridden testosterone fest in its own self-righteous right, The Green Berets is light years more honest than its bastard offspring The Hurt Locker, as the propaganda agenda of Wayne’s film is flaunted, not hidden. Still, there is a basic deception woven into the “Duke’s” attempt to re-enlist the movie-going Public’s support for an undeclared war that was fast becoming demonstrably unpopular.

The real Green Berets are an elite U.S. Army unit, whereas the vast majority of the half million Americans fighting in Vietnam were mandatory draftees who did not have a choice to opt out, unlike famous non-combatants like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Dick Cheney, etc. By dwelling on an elite fighting unit, Wayne’s instrument for winning back “Hearts and Minds” on the Homefront would appear to have been out of tune.  Nevertheless, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense because the American war against Vietnam was launched by elites–just as all subsequent American “undeclared” wars have been ever since. The average American citizen has zero stake in any of these foreign wars. I can hear Jake Tapper’s brain rattling: If we de-fund the Pentagon I’ll be out of a job, so…

Of course, John Wayne’s jingo Vietnam movie did not make too much of a splash–although the “Duke” did brag about the box office cash at the time. Live television coverage probably had as much as anything else to do with turning the American Public against the war, and so the plug was finally pulled on that atrocity. In the meantime, the Pentagon’s fixed that Media image problem; our current series of wars are “special access” only. We’re occasionally allowed the “Live Look-in,” but only with carefully curated framing. CNN’s Jake Tapper is just such a curator. If one were to say to Jake: “This Afghan War’s vainglorious genocidal bullshit!” the Tapper would shift or swivel uncomfortably, look extra peevish, and tell the too far left-or-right critic that it’s all about “valor,” which is exactly what he’s paid to do.

Just to wrap up:  even though I gave CNN’s Jake Tapper the “lead,” so to speak, in this article, I would like to give a real journalist the final words on the subject. Concerning the multiple Academy Award winning movie The Hurt Locker, the venerable John Pilger had this to say: “It offers a vicarious thrill via yet another standard-issue psychopath high on violence in someone else’s country where the deaths of a million people are consigned to cinematic oblivion.”

Moore’s Planet of the Humans: More Misanthropic than Malthus

In reverential tones with ominous background music, director of Planet of the Humans Jeff Gibbs intones about “the most terrifying realization I ever had.” Gibbs instructs us, “Every expert I talked to wanted to bring my attention to the same underlying problem.” It is “not the elephant but the herd of elephants in the room,” Prof. Nina Jablonski warns. “The underlying problem,” the movie earnestly preaches is that “there are too many human beings.”

Planet of the Humans is produced and promoted by Michael Moore and is free online. The underlying message of the movie, critiquing the green energy movement, is about the existential threat of human overpopulation. “Without seeing a major die-off in population, there is no turning back,” is anthropologist Steven Churchill’s gloomy prognostication.

This truly draconian deduction makes the “zero population growth” (ZPG) folks look like baby boom boosters. Seminal overpopulation theorist Thomas Malthus, who opposed the English Poor Laws because they relieved human suffering, would be by comparison a humanitarian. (Spoiler alert: the movie does not prescribe any particular means of achieving the die-off.)

Prof. Churchill presents a cautionary tale in the movie: “Species hit the population wall and then they crash. It is a common story in biology. If it happens to us, it is the natural order of things.” As a professional conservation biologist, I can attest that not a single one of the 1,540 species on the US Endangered Species list got there because their populations indiscreetly boomed and then crashed. The cautionary tale is really a fictional tale, not a common story and not the natural order of things.

Paradox of Our Times

An uncritically favorable review of the movie by a self-described “pal” of the director comments, “The bottom line is that there are too many Clever Apes, consuming too much; too rapidly. And ALL efforts on addressing the climate costs are reduced to illusions/delusions designed to keep our over-sized human footprint.”

So, are we humans using too much, too fast as the movie warns? The answer is apparently not everybody. Some 24,600 of us die every day from starvation in a world where there are food surpluses and more than enough food to feed everyone. Likewise, 3,000 children die every day from preventable malaria. And 10,000 fellow human beings die every day because they are denied publicly funded healthcare.

To put these numbers into context, the peak world daily death toll for the coronavirus pandemic was 10,520 on April 26. The current world daily death toll, as of this writing, is 5,728. That is, the magnitude of preventable starvation is over four times the current death rate for COVID-19.

An anti-viral vaccine is not yet available to protect from COVID-19, but a square meal is all that is needed to cure the malady of starvation. And there is no impediment from international property rights in sharing bread.

These dreadful statistics on existing world hunger are, in relative terms, the good news. The UN World Food Program most recently reports that the coronavirus crisis could double the number of people suffering acute hunger. “COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread,” said Dr. Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program. “It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like COVID-19 – to push them over the edge.”

Especially hard hit are the countries in the crosshairs of US imperialism, including a third of humanity subject to unilateral coercive measures by the US – so called, sanctions. For example, the UN World Food Program reports, “the needs in Syria have never been greater”; likewise for Yemen. These people are suffering from imperialism not, as the movie contends, from overpopulation.

Obscured by overpopulation ideology, which monomaniacally focuses on over-consumption, the movie fails to recognize the existence of monumental under-consumption for the majority of the world’s population. The paradox of our times is that we live in an era, for the first time in human history, when the technical means to end poverty are in place. The means of production have advanced so that human needs can be met. At the same time, the relations of production are such that these needs are not met. Gross over-consumption and acute under-consumption are two sides of the same coin.

Left out of the “every expert” interviewed in Planet of the Humans are authorities such as Eric Holt-Gimenez, former director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy. His research indicates, “We already grow enough food for 10 billion people – and still can’t end hunger. Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity.” The world’s population is currently 7.8 billion. The 10 billion people that Holt-Gimenez refers to is what the UN Population Division projects as the leveling out number, which is projected to occur by the end of this century.

Clearly more than simple human demographics are at play with the paradox of starvation amidst plenty, especially considering Holt-Gimenez’s finding: “For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth.” That story is omitted by the misanthropic Planet of the Humans.

Too Many People?

When in the movie Richard Heinberg, author of The End of Growth, says “There are too many human beings, using too much, too fast,” he is right about some people. We have too many super-rich, though you wouldn’t know that from watching the movie.

The wealthiest 1% of the population own over half of all household wealth in the world. From a global warming point of view, the richest 10% are responsible for almost half of total lifestyle consumption emissions. Meanwhile, the poorest 50% are responsible for only about 10% of the total lifestyle consumption emissions.

A similarly inequitable pattern, ignored by the movie, is evident when comparing the wealthy developed countries to the rest of the world. Per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the more developed countries are around three times higher than the world average. The developed countries are the ones most responsible and least at risk from global warming. The poorest nations contribute less than 1% of total world greenhouse gas emissions.

While the US unjustly calls upon the poor nations of the world to assume a level of responsibility for combatting global warming, which would impede their development, the rich nations of the world have been both the beneficiaries and the cause of today’s excessive greenhouse gas production.

The United States stands out in terms of global warming in three respects: greatest historical contributor of greenhouse gasses, among the highest per capita greenhouse gas producers of the more populous countries, and the highest oil producer.

The rich nations, with the US as most prominent, have a “climate debt” to pay off, because it is their military and their industry which has disproportionately caused global warming. For all the angst and indignation expressed in Planet of the Humans about the environment, not a murmur is heard about climate justice.

Climate Science and Overpopulation Ideology

The climate movement, so roundly criticized in the movie, is based on science, while the overpopulation ideology espoused in the movie is not. The climate movement can scientifically demonstrate, when human-caused global warming began. But the overpopulation ideologues cannot say what date overpopulation began. As Karl Marx demonstrated in his critique of Thomas Malthus 200 years ago, the overpopulation ideologues theorize the planet was always overpopulated.

The climate scientists can demonstrate a relationship between concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and global warming. The overpopulation ideologues cannot demonstrate a scientific relationship between population and resource consumption because they ignore the issues of concentration of wealth and unequal distribution.

The climate scientists can quantify a level of greenhouse gasses which is desirable to prevent catastrophic global warming. In fact, the leading US climate movement group, 350.org, takes its name from that scientific finding. In contrast, the overpopulation ideologues can give no optimal number of humans other than the prejudicial declaration “there’s too many of them.” And by “them,” they implicitly mean people that are not like them and their friends.

Time to Fix the Population Fixation

Planet of the Humans savages the green energy movement for its collusion with capitalists, yet the movie fails to make the next logical step of indicting the capitalist system’s inherent imperative for endless growth while generating inequalities. Instead, movie director Jeff Gibbs blames overpopulation, concluding: “We must accept that our human presence is already far beyond sustainability.”

Fortunately, there is a growing understanding that his is not the right “fix.” According to a commendable recent issue of the Sierra Club magazine, it is “time to fix the population fixation.”

The problem is not the fertility of women but over-consumption and the outsized contribution of the wealthiest few, found in the wealthiest nations, to the climate catastrophe. Birth rates go down when human needs are met and women are afforded reproductive freedom. Planet of the Humans director Gibbs is right that there are some things truly “terrifying” going on (e.g., nuclear annihilation), but it is not due to that most human act of procreation.

The Fate of Capitalism as a Globalist Runaway Train

Western countries see the rest of the world as their playing field fit only for exploitation.
— Pramoedya Ananta Toer in conversation with Andre Vltchek, in Jakarta, 2004

The “global playing field” is “level” only from the perspective of the west.
— Robert H Wade

Spoiler alert

Introduction

The success of Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite (2019) has drawn attention to his back catalogue, in particular his first mainly English-language film, Snowpiercer (2013).

Snowpiercer is a fast-paced movie about a train on a global circular train track, set in the future after a climate change engineering experiment goes wrong. Ice cold temperatures freeze the world into a new ice age. The train is designed and run by the magnate Wilford to circumnavigate the planet perpetually. The passengers, the earth’s only survivors, are segregated: the elites in the luxurious forward cars and the poorest in the grimy tail compartments.  The tail-enders, led by Curtis, decide to revolt and make a plan to get through the fortified doors of each carriage to take over and control the train. However, after battles with the train guards take a heavy toll on the insurgents, a select few are brought to the front of the train to meet Wilford.

