Toward the end of the recently-released, Michael Moore-produced film Planet of the Humans, the narrator blames everyone: “It’s not one thing, but everything we are doing. A human-caused apocalypse.”
Does this universal condemnation apply to public health workers in besieged reproductive health clinics risking their lives to foster a safer, less-crowded world? Does it include dedicated engineers who have reduced the cost of solar panel installations by 65% over the past decade? What about young, would-be teachers facing crushing student debt burdens?
We sadly expect sweeping incoherence from the current occupant of the White House. It’s disconcerting in a film presumably seeking to open our minds to the state of the world.
Planet of the Humans has been soundly criticized for deploying out-of-date information on various renewable energy options. But what’s really striking is its vague, insubstantial handling of population issues.
The film has been tagged as Malthusian. Like many oft-cited writers, Thomas Robert Malthus is more often referenced than read. His main thesis, proffered long before the advent of modern contraception and in an era when women were often treated as mere property, was that population growth would outstrip human capacity to feed those growing numbers. But Malthus also observed, “To minds of a certain cast there is nothing so captivating as simplification and generalization.”
This film falls all-too-neatly into that very trap. It’s not that it exaggerates the scope of the threats posed by human activity. And its general reference to population impacts is grounded in fact. But it feels like yet another unnecessary nostalgia trip back to the ’60s in its failure to recognize the extraordinary potential of modern contraception.
In 1950, the average woman on earth had five children. Today the average is 2.5 children. In 1970, there were about four nations on earth at or below replacement rate fertility—which is just over two children per woman in a reasonably safe and healthy society. Today, there are nearly 100 such nations.
These revolutionary shifts go unnoticed in this film. With hundreds of millions of women worldwide still facing huge barriers to contraceptive freedom, focusing on that challenge would seem more worthwhile than sour observations that progress toward a greener world can be wildly uneven.
The film’s thesis that the environmental movement—with its tens of millions of active members—is stale, stalled, and captured by corporate interests is as sophomoric as it is flat-out wrong. The documentary unfairly degrades and obfuscates tireless efforts of our fellow citizens devoted to making our air and water cleaner—indeed to saving our living planet.
In our complex pluralistic society, there is no progress without compromise. It might be nice if it were otherwise, but it isn’t. Besides, none of us possess all the answers. Those who loudly claim to do so always turn out to be insufferable windbags.
As for renewable energy, well, it’s renewable. With every passing day, solar arrays and wind turbines are getting more efficient. Let’s keep in mind that it’s taken centuries to degrade the planet. Like it or not, it’s going to take much time and vast effort to achieve a sustainable world.
There is no better place to start than by respecting and supporting all voluntary reproductive health services. We now know that most women prefer to have smaller families, given the choice. Saving the planet starts by respecting their rights and lifting them up, not by putting down efforts by decent people working hard to shift us away from a fossil fuel economy.