Comments on and review of the documentary Planet of the Humans
which was just released by Michael Moore, mostly done by Jeff Gibbs with some by Ozzie Zehner.
April 26, 2020, updated April 28, 2020
update April 28, 2020
A great review and collection of other review is at Films For Action
update April 28, 2020
A great review and collection of other review is at Films For Action
I feel even more outraged, I believed the film when it was talking about Bill McKibben and thought "well, at least they got Bill McKibben to stop promoting biomass burning". WRONG!
Here's his review, with references going back to 2016, where he changed his mind way before the film was released.
end update April 28, 2020
While I'm glad to see that much attention is being paid to overpopulation and to consumption of things and energy. I'm also glad that wood chip biomass is getting the roasting it usually so richly deserves, and that the Sierra Club is being exposed too.
But, much of the rest of this documentary is frankly lies or misleading. It appears to be filmed back in 2011/2012, and so much in the world has changed since then, particularly in the world of renewables.
I note the timestamps from the version on the site https://planetofthehumans.com/
Then I note "LIE" or "MISLEADING".
=== NOTE: incomplete but already hugely long ===
4:32 "Forget throwing plastic bottles in the water, we tossed our cars in there".MISLEADING Actually, the cars seen here are used, as many were elsewhere in those days, as revetment on the outside curve of this stream bend.
12:05 Chevy Volt - note this car was released in 2011. (and production of it ended in 2019)
NOTE Much of this documentary seems to be stuck in 2011/2012, so their statistics are very, very outdated.
12:42 (GM person speaking) "Everybody thought we killed the electric vehicle. No we didn't.
It's alive and well."
LIE (on GMs part)
Chevy Volt production ended in 2019, why that is is unclear, the Volt was the world's all-time best selling plug-in hybrid (PHEV). While they have brought out the Bolt - a battery EV, many people were still interested in the PHEV.
14:36 Michigan's largest solar array.
MISLEADING In fact this is a tiny array (power-wise) as far as solar arrays go.
It is made with amorphous silicon modules from the former Michigan company Uni-Solar
(United Solar Ovonic, LLC), a subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices. Due to the low efficiency
of this technology, and the high expense of flexible modules, the company went bankrupt
on Feb 14, 2012.
The 8% quoted efficiency is low, Uni-Solar was typically quoting more like 11 or 12%.
But that pales in comparison with the 18-20% efficient crystalline silicon modules currently readily available. Amorphous-silicon is now just a niche product for portable applications.
MISLEADING in fact a current technology array would be much smaller or provide for more homes. Either the documentary makers are clueless, or they are trying to make PV look bad. In either case, it discourages people from being interested in PV systems.
And it's tiny compared to this utility scale array from a couple years ago. 11,000 homes is a few more than 10 or 60. Things have changed a lot in just 8 years.
16:59 "Then the cell ..." (sic)
TYPO - the "nacelle" is what is mounted at the top of the tower with the actual generator inside and the hub and blades mounted on the upwind side. Should be "The nacelle is 220,000 pounds".
17:26 Vermont wind turbine site -
18:19 "And how long are these towers supposed to last?"
20 years is derided as "a nano-second"
LIE - the project has a 25 year permit (see article below).
MISLEADING - while it may be that the original towers will be taken down in 25 years, it is essentially a sure bet that if allowed, the turbine owner will "re-power" the site with latest generation machines. There is no reason that a good turbine site would not be used in perpetuity.
This is totally unlike mountain top removal for coal, where the acid waste will pollute the valley below for hundreds or thousands of years in an (arguable unfair) exchange for a few years of coal.
I'm also curious how those people got themselves and their synthetic material outdoor gear to the mountain.
DATED Here's a 2013 article about the project - after completion. Why is the documentary so out of date?
And we're not told who previously owned the land. Ah - this link below answers it: it was a working timber farm. The above article says 2800 acres of land is now preserved because of the project.
You would think a documentary trashing woody biomass would take note of this.
18:50 man saying you've got to have power plants at idle AND they use the same energy as if they were running at full power.
LIE should be self explanatory.
19:41 "but we've got to deal with population growth"
YES! One of my main beefs with the Sierra Club is they changed their tune about population when an investor bought them out of their sustainable immigration position.
19:48 "All this energy's supposedly going to heat a water park".
DUBIOUS - the project puts power out to the general grid, enough for 24,000 to 27,000 homes.
Why the wacky conspiracy nut stuff? Name the water park or shut up.
19:57 "Green Mountain will be bought out by Gaz Metro, and Gaz Metro is owned by Enbridge ..."
HALF TRUTH - Gaz Metro already owned Green Mountain Power as of 2007. Gaz Metro is co-owned by Enbridge and The Caisse. If this guy can't get some simple facts straight, why is he a trustworthy source?