The film encapsulates the class system very cleverly with different classes enjoying very different levels of comfort on the train. The tail-enders revolt was only the latest in a series of failed revolutions on the train. This latest revolutionary failure under Curtis’ leadership heralds a change in the tone of the film from violent battle scenes to increasingly decadent and bizarre scenes as he moves through the elite carriages. The disappointing failure of the insurrection seems to have led some film critics to see the film as a depressing metaphor for class struggle. The journey of the survivors through the train to the cockpit seems surreal and pointless after the initial exciting revolutionary exuberance.

Snowpiercer (2013), Director: Bong Joon-ho

Metaphorically speaking

However, a different way of looking at the film might throw some light on the dramatic changes that take place throughout the narrative of the film. And that would be to look at the film, not as a metaphor of class, but as a metaphor of time.

There are many key symbols throughout the film that suggest the train and its carriages are a metaphor for the passage of time, not least that the train itself represents the arrow of time, but also the progress of capitalism through the twentieth century.

That is, a metaphor for the progress and profound changes of the twentieth century that led to climate change, and the attempts to rectify it in the twenty-first century experimental disaster that followed.

Seeing the train as a metaphor of time also clarifies why the narrative changes from a people’s uprising to elite decadence. It is a view of the twentieth century which looks at class but does not have a class analysis. What it has instead is a nihilistic ecological analysis which prefers to see the destruction of society itself (and all those who both benefit from it and all those who are exploited by it) rather than face up to global issues of exploitation and injustice. If there is any hope it is rather vaguely put into a reverse biblical Adam and Eve symbolism whereby the survivors return to the earthly Garden of Paradise much chastened by their catastrophic expulsion.

Carriages and Time: Depicting the Twentieth Century

1910s and 1920s: Slum

The film starts with the failed climate engineering ‘chemtrails’ and moves swiftly to the carriage where the tail-enders, led by Curtis and his second-in-command Edgar, are being overseen by armed militia. The atmosphere is Dickensian as the living quarters resemble slums from the Industrial Revolution. The dirty grey clothes, drawn faces and squalor are straight out of the documentary photography of the early twentieth century and resemble descriptions from Upton Sinclair’s extraordinary novel The Jungle (1906) of the meat-packing industry in Chicago. The first three train cars we see depict a ghetto slum, a prison and mortuary, and a factory respectively. In the prison car they release Namgoong, a captive security specialist, and his clairvoyant daughter Yona to open the doors. They enter the factory car that makes their black protein bars (‘nutrient gel’) and discover the large hoppers are full of cockroaches. This scene could be straight out of The Jungle as Sinclair describes the sausage-making process:

There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was moldy and white – it would be doused with borax and glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption. There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats. These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then the rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together.

1930s and 1940s: Fascism

After the shock of seeing the contents of their diet the insurgents move on to the next carriage door. As the doors open they face a large group of burly masked men dressed in black and carrying hatchets. They launch into a bloody battle. This scene is reminiscent of the street battles between workers and fascists in England, Germany and Spain in the 1930s. As if to make the point clearer the hatchets resemble the axe of the fasces, a bound bundle of wooden rods, including an axe with its blade emerging carried by the Roman lictors. (The lictor‘s main task was to attend as bodyguards to magistrates who held imperium. The axes symbolized the power to carry out capital punishment and became a symbol of the Italian fascists). And the group’s leader is called Franco the Elder.

Things get worse as the train goes into a long tunnel while the ‘lictors’ put on night vision goggles. The complete overpowering of the tail-enders in the dark reminds one of the total war of Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Eventually, lit torches are brought up from the back of the train and the rebels overcome the men in black. Despite this victory, the group of insurgents is much weakened and at this point it is decided that Curtis, Namgoong, Yona, skilled fighter Grey, and Tanya and Andrew will go it alone to the top of the train. The revolution is effectively over and a select few are brought forward to meet the elite.

1950s: Self-Sufficiency

The small group are now brought through the fifth car showing a woman knitting in a conservatory listening to classical music. All is quiet as peaceful workers tend to the vegetable plants. The sixth car is an aquarium with a sushi bar. They sit down and have real food for the first time since they got on the train.

The symbolism of Japan at this point in the chronology is interesting as:

Post-World War II Japan of the 1950s and ’60s saw many changes. It experienced record economic growth and advances in manufacturing and design that resulted in a wealth of goods that fascinated people across the world.

Japan also has significance as an Asian country with a development curve similar to the West. The seventh car is depicted as a fully stocked refrigerated meat section. These cars of fruit, vegetables, and meat could easily represent the post world war nationalist ideology of self-sufficiency, that partly arose out of the war economy, but was soon affected by supranational free trade areas and international free trade agreements. For example:

In the 19th century, Britain did completely embrace free trade. It was enormously to our advantage to do so, as the workshop of the world, and we imported most of our food by the end of the 19th century. The result was that we nearly starved in two world wars. After the Second World War, we did not make the same mistake; even with the enormous change in tastes and increase in food imports in recent decades, we still produce more than half of what we eat.

The eight car is a classroom where the teacher, a middle class lady dressed in 1950s style clothing, tells the children about the greatness of Wilford and the “sacred engine”. The children are taught negative views of the ‘Old Worlders’ and the ‘Tail Sectioners’, for example:

YLFA (8) a sweet little girl with blond pigtails waves her hand at Teacher.  She jumps up without being acknowledged…
YLFA: I heard all Tail Sectioners were lazy dogs who slept all day in their own shit. […]
YLFA: Old World people were frigging morons who got turned into popsicles!

Boiled eggs are handed out to the children and the workers. However, guns are concealed underneath and the teacher pulls out a machine gun and starts firing at the rebels and is killed. This is a shocking moment revealing the fanaticism and violence of Wilford’s supporters.

Curtis’ declining group continues through the ninth and tenth car which resemble luxury carriages from the Orient Express. In car 10 they pass by an academic, a dentist and a tailor all busy at work in their compartments.

1960s: Equilibrium

In the eleventh car there is a very plush bar where the elites inhabit their own world in their own older fashion sense.  A staircase leads up to a row of women sitting under typical 1960s hair salon hair-drying chairs. The next car has swimming pools straight out of a 1960s James Bond movie where another gun battle takes place. The 13th car has two rows of individual sauna cubicles. These carriages (from the 5th to the 13th) have a mood of equilibrium and peace where the elites can live undisturbed and the middle classes can enjoy the good life.

1970s and 1980s: Decadence

However, now the rebel group (Curtis, Namgoong, and Yona) enter a disco in the 14th car where we see the middle class youth for the first time dancing and taking drugs. They are kept constantly high and drunk. After the disco they pass through a nightclub VIP room where the drugged out ‘zombies’ loll about in animal skins oblivious to the drama taking over the train.

1990s and 2000s: Computer Age

This leads them into a carriage lined with banks of computers and large engine cogs turning the wheels of the train. The last carriage for Curtis is the section where Wilford himself resides behind massive metal doors. Here the system is digitised and runs on a perpetual power source. Despite its technological sophistication it still needs children (Tim) from the tail-end of the train to sit in the works as living components of its power generation. The ‘perpetual’ or ‘sacred’ engine feeds off the poorest and  youngest to keep going indefinitely, symbolising capitalist dependence on children in the factories and mines of the nineteenth century, and the child labour scandals in the modern factories of today.

Thus the whole train seems to move through time as well as space. From slums to fascism, expansionism to decadence and finally technology and the 1%, the elites on the train promote a hierarchical system and ideology which they believe is ‘correct’ and ‘natural’. As Wilford says to Curtis:

Wilford: Curtis, everyone has their own pre-ordained position.  This way and that…and everyone is in it.  Except you.
Curtis: That’s what people in the best place say to the people in the worst place.  There’s not a soul on this train who wouldn’t trade places with you.

This ‘correct’ attitude can still be seen among the aristocracy today, as Chris Bryant writes:

Historically, the British aristocracy’s defining feature was not a noble aspiration to serve the common weal but a desperate desire for self-advancement. They stole land under the pretence of piety in the early middle ages, they seized it by conquest, they expropriated it from the monasteries and they enclosed it for their private use under the pretence of efficiency. They grasped wealth, corruptly carved out their niche at the pinnacle of society and held on to it with a vice-like grip. They endlessly reinforced their own status and enforced deference on others through ostentatiously exorbitant expenditure on palaces, clothing and jewellery. They laid down a strict set of rules for the rest of society, but lived by a different standard. Such was their sense of entitlement that they believed – and persuaded others to believe – that a hierarchical society with them placed firmly and unassailably at the top was the natural order of things. Even to suggest otherwise, they implied, was to shake the foundations of morality.

In Snowpiercer, the train hierarchy is a patriarchal system of which Wilford is the highest priest of the ‘sacred’ engine and father of all. The whole system is self-reproducing as the children of the middle class and elites are indoctrinated into it from an early age.

Throughout his journey through the cars Namgoong has been collecting the drug Kronole made from hallucinogenic industrial waste which is also highly flammable. He pushes the small blocks together to make a plastic explosive bomb which he uses to blow open a train door. However, the explosive shock waves cause the train to be hit by successively stronger avalanches and is eventually derailed and crashes. Everybody is killed except for Yona and Tim (as far as we know).

This metaphor for the complete collapse of the whole system (and a catastrophe triggered by an unforeseen event) is typical of modern ecological ideologies that blame the ‘greed’ of the human race for climate chaos, and not the global class system which exploits natural resources relentlessly, and under which the vast majority of people have to struggle to survive. Thus, ideologically, the working class not only fails to take control of the train (and thereby the system) but is itself destroyed in the train crash.

Conclusion

On a broader level the survival of Yona and Tim has some interesting parallels with Mao’s Three Worlds Theory. In the Snowpiercer narrative, the First World [e.g.the US] and Second World [e.g. Europe and Japan] are destroyed while the Third World [e.g. Asia (Yona) and Africa (Tim)] survives to repopulate the world presumably with a more nature-friendly ideology. Thus the survivors become a metaphor for the supra-national entities of Asia and Africa, who, after centuries of colonialism and imperialism (by the First and Second Worlds) cannot be blamed for not investigating the destruction behind them as they walk away.

