A new documentary from Hollywood filmmaker Michael Moore has caused controversy over its alleged criticism of electric cars, prompting environmentalists to call for the film to be pulled from distribution.
Planet of the Humans, which was executive produced by Moore and written and directed by Jeff Gibbs, premiered on YouTube on April 21 and immediately sparked a social media debate over its inherent suggestion that electric cars aren't as emissions-free as many may have hoped.
In an interview with Reuters, Moore said that, before making the film, he thought electric cars were a "good idea", "but I didn’t really think about where is the electricity coming from?" he added.
According to a review from The Hollywood Reporter, the documentary essentially tells audiences: "You may feel good about yourself if you drive an electric car, but don't forget that it's recharged by energy from a power company that uses coal or natural gas. And that the battery was manufactured by a company using fossil fuels."
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For this Sunday, a nice review of our film, “Planet of the Humans”, from the magazine “Spirituality and Practice”. They write: “This film is a delusion-shattering documentary on how the green energy movement has been taken over by capitalists.“ We - especially our writer and director Jeff Gibbs - have spent the better part of a decade or so researching and filming “Planet of the Humans” to show the public that we are on the wrong road, that corporate America has co-opted “green” energy in order to profit from it, and that we need new, radical, young leadership to steer our movement away from the cliff and toward truly saving this planet. The old way has failed, climate change has blown up into a climate emergency, and we have run out of time. The urgency of this moment - and the warning of our current pandemic that says Mother Nature has had it with our behavior - led us to decide this week to forgo our fall film release and make this movie available free of charge to EVERYONE - NOW - before it’s too late. We don’t have six months to wait for you to see what we’re going to show you. Two-and-a-half MILLION people (and their families) have already watched “Planet of the Humans” on my YouTube channel just since Tuesday. Please give 98 minutes of your time to this moviea movie that’s been made by a lifetime environmentalist, first-time filmmaker and the co-producer of my films (“Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11”). I am its executive producer. The solutions are simple: Remove the profit motive, reduce consumption, and let young people like Greta, Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement, Black Lives Matter and the Parkland students start calling the shots. It is THEIR future, and we’ve done nothing more than hand them a choking planet with shitty jobs and a corrupt political system that puts the stock market and rushing back to “business as usual” ahead of their very lives. Enough!
These claims have been labelled "unsubstantiated" and described as an "attack" on renewable energy by activists who have devoted their time to pushing for a move away from fossil fuels.
Led by documentary filmmaker and environmentalist Josh Fox, a coalition of concerned scientists and activists co-signed a letter to Films For Action, the distributor of Planet of the Humans, demanding it be "retracted by its creators and distributors and an apology rendered for its misleading content".
Films For Action responded by removing the film from its website and issuing an apology, admitting: "When Planet of the Humans first came out, we added it to the site before watching it because we trusted Michael Moore's track record of releasing quality films that are factually accurate."
However, the company then reinstated the film to its website, issuing a statement that read: "Ultimately, we decided to put it back up because we believe media literacy, critique and debate is the best solution to misinformation."
The film also still remains live and viewable on YouTube.
1) I just received notice that the distributor of Michael Moore's #PlanetoftheHumans is taking the film down due to misinformation in the film.Thank you to @FilmsForAction for responding to our demand for a retraction and an apology from @mmflint.See below. And thank you to... pic.twitter.com/3ZzkLhTVyC— Josh Fox EndFossilFuels (@joshfoxfilm) April 24, 2020
In one particularly contentious scene from the documentary, captured at the 2010 launch of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, General Motors spokesperson Kristin Zimmerman is filmed admitting there's "a bit of coal" used in charging the Volt.
Shortly after, the general manager of a local utility company confirms: "It would be charging off our grid, which is about 95% coal."
Journalist Cathy Cowan Becker, Research Fellow at the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, called this footage "dated" in an article for Medium.
"The main argument is that the electricity being stored by the vehicle’s battery was generated by fossil fuels, so it must be pointless to drive an EV, right?" Becker wrote.
"Wrong again, on two counts. First, even if the energy the EV is using was generated by coal, it is still cleaner to drive an electric vehicle. The Union of Concerned Scientists has crunched these numbers...
"Second, the grid itself is getting cleaner. Coal plants are closing, and more renewable energy is going onto the grid."
The debate around the green credentials of electric cars has been ongoing, with detractors suggesting they are a far-from-perfect solution given they require coal-powered energy to charge and are constructed from base metals, which require resource-heavy mining methods to extract.
Recently, however, new research pointed to deep sea mining of these metals as the solution to the latter, while auto industry figures argue a greater focus on renewable energy sources has the potential to further reduce emissions over time.
"[Electric vehicles are] a journey of good, better, best," Behyad Jafari, CEO of Australia's Electric Vehicle Council, has previously told CarAdvice. "You'll hear detractors saying there are still emissions associated with EVs, but compared to what we have today with ICEs [internal combustion engines], we'll still be in a better position."