Michael Moore’s Generous Gift to the Oil Companies

Lee Phillips
June 29th, 2020

The oil companies have a long history[1] of successfully suppressing the market for renewable energy sources by spreading misinformation about solar and wind power, and of pressuring state and local regulators to interfere with its adoption.

Many of the fossil fuel industry’s deceitful talking points are reiterated in the new film1 “Planet of the Humans”, produced by Michael Moore and directed and written by Jeff Gibbs.

The film has been condemned without qualification by a legion of climate scientists, including Michael Mann, the researcher responsible for the famous “hockey stick” graph of global temperatures. Dr. Mann, who has, with other scientists, signed a letter[2] calling for the film’s retraction, has said that it contains “various distortions, half-truths and lies”, and that it peddles climate denialist tropes. These scientists are campaigning to correct the record, and undo the considerable damage done by this propaganda juggernaut, already viewed about 5 million times[3] on YouTube.

If fact, the film does have a point, buried within its anti-rational appeal: unfettered population increase and unending economic growth are a big part of our current crisis. But it is either dishonest or uninformed in trying to get us to think that the environmental movement is not acutely aware of this issue. The dangers of Homo Sapiens’ reckless dominance over the planet has been a persistent theme at the core of the environmental movement since Malthus. It is not the singular and profound insight of Jeff Gibbs, no matter how new these concepts may be to him personally.

Near the beginning of this film, its producers put someone in front of the camera to make their central point for them, scoffing at the very idea that there could be a technological component to the solution to our problems. The entirety of the remainder of the film seems determined to prove this one point, by any means necessary, truthful or otherwise: any new technology is doomed to fail, all renewable energy technologies are lies, and the people supporting them have some sinister agenda. Since green technology can not work, we might as well stop trying and continue to burn coal and oil, while we try to convince our fellow citizens that they can save the planet by having fewer children and ditching their cars and air conditioners. It’s a script that could have been written by Exxon’s public relations department.

It is not the sheer dishonesty of the film that is surprising. After all, although Michael Moore is not its listed author or director, he is its producer, and his reputation casts its shadow of low expectations upon it. Moore does not utter lies in his films; he arranges for others to appear in front of his camera to lie for him. He edits his footage to retain the statements that tell the story he wants to tell, even if he knows those statements to be untrue. Moore admitted as much in an interview2 on the Howard Stern show on June 25th, 2004, in response to a challenge by a caller. Moore allowed a statement by a secret service agent about the guarding of embassies to stand unchallenged in his film “Fahrenheit 9/11”—a statement that Moore had to have known was false, but one that advanced the agenda of the film. His response to the caller, who correctly pointed out that this is simply an underhanded way to deceive an audience, was simply to shrug and say, “He said it.”

This is the central storytelling technique of “Planet of the Humans.” It is riddled with outdated information[4], emotional manipulation, scientifically unsound conclusions, a dizzying variety of misinformation, and outright lies. (The “documentary” does have enthusiastic supporters: a band of prominent names[3] from the climate denialist community.) When Gibbs can’t find someone to say what he wants said, he says it himself in a voiceover, or has one Ozzie Zehner say it. Dr. Zehner is featured prominently in front of the camera as an independent expert. The viewer who squints through the credits might find it odd to discover that Zehner was also one of the movie’s cinematographers, but the credits do not reveal that he was a co-producer of the film as well—a curious omission.

All of this is as expected. What is more surprising is the clientele. Why on Earth are Michael Moore and his colleagues carrying water for the oil companies? It’s easy to speculate about unsavory motives, but I prefer not to traffic in unproven accusations, no matter how readily they come to mind. Unfortunately, this film’s creators are not so fastidious, freely maligning prominent environmentalists from Al Gore to Bill McKibben, strongly suggesting that their support of green technologies can only be explained by their personal, greedy pursuit of profit. I think this disaster of a documentary has a simpler, commonplace explanation: Moore and friends are simply gullible, undereducated, and ignorant of the science, economics[5], and engineering surrounding the subjects that they are so strident about. And, as happens so often, in a time when the mere concept of “expertise” is looked upon with suspicion, it is, paradoxically, their very innocence that bolsters their confidence and gives them the tragically mistaken idea that they have the right to an opinion.


[1] Phillips L. Solar energy. In: Letcher T, editor. Managing Global Warming, Elsevier; 2018. Ch. 9.

[2] Milman O. Climate experts call for “dangerous” Michael Moore film to be taken down. The Guardian 2020.

[3] Nuccitelli D. Michael Moore’s “Planet of the Humans” documentary peddles dangerous climate denial. Yale Climate Connections 2020.

[4] Phillips L. The future of solar power technology is bright. Ars Technica 2017. https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/02/for-a-brighter-future-science-looks-to-re-energize-the-common-solar-cell/ (accessed February 16, 2017).

[5] Phillips L. The state of residential solar power. Ars Technica 2017. https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/02/solar-power-is-it-for-you/ (accessed February 5, 2017).

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk11vI-7czE

  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjMeLcUHQnk at 26:33

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