Changing Depictions of America in Cinema: Signs of ‘Self-Awareness’, ‘Resistance’ or a ‘Multipolar World’?

• Author’s Note:  Contains spoilers for Knives Out (2019), Bacurau (2019), and The Wandering Earth (2019)

How can I confound myself with those who today already find a hearing? — Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some are born posthumously.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 1895

Introduction

2019 was a very interesting year in cinema, in particular for the South Korean film Parasite which became the first film in a language other than English to win Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards. The success of Parasite shows the changing attitude of Americans towards foreign cinema. 2019 also showed three major new films (national and international) with varying depictions of America’s relations with the rest of the world: Knives Out (2019), Bacurau (2019) and The Wandering Earth (2019). All three films present a hardening attitude towards taken-for-granted positive roles and image of the United States. This is unusual for mainstream cinema. In Knives out, an American film, a wealthy American family is depicted as a greedy, grasping lot in contrast to the South American caregiver of their father. Like Parasite, we see class and inequality playing itself out horrendously for the wealthy family as the tables turn against them in this modern whodunit.

In the Brazilian film Bacurau, a group of American adventurists bent on hunting human prey, also end up badly as the village unites and fights back. In the Chinese science fiction film, The Wandering Earth, America is more conspicuous by its absence in a story of a world government saving the planet by shifting it off to revolve around another star. It is a film that doesn’t exclude the United States completely, but like its country’s diplomatic attitude of trying not to provoke a head-on confrontation with America, The Wandering Earth shows the Chinese getting on with things on their own initiative.

In all three films there is no negotiation, no crossover, no resolution, no happy ending whereby typically the United States resolves problems resulting in a negotiated, face-saving outcome that makes everyone happy. This is all a far cry from the outcome of an older film, The Day After Tomorrow from 2004, that also depicts the United States’ relationship with a Latin American country, Mexico. The Northern Hemisphere is freezing over and the immigration situation is reversed as thousands of Americans flood across the border into Mexico. While the Mexicans are not particularly happy about this (considering the American attitude to Mexican immigrants and the US border fences) they turn the situation to their advantage and negotiate a debt forgiveness deal. Which begs the question: what would the Mexicans have done if they had not owed the United States a lot of money? Would the Mexicans have kept them out? or would they generously have helped them anyway despite the way they were treated historically? All this shows why it is important to stay on good terms with one’s neighbours. But that was 2004.

In 2019 we see changing attitudes. In Knives Out, Bacurau, and The Wandering Earth we are shown something symbolically different by three different directors: how America sees itself, how Brazil sees the United States and how China perceives America. I will look at each of these three films in turn briefly to examine this changing attitude.

Theatrical poster

Knives Out

In Knives Out, wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey is a self-made whose novels have made him rich. His family all depend on, feed off, or siphon off funds from him. However, Harlan has decided he has had enough of keeping his extended family financially afloat. Marta is his low paid caregiver who treats all the family with great respect. She is a south/central American but nobody really knows or cares:

“Ransom to Harlan:   To your Brazilian nurse? Are you goddamn insane?”
“Richard: No, Marta your family came from Uruguay but you did it right, she did it legally, I’m saying.”
“Linda: Uh. There was Fran, the housekeeper.  Marta, Harlan’s caregiver, good girl, hard worker. Family’s from Ecuador.”
“Richard: Good kid, been a good friend to Harlan. Her family’s from Paraguay. Linda really likes her work ethic.”

After Harlan’s death, Marta inherits all his property and money. The family use coercion, persuasion, threats and blackmail to try and get the property back. Harlan’s grandson Ransom coerces Marta into confessing to him and offers to help her in exchange for a share of the inheritance. The other Thrombeys try to persuade Marta to renounce the inheritance; Walt threatens to expose her mother as an undocumented immigrant:

“Walt: Marta if your mom came here illegally, criminally, if you come into this inheritance with the scrutiny that entails I’d be afraid that could come to light. That’s what we’re all trying to avoid here. We can protect you from that happening, or if it happens.
Marta: You’re saying even if it came to light, with the family’s resources you could help me fix it.
Walt: Yes. The right lawyers, none of those local guys but New York lawyers, DC lawyers, enough resources put towards it, yes.  But there’s no need it should ever even come up. But yes.
Marta: Ok. Good.
Walt: Ok?
Marta: Cause Harlan gave me all your resources. So that means with my resources I’ll be able to fix it. So I guess I’m going to go find the right lawyers.”

Already Marta sees the advantages of having lots of money in a materialistic world. The family hope to have Marta convicted of Harlan’s death so that slayer law will invalidate the will. However, this does not happen as the whodunit story structure plays itself out. In the last scene the family are all looking up at Marta on the balcony holding a mug bearing the legend: “My house, my rules”. This time there will be no negotiation.

The family have no one to blame but themselves as all their aggressive tactics fail one by one. They lose everything in the process but most of all they lose respect and sympathy. Marta is an immigrant, a symbolic representative of Latin America, of the Third World. The First World is in a serious economic crisis with mounting debts. Is Knives Out a morality tale about the First World and the wider world? After decades of geopolitical manipulation and military action around the world combined with massive national debts, how would the First World be perceived if it all suddenly fell apart? So much of our economy is based on cheap production in Third World countries. If real wealth is rooted in production (and not digitally created fiat currencies) then could we also see a wealth switch some day?

Theatrical poster

Bacurau

Bacurau is a fictional Brazilian town that becomes the focus for a group of American gamers who want to use real people in a trophy hunting game. The town is cut off, first it disappears from maps and then their WiFi signal disappears. The group uses a drone to spy on the village. Michael, their leader is older and of German origin. When two Brazilian helpers of the gamer group kill locals they are shot for interfering in the ‘white people’s’ game. Their identity cards show that they work for the Brazil state. At first the towns people are confused about the random shootings of their neighbours. However, as they learn what is going on the villagers fall back on their own natural (and historical) survival skills as they remove their old guns from their village museum.

The gamers head to the village but are then abandoned by the leader, Michael (an ageing German played by Udo Kier), who goes to high ground to a sniper position. Without leadership, the first two gamers are outsmarted and killed by a Brazilian old couple who have guns. Michael shoots everything that moves in the village including the gamers (like the Nazi Amon Göth shooting random Jews from his balcony overlooking a concentration camp).

The rest of the gamers are killed by the hiding villagers. All are beheaded and their heads are displayed in front of church, but with no triumphalism. This act reflects the Brazilian folk hero Lampião and his cangaceiros (Cangaço – “social banditry” against the government) who had their heads publicly exhibited in a square.

Michael is captured and buried alive in the street cellar. The gamers have the latest weaponry but are killed by villagers using guerilla tactics and their ancient guns. They operate in self defense and their violence is not glorified. No mercy is shown to their mayor who collaborated with the Americans and he is tied naked to a donkey and sent off to die in the desert.

The clashing contrasts of high tech urbanism and Brazilian semi-desert give the feel of a 1960s science fiction film yet there is always a down-to-earth reason. The flying saucer turns out to be a drone and the two strangely dressed murderous motor bikers turn out to be Brazilians and not so alien after all.

As a metaphor for external influence in Brazil the film shows the resilience of the local people against attack from outside forces, and their merciless revenge on the Brazilians who sold them out for their own profit. Is Michael a metaphor for the Nazis who were sheltered in South America after the Second World War? If so, his permanent incarceration in the street cellar has the look of an evil influence being sent down to Hell and covered over to prevent its escape back into society ever again.

Theatrical poster

The Wandering Earth

In The Wandering Earth the sun is dying and people all around the world build giant planet thrusters to move Earth out of its orbit and bring Earth to revolve around the star Alpha Centauri. However, as they pass Jupiter, Earth has a tremor and many of the earth engines stop working. The Earth is pulled in by Jupiter’s gravity and looks to be doomed to fail. However, “a contingency plan exists called Project Helios that involves preserving the crew of the Space Station, 300,000 frozen embryos, 100,000 seeds of basic crops, and digital libraries of all civilizations, should a disaster befall the Wandering Earth.”

The Chinese protagonists then devise a plan to prevent the planetary collision but this means sacrificing the Helios project. The plan works and the Earth continues on its long journey to Alpha Centauri.

On a computer monitor we see that the plans were designed by the ‘United Earth Government’ where underneath we see a vertical row of flags with the United States flag on top, then Russia, China, United Kingdom and France. However, the first time the flags are shown on a monitor the flags are horizontal and in the same order but the Chinese flag is now in the centre but on the same level as the other countries’ flags. Also, an actual American flag is shown in the large cockpit of a transport truck just as the failure of the Wandering Planet project is announced. At first it looks like the flag is draped over a coffin but as the camera pulls back we see the flag is actually just sitting on top of a couple of computer monitors.

The names of the two projects here are also interesting. The Wandering Earth reflects the medieval geocentric view of the earth at the centre of the universe with the sun and the other planets going around the earth. The paths of the planets seemed to make no sense so they were called in ancient Greek ἀστήρ πλανήτης (astēr planētēs), meaning ‘wandering star’.

The heliocentric view cleared up that problem. When it was realised that the planets all revolved around the sun everything fell into place. In the film the Earth has broken out of the gravitational pull of the sun and has become a wanderer again in its long slow journey to another star. Does Project Helios represent the importance of science (frozen embryos, seeds of basic crops, and digital libraries) in the same way that heliocentricism does? Does that mean that science itself is represented as an elitist project which can be sacrificed? It is very common in the Romanticist tradition to denigrate science while at the same time taking advantage of the benefits of science; e.g., the Romantics of the 19th century loved the raw wild nature of the Alps which they traveled to see by the new train systems. It is also contradictory in a genre called ‘science fiction’.

The Wandering Earth is a Chinese film but emphasizes internationalism and does this without nationalism or jingoism. It is a low-key subtle approach to international relations giving everyone their due. As the science fiction writer Roberto Quaglia states:

The Chinese are now also interested in non-English mother-tongue authors. Which means: They want a wide range of views. And above all they cultivate their new generations of Chinese science fiction authors and work to make them known around the world. In other words, the Chinese are introducing a marked multipolar orientation to a cultural sphere with a strong impact on reality, an area that until recently had always been a hostage to a unipolar status quo.