20:54 Hydrogen Car exhibit
LIE by GM Hydrogen huckster: "This is like a perpetual energy battery."
My sympathy to Jeff here - anytime somebody says "perpetual", watch out.
The hydrogen hype machine just doesn't seem to quit. One wonders why, it is easy to see that when we get to a sustainable situation (since Business-As-Usual is NOT sustainable), hydrogen from fossil fuels will be gone, so we are left with hydrogen from:
* water-gas shift reaction from woody biomass: oh yeah, biomass, not enough to use sustainably, never mind.
* fermentation: nice if it works, but doesn't exist in practice yet (if ever). And uh - what are we going to feed the "bugs" if biomass is insufficient? Oh, never mind again.
* electrolysis: not so efficient. Why not just charge a battery?
That EVs are much more efficient than hydrogen fuel cell cars has been known rather decisively since 2006.
The only advantage of a hydrogen car over an EV now is a more rapid refill time.
But despite a comment on the above article from 2008 that BEVs cannot go 300 miles on a charge, many of the BEVs available in 2020 can do just that. And fast charging keeps getting faster.
Do we have to rush through life as fast as possible? I think not.
And, there's a small matter of exploding hydrogen infrastructure too:
21:15 Zoo eyes elephant poo as energy source
COMMENT: Jeff seems to deride something that helps as not worth doing if it doesn't totally cover everything, an all or nothing mentality. I think that sort of thinking is part of the problem.
NOTE: if the manure is just left to rot in a landfill, it will generate methane emissions. If digested in a biogas digester, then the methane burned, the effective greenhouse gas emission is less that letting the methane go wild. And one has some electricity and/or heat.
MISLEADING: When I tried to find an update to the story, all I found were the original flurry of poo stories from 2005, then nothing else about the Syracuse zoo and poo.
Neither their website nor this 2015 article talks about power from poo.
Jeff says "I read about a zoo that was said to be powered by elephant manure", but the NBC article just says they were "looking to be first" and "studying how feasible it would be".
Is Jeff just really sloppy, or is he intentionally misleading us?
But there _are_ zoos around the world who are powering parts of their operations with biogas digestors. Munich (note the 2011 date!), Tokyo, Toronto (in development) and Detroit
21:34 Ethanol plants
The documentary wasted a good opportunity here to introduce and talk about the concept of Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROEI sometimes just written EROI). It's the ratio of the energy one gets from a source to the sum of the energy involved in producing or extracting it.
Everybody who is concerned about sustainability ought to be familiar with the concept, and with this paper from 2009: What is the Minimum EROI that a Sustainable Society Must Have?
Obviously, if one gets less energy out that one puts in, the economics and sensibleness are questionable. Indeed Hall et. al. find in the above paper that a minimum EROEI for society to just function is about 3.
For corn ethanol, the EROEI has always been at or near 1.
This article on The Oil Drum from 2010 is a good summary.
It should be obvious that the whole corn ethanol program is a farm subsidy program. So if this was well known in 2010, why is it such a huge surprise to an "environmentalist" in 2020? The general population I can see, but someone who wrote for Mother Earth News?
Without the basis of EROEI and other factual, numerical comparisons, how is the viewer to do any reasonable evaluation of the various renewables? Is Jeff somebody who doesn't do numbers and is thus handicapped in thinking about these issues?
Or is this an attempt to smear all renewables with "just a scam"?
22:25 Richard Heinberg
Heinberg published _Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post Carbon World_ in 2004, with predictions of imminent peak oil. We peak oil watchers were all blindsided by fracing and oil sands. Peak oil within a decade just didn't happen, though the global financial crisis of 2008 was a close brush with peak oil. In the more recent _Out Renewable Future_ from 2015, Heinberg seems to be saying renewables are do-able, but it won't be easy.
Yet this clip has him saying "I'e counted like 25 alternative energy options. So surely, among all of those, there are enough sources of energy ... That's not the reality."
Then Heinberg continues with a comment that in some cases we get no energy from them.
Again, the documentary is dated, and important growth in renewables has occurred since the 2011-2012 timeframe of the filming, so I have to rate this as misleading as well.
There's no specification of what these sources are, just vague innuendo.
22:39 Richard York - the study in Nature
The study was published March 18, 2012.
It covered the period 1960-2009, a period where solar and wind grew from nothing to merely insignificant, but at least kind of countable.
York's result was that each unit of renewable electricity only displaced less than 1/10th of a unit of fossil fuel electricity.
But 2 years later, in a conference paper, Liddle and Sadorsky revisted the issue. They covered the period 1971-2010, and claim a more robust treatment of the data.
