Disciplining the Green Energy Discourse

Last week, on Earth Day, Michael Moore released a new documentary film called Planet of the Humans. Almost immediately, there was a furor from environmentalists and green energy proponents denouncing the film as false, misleading, based on bad science or outdated evidence, and so on. Some have lumped Moore in with climate change deniers.

I watched the film the day after it was released, and I can say categorically that the documentary does not deny climate change in any way. In fact, it suggests that the problem of climate change and the degradation of our environment is far more dire than is generally admitted. What the film does say is this:

    • all of the “solutions” being pursued (primarily alternative energy sources and more efficient energy-burning technologies) will not avert a climate catastrophe because they cannot replace carbon fast enough
    • all of the solutions being pursued have gigantic environmental footprints in their destruction of planetary resources and ecosystems (through mining and material processing for example), as well as immense energy consumption in their production
    • the solutions are all a continuation on a grand scale of the capitalist-industrial progress-and-growth model that has produced the climate and environmental crisis in the first place
    • the solutions produce the illusion that we can solve this problem without any slow-down in economic growth or any need for drastic changes in our individual personal lifestyles or our global political or economic systems, that in fact this is a great opportunity for economic growth

Apparently, these are things that no one wants us to hear, that those with power in the environmental and green energy industries do not want people to think about. In short, it cannot be countenanced that these points be seen as true. So, it is necessary to bring out all the big guns to ensure the film’s credibility is destroyed. Fast.

And yet, I would suggest that most climate and environmental scientists would privately agree with the film’s general assertions. This film is merely elaborating the warning implicit in the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report of 2018: to limit the damage of global warming, society needs to make drastic changes now. Michael Moore is simply pointing out that the kinds of changes we are currently pursuing are simply not enough and are, indeed, wrong-headed.

Even the New York Times has said that “Halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 would be a tall order, to say the least…. We need to speed up the transition to clean and efficient transportation, electricity, industry, agriculture and buildings, and also make infrastructure and human systems more resilient. Achieving this requires much more than business as usual. It demands an enormous public and private undertaking of policy commitments, investments and innovation initiatives…. Achieving big reductions in emissions in less than a dozen years requires political action now.”

Now, almost two years after the IPCCC’s special report, now, just 10 years before their rough deadline, there is little sign that any drastic action is being taken. Greenhouse emissions keep rising, technologies are not changing fast enough, and we aren’t seeing “enormous public and private untakings” to address climate change happening anywhere. It is mostly business as usual.

Michael Moore’s film clearly identifies the culprit: the capitalist-industrial economic system that has always put profit and growth (the same thing really) above everything else: before the natural environment, before people, before any sense of ethics or morality. And this should not come as a surprise. Moore’s target in all of his films has always been capitalism, the sort of damage capitalism wreaks on the planet and the world’s populations, all for the benefit of the very few.

It seems to me that the film’s “error” was to point out so clearly that the so-called “green energy” industry, upon which the establishment environmental movement has pinned its hopes, is just as corrupt, just as damaging to the planet, just as false in its claims as capitalism has always been. It is just the same old wolf dressed up in a new sheep’s lipstick.

There has always been more than a whiff of deception around Green and other new-ish left-ish parties and movements. Green parties were never leftist, and as soon as the left joined up with them and abandoned their Marxist/socialist critical analysis of the capitalist system, the possibility of real change was drastically diminished. This fact has been exposed by the inability of even leftish governments and progressive societies to make change fast enough.

Even the dramatic reduction of energy use resulting from the shut-down of the world economy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has not been enough to meet the 2030 target.

Think about it: if we want to have even a hope of leaving a modestly horrible world for our children and grandchildren, we need to change the way we do things even more than we have done over the past 2 months, and we have to do it immediately and forever.

What’s the chance of that? In our current crisis, Americans are already demanding a return to “normal” and waving their guns around in support of their demands. Even Canadians are getting restless. Governments are caving to poular demand and business pressure all over the place, despite the high risk of rising death rates from COVID-19. Even when the value of oil is negative, when the industry is a liability, Jason Kenny and Justin Trudeau are investing billions in the industry.

So, why are people so down on Michael Moore’s film? Because, as the film points out, many people have a vested interest in keeping the system going as it is. For capitalist-industrialist political and economic reasons, we can’t have people believing that what Michael Moore is saying is true. Even if it is true.

So, the film is denounced as false on a bunch of quibbling grounds to divert attention from its real message. False messages of assurance—that you’ll be OK if you buy an electric car, invest in solar power, keep on recycling—are asserted as true. The true message that we are probably fucked—that if we do not change everything right now, we do not stand a chance of avoiding colossal disaster—are suppressed as false.

Here’s an example of the deviousness of the critics’ argument. The film uses a pie chart to demonstrate that, with all of its advances in alternative electrical energy production, Germany has replaced only 3 per cent of its energy requirements with clean energy. Critics have said this isn’t accurate, that “in fact” Germany has replaced over 50% of its electrical production with wind and solar. Well that may be true, but the real fact still remains that the vast majority of energy consumption—in transportation, in heating, in agriculture, in industrial processes—still needs to be converted. If green energy sources don’t even cover all of what is already powered by electricity, how can we possibly convert all of our other energy consumption, all of the major carbon sources, within the next 30 years? That is the point that green energy proponents don’t want you to think about.

Micheal Foucault might call that the disciplining of the green discourse. It’s about keeping the discourse within acceptable limits in order to maintain the power and knowledge structures of the status quo. We can’t have despair or revolutionary uprisings. We need to keep people consuming, shopping, borrowing, investing, and expanding the economy that is killing us all.


About Rick Martin

fish swim, birds fly daddies yell, mamas cry mean dogs snarl and bite I write (apologies to Mary Gauthier)
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2 Responses to Disciplining the Green Energy Discourse

  1. Foucault has, in a way, been appropriated by political theorists. Disciplined discourse is now called the ‘Overton Window’. What depresses me is that these theorists can recognize this phenomenon and not try to explode it. All they do is talk about minor shifts at the margins. Sometimes I wish the Luddites had been more successful.

  2. Francis Martin says:

    I saw this film when it came out also. Seems long ago now. Just found this blog. Thanks Rick for your clear analysis. I tend to agree from my less informed perspective of some of the specific facts on these vast and complicated matters. Seems we are still climbing up the sand dune of green solutions only to find ourselves never really getting to the top in time. The homeostasis of the capitalist status quo is seeming to be nearly unchangeable. Humans are appearing inadequate to address this colossal challenge on so many fronts, psychologically, socially and economically Denial lives loud within us. The essential truth of the movie seemed sound even though it’s conclusion is depressing. We’re still doing too little too late. We are floating like frogs in the ever warming water. Soon we won’t be able to leap out, even if that was our only salvation. Prepare to adapt.

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