The vertical orientation of the flags on the monitor is an interesting metaphor for a hierarchical and hegemonic Hollywood cinema industry which is in contrast with the other horizontal, ‘multipolar’ array, with China in a prominent but not dominating position.

Conclusion

As we move firmly into the 21st century with all its geopolitical changes and challenges, we can see some of this reflected in the arts. Whether ideas in cinema symbolise projected possible futures or are reflective of changing current realities, our attention is drawn to them and shaped by their bold visualisations. Whatever their meanings, these are three very confident movies: Knives Out for slick storytelling, Bacurau for cinematic intelligence and The Wandering Earth for extraordinary design and craft.

Planet of the Humans Backlash

The backlash may be more revealing than the film itself, but both inform us where we are at in the fight against climate change and ecological collapse. The environmental establishment’s frenzied attacks against Planet of the Humans< /a> says a lot about its commitment to big money and technological solutions.

A number of prominent individuals tried to ban the film by Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore. Others berated the filmmakers for being white, male and overweight. Many thought leaders have declared they won’t watch it.

Despite the hullabaloo, the central points in the film aren’t particularly controversial. Corporate-industrial society is driving human civilization/humanity towards the ecological abyss and environmental groups have largely made peace with capitalism. As such, they tout (profitable) techno fixes that are sometimes more ecologically damaging than fossil fuels (such as biomass or ethanol) or require incredible amounts of resources/space if pursued on a mass scale (such as solar and wind). It also notes the number of human beings on the planet has grown more than sevenfold over the past 200 years.

It should not be controversial to note that the corporate consumption juggernaut is destroying our ability to survive on this planet. From agroindustry razing animal habitat to plastic manufacturers’ waste killing sea life to the auto industrial complex’s greenhouse gases, the examples of corporations wreaking ecological havoc are manifold. Every year since 1969 humanity’s resource consumption has exceeded earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources by an ever-greater volume.

It is a statement of fact that environmental groups have deep ties to the corporate set. Almost all the major environmental groups receive significant cash from the mega-rich or their foundations. Many of them partner directly with large corporations. Additionally, their outreach strategies often rely on corporate media and other business-mediated spheres. It beggars belief that these dependencies don’t shape their policy positions.

A number of the film’s points on ‘renewable’ energy are also entirely uncontroversial. It’s insane to label ripping down forests for energy as “green”. Or turning cropland into fuel for private automobiles. The film’s depiction of the minerals/resource/space required for solar and wind power deserves a far better response than “the data is out of date”.

The green establishment’s hyperventilating over the film suggests an unhealthy fixation/link to specific ‘renewable’ industries. But there are downsides to almost everything.

Extremely low GHG emitting electricity is not particularly complicated. In Québec, where I live, electricity is largely carbon free (and run by a publicly owned enterprise with an overwhelmingly unionized workforce, to boot). But, Hydro-Québec’s dams destroy ecosystems and require taking vast land from politically marginalized (indigenous) people. Likewise, nuclear power (also publicly owned and unionized) provides most of France’s electricity. But, that form of energy also has significant downsides.

In the US in 2019 63% of electricity came from fossil fuels, 20% from nuclear and 17% from ‘renewables’. But, even if one could flip the proportion of fossil fuels to ‘renewables’ around overnight there’s another statistic that is equally important. Since 1950 US electricity consumption has grown 13-fold and it continues to increase. That’s before putting barely any of the country’s 285 million registered private automobiles onto the grid. Electricity consumption is growing at a fast clip in China, India and elsewhere.

Oil is another source of energy that is growing rapidly. Up from 60 million barrels a day in 1980 and 86 million in 2010, 100 million barrels of oil were consumed daily in 2019. That number is projected to reach 140 million by 2040.

On one point I agree entirely with critics of the film. It’s unfair to (even indirectly) equate Bill McKibben with Al Gore. Representing the progressive end of the environmental establishment, McKibben has engaged in and stoked climate activism. Gore was Vice President when the US led the destruction of the former Yugoslavia, bombed Sudan and sanctioned Iraq.

Still, it’s ridiculous for McKibben and others to dismiss the film’s criticism of his decade-long promotion of biomass and refusal to come clean on 350.org’s donors as divisive. “I truly hope that Michael Moore does not succeed at dividing the climate movement. Too many have fought too long to build it”, he tweeted with a link to his response in Rolling Stone titled “‘A Bomb in the Center of the Climate Movement’: Michael Moore Damages Our Most Important Goal.” Echoing this theme, Naomi Klein came to her 350.org comrade’s defence tweeting, “it is truly demoralising how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change.” Democracy Now, Common Dreams, the Guardian and other media picked up her remark.

If it is divisive to criticize McKibben’s positions, then the same must be said of his own criticisms aimed at those demanding the Pentagon be highlighted in decarbonization efforts. In a June New York Review of Books column titled “The Pentagon’s Outsized Part in the Climate Fight” McKibben pours cold water on those who have asked him about the importance of “shrinking the size of the US military” (the world’s largest single institutional emitter of fossil fuels) in the fight for a sustainable planet. In fact, his piece suggests the Pentagon is well-positioned to combat the climate crisis since right wingers are more likely to listen to their climate warnings and the institution has massive research capacities to develop green technologies. McKibben seems to be saying the green movement should (could) co-opt the greatest purveyor of violence and destruction in the history of humanity! (In the Wrong Kind of Green blog Luke Orsborne offers a cogent breakdown of McKibben’s militarism.)

McKibben’s repeated advocacy of the private electric car could also be considered divisive. In Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? McKibben calls for “millions and millions of electric cars and buses” (alongside “building a hell of lot of factories to turn out thousands of acres of solar panels, and wind turbines the length of football fields.”) Does anyone believe the planet can sustain a transportation/urban planning system with most of the world’s 7.8 billion people owning 3,000-pound vehicles?

When an electric car is powered from a grid that is 63% fossil fuels the GHG it contributes per kilometer of travel is generally slightly less than an internal combustion engine. But the production and destruction phases for electric vehicles tend to be more energy intensive and they still require the extraction and development of significant amounts of resources. Additionally, the private car underpins a land, energy and resource intensive big box retail/suburban economy. (For details see my co-authored Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay.)

Moreover, as Death by Car recently pointed out, “electric vehicles are haloware — a product that exists to distract attention from continuing SUV and pickup sales. If this thesis is correct, then it is a huge mistake for progressive forces to express enthusiasm” for electric vehicles. Of the 86 million new passenger and light commercial vehicles sold globally in 2018 about 1.2 million of them were powered by battery-only electric engines while 37 million were pickups and SUVs. In other words, for every new battery-electric car there were 30 new SUVs/pickups sold. Alongside growing buzz about electric vehicles, the number of SUVs increased from 35 million to 200 million between 2010 and 2018.

McKibben and associates’ ability to frame the film as divisive rests on the stark power imbalance between the ‘green’ capitalist and degrowth outlooks. While there are few profits in the consume-less worldview, McKibben is situated at the progressive end of a network of organizations, commentators and media outlets empowered by hundreds of billions of dollars of ‘green’ capitalism. This milieu has counterposed solar, wind and biomass to the hyper fossil fuel emitting coal, natural gas and oil industries. But, they aren’t keen on discussing the limitations of their preferred energies and the fundamentally unsustainable nature of limitless energy (or other) consumption. And they certainly don’t want any spotlight placed on environmental groups ties to the mega-rich and an unsustainable model.

But, in reality it’s not the criticism that bothers. Wrong Kind of Green, Death by Car, Counterpunch and various other small leftist websites and initiatives have long documented McKibben and associates’ concessions to the dominant order. Often more harshly than in the film. What is unique about Planet of the Humans is that these criticisms have been put forward by leftists with some power (Michael Moore’s name and the funds for a full-length documentary, most obviously.) In other words, the backlash is not a response to the facts or argument, per se, but the ‘mainstreaming’ of the critique.

The environmental establishment’s ability to generate hundreds of hit pieces against Planet of the Humans suggests the movement/outlook has amassed substantial power. But, it’s not always clear to what ends. Most indicators of sustainability are trending in the wrong direction at the same time as top environmental figures have risen to the summits of power. Québec’s most prominent environmentalist, Steven Guilbeault, recently became a cabinet minister in the Liberal government while the former head of World Wildlife Fund Canada, Gerald Butts, was Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff. These individuals happily participate in a government that oversaw a 15 million tonne increase in Canada’s GHG emissions in 2018 and then decided to purchase a massive tar sands pipeline.

The incredible popularity of Planet of the Humans — seven million views on YouTube — suggests many are worried about the ecological calamity humanity is facing. Many also sense that the solutions environmental groups are putting forward don’t add up.

The lesson to be learned from the film and the frenzied attacks against it is that questioning the system — be that capitalism or the mainstream environmental movement — won’t make you friends in high places.

Monkey Planet: Moore Misses the Message of the Book

The chief causes of the environmental destruction that faces us today are not biological, or the product of individual human choice. They are social and historical, rooted in the productive relations, technological imperatives, and historically conditioned demographic trends that characterize the dominant social system. Hence, what is ignored or downplayed in most proposals to remedy the environmental crisis is the most critical challenge of all: the need to transform the major social bases of environmental degradation, and not simply to tinker with its minor technical bases. As long as prevailing social relations remain unquestioned, those who are concerned about what is happening are left with few visible avenues for environmental action other than purely personal commitments to recycling and green shopping, socially untenable choices between jobs and the environment, or broad appeals to corporations, political policy-makers, and the scientific establishment–the very interests most responsible for the current ecological mess.
― John Bellamy Foster,  The Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment, 1994

I am getting plethora of greenie weenies or others imploring me to watch the the Michael Moore executive produced Planet of the Humans. “You have to watch it. We are screwed. Oh my god. I never knew all this stuff about 350.org.”  It was directed, filmed (partly), edited and written by Jeff Gibbs.