See discussion at top of page 4 in
They found that non-fossil fuel sources displace about 1/2 unit of fossil fuel generation, significantly larger.
But we have even more renewables now, and I think the issue is pretty well settled. At large enough renewables penetration, the grid operators are now savvy enough to deal with it.
We see this from the UK now. With the covid-19 pandemic minimizing travel thus air pollution, and the approach of summer, the sky over the UK is clear and sunny. So much solar energy is being generated that all the coal plants have shut down.
24:19 Ozzie Zehner
24:33 "One of the most dangerous things right now is the illusion that alternative technologies like wind and solar, are somehow different than fossil fuels."
MISLEADING ALARMISM free fuel and intermittency, sounds pretty different to me.
He whines that people say solar cells are made of sand, but he lets us in on this amazing secret - they're actually made of quartz. Duh Ozzie, most sand is quartz, aka silicon dioxide, aka silica, SiO2. Beach sand may or may not be too dirty (note the "pure quartz" Ozzie has is slightly discolored with minerals), but it isn't used for another reason: the small grains will impede the flow of gas away from the reaction zone in the arc furnace.
When you put the coal and wood shavings and crushed (not so pure) silica rock into the electric arc furnace, the impurities in the coal and wood alone means your metallurgical grade silicon is at most 99% pure.
No need for the hyperpure quartz from Spruce Pine, North Carolina. The metallurgical grade silicon is purified by turning it into a volatile compound trichlorosilane (SiHCl3), which is then distilled to exquisite purity, as much as 99.9999999% pure. Then high purity polysilicon is deposited from the trichlorosilane onto seed rods in a Siemans reactor. (I'll ignore the fluidized bed process, since it has little market share).
Where you do need the Spruce Pine ultra-pure quartz is when one melts the high purity polysilicon to form it into a single crystal round "boule" via the Czochralski method, or makes a flattened square multi-crystalline directionally solidified ingot. The crucibles used are made from the hyperpure quartz so they don't contaminate the molten high purity silicon, and are only good for a single ingot or maybe a couple of boules.
25:18 "You can't use sand because sand has too many impurities."
LIE As explained above, this isn't true. One actually avoids the use of sand because the small grains will impede the flow of gas away from the reaction zone.
I'll let the comment about silicon metal and carbon dioxide go (it's silicon and carbon monoxide). The CO is finally turned into CO2 at the top of the furnace.
25:54 Jeff: "Ozzie Zehner said it was an illusion that renewables were replacing coal or any fossil fuel."
LIE see above about the UK and solar output.
Zehner continues his lies about solar not replacing coal by saying they're just replacing the coal plant with natural gas plants. First, these coal plants are often old and rundown - industrial equipment doesn't last forever, particularly those exposed to high temperatures and the corrosive coal exhaust gases. Second, many coal plants pollution control equipment doesn't meet new standards. Third, natural gas is cheaper than coal, both because of fracking leading to high availability, and because combined cycle plants are much more efficient. Fourth, the natural gas plants are more flexible, and better able to back up solar. But they don't run full out just spewing CO2 into the air during the day when solar is working, they're throttled down or even turned off.
26:57 Ozzie: (re Iowa) "But then they're building a larger natural gas plant." "This is a 650 megawatt natural gas plant. That's 4 times for megawatts that the coal plant over there that it's replacing".
LIE #1 It's 706 megawatts per Alliant's web site.
LIE #2 it actually replaces "14 less efficient, smaller older generating units". Yes, fourteen. So no wonder it's bigger than the one across the street.
And another reason gas is shutting down coal - "... needs 90% less water supply than the units it replace."
More good news from Alliant: "less than half the carbon dioxide, two-thirds less nitrogen oxides and roughly 99% less sulfur and mercury than traditional coal-fired generation."
And explicitly: "The generating station also supports our growing investments in renewable energy. It has the ability to adjust its output up and down quickly. This provides flexibility to better integrate wind and solar power into the electric supply mix."
More evidence that Ozzie is lying about wind not replacing fossil fuels.
If you go to the Alliant Energy site link above, then click on "Our Energy Vision", you'll see down at the bottom of the pop right menu "Generation Projects". Half the links are wind, the other half are natural gas. Now look above under "Advancing Clean Energy" and explore. One will find a page about wind generation.
One finds the utility saying: "Wind has no associated fuel expenses, which helps provide long-term cost stability to customers." If it wasn't economic, why would the utility build it?
The only way it's economic is if it replaces fossil fuels - even cheap natural gas - enough to pay back the cost of building the wind turbines.
NOTE: fossil fuel plants also need backup, they are known to go down suddenly, so there must always exist sufficient backup online to deal with loss of the biggest plant on the transmission network.
=== that's it for now, barely 1/3 into this and the lies are rampant.