In so many ways, it is a derivative flick, a “coming to Jesus” moment (several hiccups) by Gibbs. This is not good film making (the music is dull, and in some parts, downright spacey) and not good writing. But, on the heels of Trump, Obama, the green porn movement, the fake New Green Deal by AOC, Sanders and other sheepdogs (not the true ecosocialist New Green Deal – by a long shot), and the Spring Break Congress, and the totality of perversions that embody the political/K-Street/Military/AI/Finance-Investor Class (sic), anything goes, I suppose, to go after the money factories that fuel the so-called American environmental movement.

As a caveat, while I am criticizing the film’s blind-blind spots — nothing about civil society movements in Africa, in India, in Canada, in Latin America, barely a blink to one of the world’s most cogent female Indian scientists/activitists — it should not be banned as one of the leaders of the so-called journalist/writer environmental movement, Naomi Klein, has called for that. From the Soros Democracy Now:

A group of climate scientists and environmentalists, including filmmaker Josh Fox and professor Michael Mann, are calling for a new movie, executive produced by Michael Moore, to be taken offline, claiming it is “dangerous, misleading and destructive.” The film, “Planet of the Humans,” describes renewable energies like wind and solar as useless and accuses the environmental movement of selling out to corporate America. Michael Moore and the film’s director, Jeff Gibbs, have described the documentary as a “full-frontal assault on our sacred cows.”

The online film website Films for Action briefly took down the documentary, claiming it was “full of misinformation,” but later added it back to its site with a lengthy note.

The author and activist Naomi Klein recently tweeted, “It is truly demoralizing how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change. There are important critiques of an environmentalism that refuses to reckon with unlimited consumption + growth. But this film ain’t it.”

[Louis Proyect’s look at the two new green deals from AOC/Sanders versus that from Howie Hawkins and Ecosocialists, the original socialist-Marxist fight for land, food, soil, air, sea, cultures, people, animals. Proyect also writes a blog, The Unrepentant Marxist and also administers the Marxmail discussion list.]

Reading decent stuff on the various social-indigenous-cultural-ecological heroes, and reading good poetry, philosophy, fiction, well, a million times more impacting for some of us than a thousand documentaries, most of which are in the can, out the window, in the news, on the talk shows, at the film festivals, and, then, a thousand more documentaries in the making.

Social change (the good kind, not the Inconvenient Truth or Waiting for Superman kind) will not happen on Netflix, in the cyber world of YouTube, or managed by wannabe filmmakers.

I am also having a bit of acid reflux digesting this flick, The Planet of the Humans, in a time of SARS-COV-2 lock-down (that’s a prison term, folks) and a time of compliant humanity sticking to the mainstream science view of coronavirus.

Pay for success finance deals will be well served by the global vaccine market that is being advanced through Gates’s outfit GAVI. Vaccine doses are readily quantifiable, and the economic costs of many illnesses are straightforward to calculate. With a few strategic grants awarded to prestigious universities and think tanks, I anticipate suitable equations framing out a healthy ROI (return on investment) will be devised to meet global market demands shortly.

Hello everyone. Welcome to “Many Waves, One Ocean Cross Movement Summit.” I’m Alison McDowell, a mom and independent researcher in Philadelphia who blogs at wrenchinthegears.com. I started my activism around public education, first fighting standardized testing, then ed-tech, and eventually realized the push by global finance to turn everything into data for the purpose of digital surveillance and profit meant I had to expand my work beyond schools and start digging into the global poverty management complex.

I organize with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, an independent anti-poverty group that is led by the poor and does not take corporate or foundation money. We’ll be marching on the Democratic National Convention on July 13 to take back the 67 cents of every government dollar spent on war and occupation. We are demanding it be used care for the poor here at home. Check us out and consider joining us in the streets of Milwaukee!

People have been led to believe the purpose of these goals is to address poverty and avert climate catastrophe. As a mother who lives in a city of deep poverty and who works at a public garden, I believe those are admirable goals. It is imperative that we address wealth inequality and begin to heal our planet.

But as a mother who has been researching innovative finance, emerging technologies, and racialized power, I also know there is more to the story than is being told in the media. And so today I will outline how powerful interests are using the Sustainable Development Goals to mask their plans to remake the world as a digital panopticon. What follows is a story of social entrepreneurship, greed, and technological authoritarianism. Its foundations are built on our nation’s history of racial capitalism, eugenics, and the rise of technocracy.
Vaccines, Blockchain and Bio-capitalism

A little hard to stomach this new flick, Planet of the Humans, as I am out of work on two of my gig jobs, and the other job is about getting cash assistance to households where I am best face to face with them, but alas, this hysteria, this complete breakdown of common sense and urgency for just decent masks and gloves (free, of course), has caused the healthy to be lock-downed. Police state? You betcha. Surfers are getting tickets for surfing on our beaches.

Daily, the human toll of this lock-down stupidity in Oregon is real. Yet, like compliant children, the greenie types, the so-called environmental movement types, and the pro-science-is-our-savior liberal types will not stand for any challenge to their narrative – we must lock-down until 2022, according to Harvard scientists. So, the democratic governor, Kate Brown, implores us to lock-down, threatens us with tickets, and, oh, 84,000 new unemployment claims in the state, and I am not getting through that bureaucracy, too stupid to not-fail!  No dole for me and thousands of others.

Deaths by the millions in the coming months with this lock-down — globally. Not from the novel most-probably weaponized or at least messed-with bat virus, but from poverty, starvation, and lack of medical care for all the other illnesses and diseases and ailments hitting humankind.

In poor countries? The toll is never on the forefront of the greenie weenies’ minds. Covid-19 and our disappearing civil liberties and privacy rights

Nor is the toll on Gibbs’ mind in this flimsy flick.

But back to reality:

We have some Guatemalans up here on the Oregon Coast. Workers. Families. Some are not literate in English or Spanish. No more hotel cleaning gigs, dishwasher gigs, working in the forest collecting salal gigs.

These families are afraid to go to the food banks (big, gangly and some mean-looking white folks there collecting and handing out food) and afraid of any social services agencies. You know, deportation, put in lock-down in containment dog kennels a la ICE. Now that’s a fun prospect for a bioweaponized or laboratory-induced  novel coronavirus.

Some of them have been yelled at by our fine upstanding white original illegal aliens: “Chinks … you brought this corona over to us. What are you still doing here?”

These are Guatemalans!

The Wrong Sort of Green is also the wrong sort of agriculture, and the wrong kind of medicine, wrong kind of education, wrong kind of law, wrong kind of computing, wrong kind of carceral state, wrong kind of, well, you get the picture. It’s all wrong because of capitalism. Yet, this movie goes right to us, the rest of the world included, as a cancer. As over-consuming, over-populating, over-reaching, you know, the Population Bomb language of “sterilize the masses” folk.

Bad, bad, bad. Crackpot, crackpot, crackpot.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Or dangerous, dangerous, dangerous.

These are nice words for this superficial, sound-bite, dumb-downing thing of a movie.

On the 50th earth day anniversary we get to view it. It might get some stuff right – the fake green-renewable movement, but it gets the major stuff wrong: Capitalism has run amok, not the other way around. The hordes have not run amok against the good of capitalism, but have been colonized, co-opted, delegitimized, stolen from, used as a large populace of Guinea pigs for the economic syphilis that is Capitalism.

And the underlying message is population control. They great white hope of Michael Moore and I guess Jeff Gibbs is really the underpinning of the flick – and no credence is given to the millions upon millions of people fighting this bastardization of humanity, of life, called Western Capitalism. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of groups that Gibbs could have put front and center who are local, indigenous, part of the peasant movement, others, who are real forest protectors and water protectors and life protectors.

Making fun of the alternative energy folk is like shooting fish in a barrel. And, the underlying message, the grace note here, is that because all humans and cultures are alike (NOT) we as one species (debatable) are a cancer, all in it for me-myself-and-I. Just way too many of us.

Just the way this flick opens up says it all. The documentary poses the stupid question: How much time do you think the human race has? You know, man-woman-child person on the street quippy takes.

Gibbs is at a solar festival (in the beginning, and then at the end of this flick) and makes fun of the band not getting the solar energy power when the clouds open and rain shuts down this system and they have to go back to the electrical grid.

Jump to Obama and Van Jones and Al Gore. To the white race, Richard Branson. Then 60 Minutes is clipped in. Have we been here before with this sort of documentary making? Come on, do I have to list the other hundreds of documentaries that follow this script?

Then onto Michael Bloomberg. Sierra Club. Bill 350.org McKibben. Segue to “making fun” of the Chevy Volt, electric cars, wind turbines, biomass, etc.

All of this has been exposed years ago (2001), a la Cory Morningstar (2018):

Throughout history, greed has proven to be lethal. Greed and justice cannot co-exist.

The premise that “greed can save us” is void of all ethics. It stems from either desperation or denial, or perhaps both combined.

Perhaps McKibben’s 350.org/1Sky partner – Climate Solutions (who McKibben praised/promoted in a recent article) – will soon see their wish list of “sustainable aviation,” biofuels and carbon offsets morph into a global reality. 350.org/1Sky partner Climate Solutions was a key player in the creation of 1Sky – an incubator project of the Rockefellers, who are pushing/funding REDD (the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program) and many other false solutions that ensure power and monetary wealth remain exactly where it is – in the hands of the few.

Of course, James Hansen’s magic wand (which Hansen himself sometimes refers to) will be most imperative for such false solutions to succeed in cooling the planet and stopping the eradication of most life on Earth.

Do we reject biofuels, carbon offsets, the greenwash and delusional concepts like “sustainable aviation”? Or do we reject these false solutions only when promoted directly by industry and government? If we do reject false solutions outright, why do those who claim to seek climate justice turn a blind eye when our “friends” and “partners” support these false solutions that we must fight against?
Why I Refuse To Promote Bill McKibben

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the warriors in this Gibbs’ frame: How many indigenous people have been murdered in the past 20 minutes? Land defenders. The people of the earth who are less than 7 percent of the population but are in 80 percent of the jungles and rain-forests and mangroves, deltas, islands.

So, this fellow, Gibbs, in 2020 when this documentary was released, came to the conclusion recently that the green energy revolution isn’t going to work? Really? This has been posited for more than 20 years easily.

Twenty-five minutes into this sad sack of a movie and its whites, man, mostly males (one female anthropologist), and it’s just more declaiming the green energy folk – and no one ever in the ecosocialist movement saw solar panels and wind turbines and ethanol as green or efficient or, hmm, localized and social just. But you think an ecosocialist is interviewed? Nope!

After 30 minutes in, no great people who have studied, looked at and been on the front lines of the biggest elephant in the room: “It is easier to see a world without people than without capitalism.”

Fredric Jameson’s famous quote, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism,”  should have been posited at the top of the documentary.

Do you believe there can be a better world, localized, scaled down, tied to human rights and indigenous wisdom than a world without consumerism, capitalism?

Or, better yet, the questions –

What is parasitic capitalism? What is predatory capitalism? What is disaster capitalism? What is casino capitalism?

Then, sure, another question:

What is the cost to humanity, to those billions in the world not part of the Western White Tradition of Neoliberalism-Neoconservativism-Colonialism-Slavery, that the military industrial complex unleashes to the world?

Nah. This is just a gotcha sort of film  – at least it is as I am concurrently listening and watching it while also writing this critique. Okay,  42 minutes in, and one lone voice thus far, Richard Heinberg, who I interviewed 14 years ago on my radio show in Spokane, is briefly interviewed. Sound bite. His book, Peak Everything is pretty self-explanatory. He doesn’t tap into the civil society, to peasant and agrarian movements. He just tells us later on he goes to bed frightened, scared.

Whew. Peak Humanity psychosis!

That slogan captures about how Western thinking can imagine a world without humans before they can fathom any world without capitalism.  And, to be fair, the masters of the universe hope for more AI, more ways to make humanity useless, more ways to kill work, kill human learning and sharing. A world without the majority of the people AND WITH surveillance and AI-Crypto Capitalism. There you go!

What is “capitalist realism? The almost global sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it. Most of the billionaire class, most of the millionaire class, most of the people who believe in capitalism, capitalism lite, capitalism with a green smile, they are prepared for their world without people – Bill Gates and his cronies, setting the globe with his vision of massive sterilization and massive, err, vaccinations.

At minute 46, Planet of the Humans has given us more white guys and one white female anthropologist saying there is “not enough for the world,” for those billions outside this white great white way.

Looking at the numbers – and they are terrified, in Gibbs’ rendition, that the world is at 7.4 billion people, and it took hundreds of thousands of years for Homo sapiens to hit 750 million – this is the movement. Computer modeling, projections, Dystopia, but never-ever a clear-eyed look at the reason for malnourishment and disease and suffering – the few haves and the lots of haves not.  An honest look at this would really get to the cutting-edge thinkers here – just the bloody neo-tribal writer, Daniel Quinn, looks at leaver and giver society in his books featuring an ESP-abled gorilla named Ishmael.

I’m already into the flick less than an hour, and Gibbs is seeking mental health help. Climate change trauma, analysis paralysis, something. He brings in another great voice of psychology, some social psychology professor, at Skidmore College. Gibbs sets it up – The republican side believes there is an endless supply of fossil fuels, and OUR side believes the world will be saved with solar panels. Why is that?

This is it, man, them – the GOP and industrialists and Trump and Tea Party and Neo-Nazis – and us – the other side, wanting green energy and technology to get us off fossil fuel and climate change. Bingo. This is such a silly adventure in one man’s sad fear of himself – Jeff Gibbs (where’s millionaire, Hillary-adoring, the Russians are Coming, Holly-dirt Michael Moore, man, when we need a really foolish guy for a heck of a lot of laughs?). Professor Sheldon Solomon believes that people are just biotic life. That is the key to these guy’s thought process saying we as a species (all of us) have a disbelief in mortality, that this can’t be, so we just keep on with our suicidal behavior.

Jameson’s quote is often used to show how capitalism has limited the horizons of our imagination.

We don’t think of civilization as indestructible, but we do seem to think of the free market as indestructible. This, it is sometimes said, is the result of neoliberalism: as both traditionally left-wing and traditionally right-wing parties in Western countries developed a consensus that markets were the only way forward (“there is no alternative”), more and more people came to hold narrower and narrower views of the possibilities for human society. Being on the right meant “believing in free markets and some kind of nationalism or social conservatism” while being liberal meant “believing in free markets but being progressive on issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation.” Questions like “how do we develop a feasible alternative to capitalism?” were off the table; the only reasonable question about political intervention in the economy became: “should we regulate markets a little bit, or not at all?

– “The left should embrace both pragmatism and utopianism“, Nathan J. Robinson

It’s as if this Jeff Gibbs just came out from a deep hole – I have been teaching this shit for more than two decades; showing students this embedded energy truth, this lifetime/life-cycle analysis of products, this green washing PR job, this green porn marketing bait and switch. Poverty pimping, man, and Green is the New Black. It’s still pimping and prostitution at a very high price.

You give the capitalists, the military industrial complex purveyors, the multimillionaires like that piece of political dung Al Gore the microphone, and then you give the billionaire class, the BlackRock class, the IMF, the forced vaccination and eugenics masters the microphone, or Clinton, Hollywood, and the Massive Messed up Mainstream Media any benefit of the doubt, and here we are.

All those white male/ white female people featured on this Planet of the Humans in the end are talking about population control, and, shoot, that says it all, now does it not?

Now, finally, a real person, a real human, Vandana Shiva, comes onto Gibbs’ stage 1:09 hours into the flick – where she gets to give a micro dose of a rejecting biomass and biofuels, emphasizing how the biggest crisis of our times is shifting our minds to give power to illusions – green capitalism – replacing fossil fuels to this so-called renewable biomass energy production, which is green capitalism, which is green pornography. She gets about 20 seconds of air time. That’s it!

“Her honesty was refreshing.” That’s it for Gibb’s commentary on Shiva, caught on camera at some Earth Day event. This is Vandana Shiva, academic, scientist, humanist and leader in fighting for billions of people subjected to the GMO lies. A warrior against toxins. If that isn’t patriarchy and patronizing and, well, malarkey, the white man doing the white people’s film song and dance, then I do not know what is.

I’ll quote Shiva here:

The “green economy” agenda being pushed in the run-up to Rio+20, or the Earth Summit, to be held in June, could well become the blueprint for the biggest resource grab in history, with corporations appropriating the planet’s green wealth and biodiversity. These corporations will take our green wealth to make “green oil” for biofuels, energy, plastics, chemicals — everything that the petrochemical era based on fossil fuels gave us. Movements worldwide have started to say no to the “green economy” of the “one per cent”, because an ecological adjustment is possible and it is taking place. This adjustment involves seeing ourselves as part of the fragile ecological web, not outside and above it, and immune from the consequences of our actions.

Ecological adjustment also implies that we see ourselves as members of the earth’s community, sharing its resources equitably with all species and within the human community. Ecological adjustment requires an end to resource grab and privatisation of our land, biodiversity, seeds, water and atmosphere. It requires the recovery of the commons and the creation of “earth democracy”.

The dominant economic model based on resource monopolies and oligarchy is in conflict not just with ecological limits of the planet but also with the basic principles of democracy. The adjustment being dictated by the oligarchy will further strangle democracy and people’s freedom of choice. Sunil Bharti Mittal, one of India’s industry captains, recently said that “politics is hurting the economy and the country”. His observation reflects the mindset of the oligarchy, that democracy can be done away with.   Green Greed – Seeds of Injustice, By Vandana Shiva

So, Gibbs goes back to gotcha land – exposing the hypocrisy and duplicity of Richard Branson, the Al Gores, then Michael Bloomberg. No thanks. Not worth my time. More flashy nothing. We know Greta T. and Bill M. and Naomi  K. are all false gods, the wrong kind of green.

Cory Morningstar, Wrong Kind of Green, is a warrior for social justice, ecological justice, for a sane look at how these greenies continue to cite “it’s a global overpopulation problem” causing climate change and ecosystems collapses.  She just posted the Planet of the Humans on her website. However, this is her caveat –

WKOG caveat: Industrial civilization is destroying all life on Earth. Human destruction of biodiversity is not created equally: “Yet tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world, and 80% of our planet’s biodiversity is found in tribal territories.” [Further reading: The best conservationists made our environment and can save it, Stephen Corry  ] Human population is often identified as a problem because it strains the world’s resources and pollutes. [1] The first and most efficient way to address over consumption is to reduce consumption in the North is to a) redistribute the resources, (all arable land, etc.) to the Global South, to sustain those in the Global South, and b) phase out the production of all superfluous consumer products that harm life and biodiversity. [Further reading: Too Many Africans?, July 11, 2019   An analysis of population growth that accounts for the vast differences in consumption across class and region is critical in examining the worldwide environmental crisis

Let’s look at that class divide:

The top 8.5 per cent of the people own over 83 per cent of global wealth, whereas the share of the bottom 70 per cent is barely 3 per cent. The top of the pyramid is even steeper – the net worth of the top 200 wealthiest individual (at $2.7 trillion)69 is the same as that of the bottom 3.2 billion people or half the population of the whole world! Significantly these wealthiest individuals of the world were able to increase their wealth in spite of the financial crisis. According to a recent Oxfam report, in spite of a global reduction of wealth the top 100 billionaires have been able to increase their wealth by 240 billion dollars in 2012.70 These super rich, incidentally, also include individuals who have been lobbying for reduction and control of third world population and funding major programmes towards it. The state policies and the policies of international bodies seem to be aligned with the interests of the rich and powerful. These Ultra High Net worth (UHNW) also wield immense political power.

Read Cory’s work, Whitney Webb’s work, Wrench in the gears, Caitlin Johnstone —

Best yet, listen to Vandana Shiva again. This is the stuff that matters now, not a cataloging of the bad green movement, the shilling of wind farms and solar arrays and biofuels. All of this, like fossil fuels and wars and everything else that is externalized because of capitalism, all of this is subsidized by our capital, our taxes, our lives, our labor. That sports stadium? Simple thing, man. Chavez Canyon, a great working community in LA, was destroyed because the New York Dodgers moved to LA. Chavez Canyon was a place where Mexicans lived, creating their own community, their own social capital, their own roads and support systems. But the city gave the Dodgers the key to the city, gave them everything. The payoff? It’s all about the game, man. Low wage jobs, parking lots, traffic, and obscene profits to pajama-clad players and their masters – the owners and managers and collective investors.

Take it up a notch or two – the Mississippi is polluted and toxified because of industrial farming. The delta in Louisiana is polluted, and that plume of toxins goes out hundreds of miles into the Gulf of Mexico. The shrimp are polluted, all the life is polluted. Those Iowa corn syrup farmers and soy feed tenders, well, think of the warnings – “If pregnant (or wanting to be) don’t drink the well water. Don’t live on a farm. Stay away from the crop dusters. Be prepared to bury your family members who stay as they drop lie flies from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, diabetes, heart anomalies, cancers and more. The gift that keeps on giving – pesticides, fertilizers, fumigants, vast piles and huge ponds and polluted rivers of blood, entrails, crap from industrial animal feeding, growing, butchering operations.

The multiple crises of climate insecurity, energy insecurity, and food insecurity create an imperative and an opportunity to transcend the limits of the mechanistic-industrial-capitalist paradigm that has been systematically shrinking our potential even as it peddles progress.

The paths out from this crisis are not being blazed in the boardrooms of the global corporations who dominate our world today and are largely responsible for crimes against nature and humanity. Industrialization of food and agriculture has put the human species on a slippery slope of self-destruction and self-annihilation. The movement for biodiverse, ecological, and local food systems simultaneously addresses the crises of climate, energy, and food. Above all, it brings people back into agriculture and reclaims food as nourishment and the most basic source of energy. New ways of thinking and acting, of being and doing, are evolving from the creative alternatives being employed in small communities, on farms, and in cities.

It is this renewable energy of ecology and sharing, of solidarity and compassion, that we need to generate and multiply to counter the destructive energy of greed that is creating scarcity at every level – scarcity of work, scarcity of happiness, scarcity of security, scarcity of freedom, and even scarcity of the future.

Climate chaos, brutal economic inequality, and social disintegration are jointly pushing human communities to the brink. We can either let the processes of destruction, disintegration, and extermination continue unchallenged, or we can unleash our creative energies to make systemic change and reclaim our future as a species, as part of the earth family. We can either keep sleepwalking to extinction or wake up to the potential of the planet and ourselves.  —Vandana Shiva 

We’ve been here before with Naomi Klein, with Al Gore, with DiCaprio, with Ted Danson, Daryl Hannah, the rest of the goofballs. Gibbs is not really doing much new here, really – The Wrong Kind of Green has been extrapolated and parsed for decades, and for him to waste this opportunity to go for the actual jugular of the cause – capitalism, western dominance in banking, structural adjustments, austerity, structural violence, economic hits, more – delegitimizes his whole thesis.

But there are also other social forces engaged in the process of resistance to the capitalist onslaught on the environment: for instance, the indigenous communities. This is another very important contribution of this book: to show that indigenous communities—direct victims of the capitalist plunder, a global assault on their livelihoods—have become the vanguard of the ecosocialist movement. In their actions, such as the Standing Rock resistance to the XXL Pipeline, and in their reflections—such as their Declaration at the World Social Forum of Belem in 2009—“they express, more completely than any other group, the common survival interest of humanity.” Of course, the urban population of modern cities cannot live like the indigenous, but they have much to learn from them.

Ecological struggles offer a unifying theme around which various oppressed constituencies could come together. And there are signs of hope in the United States, in the vast upsurge of resistance against a particularly toxic racist, misogynist and anti-ecological power elite, and in the growing interest, among young people and African Americans, in socialism. But a political revolutionary force, able to unify all constituencies and movements against the system is still lacking. Review by Michael Löwy, “From Marx to Ecosocialism” in the book Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism by Victor Wallis

Alas, the best way to end the pain, to stop the rabid raccoon, I suppose, is to euthanize it. So much is wrong with Gibbs’ take on this eco-challenge. He is late out of the gate when looking at the life-cycle analysis of solar, wind and biomass. He is coming out of a deep long sleep? The documentary is not compelling. The executive producer, Michael Moore, is highly problematic. He is a capitalist, a millionaire, part of  celebrity culture, and he is part of the problem not the solution.

It all rides on the back of the minister, Thomas Malthus, in his 1798 essay on population.

Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.

For Gibbs and the others he decries in the greenie weenie controlled opposition movement, they see the enemy is us, the people, or those with lesser pedigrees and more melanin. Why not just go after capitalism, and the inverted totalitarianism of Corpocracy? What about those corporations, that sticky class exploitation, how industry is set forth, and what about war? Gibbs blames all the people.

Oh, well, so many will tell me, “Paul, why don’t you write, film, edit, produce your own goddamned movie”? Sure enough, uh? I normally would not go to a movie like this, or get it from the Internet. I was only prompted by the number of emails from friends and acquaintances who just had to tell me to see this Anti-Earth Day flick. I didn’t learn anything from it substantive-wise, but I am wondering what the bearing witness for newbies to this green washing/green pornography will do with all this information about how bad solar and wind are. How bad the green groups are. How big the billions are that fund the controlled opposition and the narrative. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you? We all are colonized? We all live in the matrix? We are all co-opted by capital?

In the end the movie is more than benign. It fools us, the viewer, into a false solution, false narrative, and false causation. But my time is up, and totally bored with the concept behind this movie and how it now is generating this hoary call for, what, to watch the bloody movie? The real heroes are dying in their jungles and forests. From coffee to copper, from bananas to bitumen, from rubber to rhinos, the rapacious Western World is eating future generations from the inside out.

People just want their forty acres and a mule. Their cooperative farms. Their water and their soil. They want a few light bulbs. They want their great grandchildren’s lives back. They are done with the great white hope, the saviors, the industrialists and the investors (sic).

Outbreak zones meanwhile are no longer even organized under traditional polities. Unequal ecological exchange—redirecting the worst damage from industrial agriculture to the Global South—has moved out of solely stripping localities of resources by state-led imperialism and into new complexes across scale and commodity. Agribusiness is reconfiguring their extractivist operations into spatially discontinuous networks across territories of differing scales. A series of multinational-based “Soybean Republics,” for instance, now range across Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. The new geography is embodied by changes in company management structure, capitalization, subcontracting, supply chain substitutions, leasing, and transnational land pooling. In straddling national borders, these “commodity countries,” flexibly embedded across ecologies and political borders, are producing new epidemiologies along the way.

For instance, despite a general shift in population from commoditized rural areas to urban slums that continues today across the globe, the rural-urban divide driving much of the discussion around disease emergence misses rural-destined labor and the rapid growth of rural towns into periurban desakotas (city villages) or zwischenstadt (in-between cities). Mike Davis and others have identified how these newly urbanizing landscapes act as both local markets and regional hubs for global agricultural commodities passing through.36 Some such regions have even gone “post-agricultural.”37 As a result, forest disease dynamics, the pathogens’ primeval sources, are no longer constrained to the hinterlands alone. Their associated epidemiologies have themselves turned relational, felt across time and space. A SARS can suddenly find itself spilling over into humans in the big city only a few days out of its bat cave.

COVID-19 and Circuits of Capital by Rob Wallace, Alex Liebman, Luis Fernando Chaves and Rodrick Wallace

 

Emerging from one of the most generative collaborations in the ecosocialist tradition, this collection of essays by John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark represents a critical step forward in theoretical development and recovery, with immediate relevance to contemporary political movements and debates. Foster and Clark beautifully reveal the power of historical materialism to lay bare the connection between ecological degradation, speciesism, and social domination, and therefore the necessity of a struggle that does not artificially isolate in theory and practice what is joined in reality. This is a book for serious activists seeking to understand the world in order to change all of it that needs changing, so that every living being on earth may not only survive, but finally, be free.

Hannah Holleman, author of Dust Bowls of Empire: Imperialism, Environmental Politics, and the Injustice of “Green” Capitalism

Long recognized as leading theorists of ecomarxism, Bellamy Foster and Clark here extend their “metabolic rift” paradigm to an impressive range of issues, including gender, food, British eco-imperialism in Ireland, “alienated speciesism,” the theory of value, and the meaning of work. The result is a powerful case that capitalism is inextricably bound up with the robbery of nature and constitutes the paramount obstacle to life on Earth as we know it.

Nancy Fraser, New School for Social Research; author, Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (1963) concerns  a group of astronauts, including journalist Ulysse Merou, and their voyage to a planet in the star system of Betelgeuse (the year is 2500). They land to discover a world where intelligent apes are the Master Race and humans are savages: caged in zoos, used in laboratory experiments and hunted for sport. The story of Ulysse’s capture and his subsequent struggle to survive, and then the climax as he returns to Earth and a horrific final discovery is gripping and fantastic. Yet the novel is also a subtle parable on science, evolution, and the relationship between man and animals. Again, the master race theme is part of Boulle’s own background in the secret service fighting against the Axis powers in WW II as part of the Free French. He wrote the more famous book, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1952). This flick, Planet of the Humans, is antithetical to that altogether (master race indeed), and in some sense, the lack of people of color speaking about a better way to get through this climate-capitalism chaos is sort of reflective of Gibbs’ own blind-spot to stick to the white technologists and the white people in the green capital movement.

The Moralistic Mauvaise Foi of “Planet of the Humans”

Yes, the overall message of the film can hardly be faulted.  The anthropocentric world-view — which for millennia has justified human “dominion” over, and exploitation of, all other life-forms — has been disastrously hubristic.  But the Deep Ecology paradigm, initially developed by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, has articulated this viewpoint for several decades (and in a far more coherent and constructive manner).  Even convicted serial killer Ted Kaczynski, in his Social-Darwinist-tainted Industrial Society and Its Future (1995), presented some valid points along these lines.  And for several decades, almost all major eco-groups, from Greenpeace to Friends of the Earth, have consistently campaigned for dramatically reduced consumption — not only of “energy” but of material goods in general.

A Manichean (“good” vs. evil”) moralism is adopted by narrator Jeff Gibbs (and is certainly nothing new for Michael Moore, his friend and executive producer).  Yes, terribly shortsighted compromises by certain enviro-orgs — most conspicuously the Sierra Club’s acceptance of massive sums from natural-gas and timber interests! — are important to know.  But to implicitly smear all enviro-orgs (“guilt-by-association”) is little better than an “eco-McCarthyism.”  What is Gibbs’ motive here?  To claim that all enviro-NGOs have “sold out” to Big Business?  Inevitably, along predictable Mephistophelian lines, fossil-fuel corporations will dangle huge sums in front of such groups, promising in the bargain to “green” some of their destructive activities (in reality, to “green-wash” them).  But the vast majority of such NGOs have avoided these lures.  One merely has to read their annual reports and 990 tax statements, all made available.  In addition, respected philanthropy watchdogs such as Charity Watch and Charity Navigator provide financial evaluations of effectiveness and transparency.

Director Gibbs, like his pal Moore, continues to use the very questionable tactic of on-camera encounters at informal settings, wherein the hapless respondents inevitably appear awkward, uninformed, even evasive.  I consider this mean-spirited (“bad faith”): given the egregious omnipresence of video-recorders of all types (even in phones), how many of us, when confronted at any given moment, will be articulate and convincingly honest?  Despite Al Gore’s reprehensible and opportunistic political positions over his career, Earth in the Balance (1992) and An Inconvenient Truth  (2006) surely raised public awareness and understanding about the threat of global warming?  And one cannot justifiably conclude, as Gibbs insinuates, that Gore’s main purpose in making the documentary was to promote capital-investment in the “renewable”-energy companies he may be financially connected with.  To claim, as Gibbs does, that all major enviro-groups have been “taken over by capitalism” is silly, if not mendacious.  The world-economy, quite obviously, is capitalist; the relevant question is whether such groups in general receive funding from the very industries they claim to be fighting against.  The answer is: no.  For that matter, the producer Michael Moore is himself a 1% “capitalist.”  Last I read, his net worth was around $50 million!  Is he donating most of it to Doctors Without Borders or Oxfam (refugees, famine, cholera in Yemen) — and/or to Greenpeace et al??  Brazen hypocrisy should not be exhibited by outspoken critics of hypocrisy.

Yes, Bill McKibben does not “present well” on camera: in the clips presented, McKibben appears awkward, even evasive.  But, despite the film’s insinuation of secret corporate backers, the 350.org website does list the names of its foundation donors.  (One may indeed question, as I do, the organization’s single-minded focus on CO-2 — which ignores methane, 85X more potent as a greenhouse gas.)  A dozen years ago, McKibben did appear incredibly foolish when he enthusiastically advocated “bio-mass” burning (“renewable!”), but he soon repudiated this whole notion as “a bad idea.”  But Gibbs and Moore employ their very questionable technique of browsing through abundantly available, and often outdated, video-materials — to find conspicuously embarrassing and even “suspect” moments.  Gibbs, of course, doesn’t bother to set up serious interviews, in which Gore, McKibben, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and the others would be allowed to respond (not necessarily forthrightly, of course).

How does the major thrust of the movie, that “clean” energy is a pipe-dream, stand up to serious analysis?  First, the fact that certain concert emcees falsely claimed that the events were “100% solar-powered” means nothing — so what?  Foolish hyperbole?  Of course.  Throughout the movie, Gibbs, the purist, remains fixated on “either/or.”  Either an energy-source is entirely “off-the-grid” or, it’s still dependent on fossil fuels.  Many critics of the film have noted that Gibbs didn’t bother to present the current efficiency of solar-and-wind energy technologies, which have indeed been infused with a lot of R & D investment in recent years.  In sun-drenched sub-tropical regions, off-the-grid solar panels, with adequate hydrogen storage batteries, may soon be feasible.  But Gibbs is perplexed that the hydrogen itself comes from fossil fuels.  So what?  On balance, wouldn’t such off-the-grid solar still be a huge energy-saving advantage — compared with the vast network of “natural” gas pipelines?  Gibbs, who certainly makes the GM executive he encounters look foolish, dismisses the electric Chevy Volt as hopelessly misguided — it requires charging from the mainstream power-grid (fossil-fuel based)!  Again, so what?  Isn’t the vehicle still possibly preferable to a gas-guzzling SUV (or even a Prius)?

The points about the fallacies of “bio-fuels” are valid but have been widely known for over 10 years.  This exemplifies perhaps the major shortcoming of the movie: sketchy and often-outdated information, with a conspicuous absence of any current scientific testimony on the issues. On the other hand, the film does a good job in revealing the fraud of “bio-mass” as a “renewable” energy-source.  Timber companies, responding to the reduced demand for paper, re-marketed wood as a “natural, renewable” alternate-energy source.  Vast, rapid-growth “tree plantations” are now scattered through much of the U.S. South.

America’s Great Greenwashing

Celebrating 50 years of Earth Day, Michael Moore, executive producer and the director Jeff Gibbs re-released their daunting and alarming documentary about the heart and soul of America’s Green Movement in a compelling film: Planet of the Humans (2019).

According to Michael Moore: “This is perhaps the most urgent film we’ve shown in the 15-year history of our film festival.” (Traverse City Film Festival)

Director Jeff Gibbs, a tree-hugger since birth, who has received high praise from the likes of Dr. Jane Goodall, has inspired countless thousands of people over the decades to protect indigenous cultures and ecosystems. He is one of a few “rare blessings” for the planet.

Planet of the Humans is a very, very important film. It’s an explosive exposé of the Greening of America, a must-see film especially for people who care deeply about the planet.

Solar, Wind, Biomass, 350.org, the Sierra Club, Chevy Volt, Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Van Jones, Michael Bloomberg, and Goldman Sachs have cameo appearances in Gibbs’ eco documentary about “going green.” Especially true as it exposes new pathways to multifarious failings within a horribly misguided and vastly misrepresented Green Movement. It is well documented by Gibbs’ boots on the ground.

The film has one surprise after another gusto of actual events littered with scenes of hypocritical environmental big name heroes and billionaire buddies.  Blatant examples of hypocrisy are exposed in scene after scene. Diehard environmentalists and hard core eco warriors are certain to be broken-hearted!

The film has powerful impressions of the green movement, in some instances, successful, but in far too many others soured within a vortex of deceit and misguided principles sorrowfully awash in greed showered with sprinkles of enriched iconic personalities, like Richard Branson and Al Gore.

Once the curtain is pulled back, the brutal truth about green energy hits like a hard slap to the face. Early on in the film a massive “green solar concert” in Vermont purportedly “powered 100% by green solar and biomass” is phony. Hidden behind the stage, the lights and instrumentation is connected to the state’s electrical grid powered by coal, not solar, not biodiesel.

Moving on, the film encounters a Chevy Volt at a car show. Kristin Zimmerman of GM responds to a question: “What is charging the electric car?”  She’s not sure but thinks maybe it’s natural gas.

Meanwhile, a bystander named J. Peter Lark of Lansing Board of Water and Light explains: “They’re charging the car off our grid which is about 95% coal.”

Back to GM’s Zimmerman, awkwardly smiling: “I don’t think coal is bad.”

Director Gibbs, frowning, suggests: “Mountain top removal?”

GM’s Zimmerman, stammering, not smiling, responds: “Oh, yeah, yeah…” holding hands out in a push-back expression of “we can’t have that!”

Which segues to a mountain top removal scene, but the mountaintop removal is to accommodate turbines for wind energy, not to mine coal. The scenario parallels wind turbines and mountaintop coal removal.

This film is full of surprises, especially for people that do not like getting their hands dirty, don’t hit the streets, or the back country, and thus do not experience real life scenes like the scenes throughout this invaluable film. In other words, cell phones and PCs research tools will never supersede the nitty-gritty value of experiencing the world in the flesh, in person like Jeff Gibbs.

During his travels, Gibbs encounters a hydrogen car exhibit that claims: “This car has a perpetual energy battery.” In turn, Gibbs asks where the hydrogen comes from. The reply by a representative of the hydrogen car company: “Hydrogen is sourced from any hydrocarbon material. So, ah-ah, you can get it from natural gas. You can get it from any petroleum oil-based product.” (Footnote: 90% of hydrogen fuel comes from fossil fuels) Hmm.

An underlying theme throughout the film is exposure of powerful interlinking connections between renewable energy and fossil fuels; effectively fossil fuel interests have “consumed the green movement” in various unorthodox ways, including the capture of name brand not-for-profit 501(c) orgs that “pretend” to reject fossil fuel interests. The film thus exposes a wholesale abandonment of ethical standards at the highest positions, although hidden from public view, inclusive of influential players in America’s celebrated Green Movement.

Along the way, ethanol production is exposed as dependent upon two things: (1) a giant fossil fuel based agricultural system to produce corn (whilst emitting tons of CO2) and (2) more fossil fuels (more CO2 emissions) in the form of coal and/or natural gas as significant quantities of fossil fuels are needed for direct production of ethanol, which is a massive, expensive complexity that supposedly “replaces fossil fuels.” Really?

Still, ethanol has a cameo appearance in the film compared to biomass as a renewable energy resource throughout the world.  But, there’s a problem called “trees.” For example, when initially introduced in the film, Bill McKibben of 350.org fame, delivers a speech to a public forum wherein he insists upon “biomass to save the planet”; yet later in the film, when interviewed by Gibbs, he awkwardly tries to distance himself from the massive, destructive biomass force “taking down the world’s trees.”

Burning wood emits CO2, same as all fossil fuels. An equal amount of heat or electricity produced by coal or natural gas requires burning wood that emits more CO2 on a pari passu basis. Green energy? Wrong!

How long does it take a forest to regrow?

There are 2,000 biomass power plants in the world chopping down trees much faster than rates of regrowth. It’s insane. The southern United States is home to a manufacturing industry that clears forests, grinds the trees into wood chips and recognized as the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets, mostly to Europe. That’s stupid!

After all, forests enhance quality of life well beyond the experience of humans hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing. All species like native animals, plants, and other assorted species have nowhere to go once their habitat is destroyed.

Planet of the Humans ends on a similar note as the films shows a family of disoriented orangutans in a lonely barren tree in the middle of a vast open field cleared of forest cover.

There is no end in sight.