Commentary On The Movie, The Planet Of The Humans
If Michael Moore’s movie is right, we have two choices left: Extreme minimalism or population control.
Several weeks ago, I watched The Planet Of The Humans. I had noticed lots of controversy about the film and decided to ante up a few bucks and watch the movie. I came to the movie with an open mind.
While it is true that there were a few factual errors in the film, I get the point generally. Making the solar panels, batteries, windmills and other devices to capture the energy that surrounds our planet is expensive. Extracting the raw materials from the earth is taxing the environment. The same is true for the waste products resulting from the manufacturing processes. Much of the waste is toxic. Who knew that it’s difficult to recycle wind turbines after they fail?
This may be a spoiler, but the final point of the movie is just that there are too many people on the planet. Who didn’t know that? The Mormons, the Catholics, the Muslims, and maybe the Chinese.
I’m an ardent recycler. I put what I can into recycling and hope that the recipients of my surplus will recycle what I can’t use. We live in a high surplus society. I have two trash cans, one is blue and one is brown. I often hope that the stuff in the blue box is actually recycled instead of being shipped somewhere else.
I do another form of recycling, too. I take what we no longer need and I give it away. I had a gas-powered lawnmower that I didn’t want to use because I’m not into gas and oil. I don’t like the noise of unmuffled exhaust. I wanted an electric lawnmower, so I used some of the pandemic relief funds we got this year to buy an electric mower. My wife and I found someone who would take the gas-powered mower.
I know, that’s probably not the best way to save the environment. According to Moore’s movie, I might as well have hired someone else to mow my lawn. But that costs more money than it costs for me to mow it. Besides, I could use the exercise. We gave away the gas mower to someone who could use it and sell it. I’m OK with that. I gave it away without regard to the outcome. If the new owner of my gas mower makes some money on it, that’s OK. I’m not worried about the money. I just didn’t want gasoline sitting around my house in a mower.
About once a year, we clear out stuff that we no longer need and take it to the local thrift store. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and most of the stuff we give away are clothes and toys for kids. I think of all that stuff as “cruft”. Cruft is this stuff that accumulates in places that don’t get much attention. Everything requires attention. Everything requires decisions to be made. And all of that requires energy.
Humans have a finite energy budget for each day. In the morning we’re bright and ready for a new day. At the start of the day, we have the energy to make decisions, and often we make better choices in the morning than we do in the afternoon. As the day passes, we experience decision fatigue. We find it harder to make good decisions later in the day. In the evening we fall into routines because improvisation is harder when you’re tired. I know, I’ve tried. Considering the quality of decisions made by humanity lately, I wonder if it’s late in the evening for humanity.
That cruft is everywhere. I see it on the side of the road. I see it in the shops. I see it at my workplace. I see it in my house. Just stuff sitting idle, nothing to do, not needed anymore, or maybe it is only rarely needed. Much of that cruft finds its way into a landfill. I try to recycle or give away as much as I can before I put it in the trash.
I’m mindful of my belongings, too. I’m careful about the things we have bought. I like to spend a little extra money to get better quality so that I buy it once rather than three times. I like to use things for as long as they are useful. I don’t like to throw things away. I’m mindful of what happens whenever I buy something.
If I break a glass, I buy a new one. If I buy a new water glass, that transaction is recorded as demand. The record goes all the way up the supply chain. From the retailer to the wholesaler, to the manufacturer, to the raw material suppliers, to the extractors. I think of all that and I want to be a minimalist.
When I finished watching Planet Of The Humans, I heard one message loud and clear. There are just too many of us. If there were only a billion people on the planet, then global warming might not be a problem. We wouldn’t be spewing that much CO2 into the air, maybe not enough to notice a change in the climate.
No matter what we do to conserve energy, to keep the air, water, and the land clean, there will still be more than 7 billion of us making and using the stuff we think we need to live. We have billions of cell phones. Where will they go when they die? Who knows? I sometimes think about that. I think about what happens when we make a billion of anything. That’s a very real demand on the environment.
But I still think of that message, that there are too many of us placing demands on the environment. I also know that all systems seek a state of equilibrium. All systems seek a state of rest and balance. Humanity is no different. Earth is no different.
Our relationship with Earth is being tested right now. We must learn to be in harmony with earth before the earth decides to flick us off like ticks. The odds favor the earth, not us.
Left unsaid in Planet Of The Humans was a message of hope. Well, I have a message of hope for you. About 7 years ago, I read this fascinating article about overpopulation. It was on Slate, and you can still find it here. The article provides some exploration of studies of an apparent decline in the rate of growth of the number of humans on the planet. To wit:
It took humankind 13 years to add its 7 billionth. That’s longer than the 12 years it took to add the 6 billionth — the first time in human history that interval had grown. (The 2 billionth, 3 billionth, 4 billionth, and 5 billionth took 123, 33, 14, and 13 years, respectively.) In other words, the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.
So they conducted studies to find out why the rate of growth had been slowing. Controlling for all other factors, they found that the single greatest factor that slowed the rate of human population growth was educating girls. Educate the girls and they will delay childbirth, and then they will have fewer kids. It’s really that simple, and that’s hopeful. Current trends suggest that by 2300, there will be only 1 billion people on the planet and that our population will start a slow decline around 2060.
Michael Moore’s movie may be wrong about a few facts, but the one thing that he got right is that there are just too many people on the planet. Many of them want something like the American Dream, too. 1 billion people may have only a hole in the ground for a restroom, but I bet most of them have a cell phone. I don’t think that the earth is going to be a very happy place to live if nearly 8 billion people manage to live the American Dream. I think that the current pandemic is a shot across the bow. The earth is saying to us to “cool it”.
So despite all that is going on now, I’m hopeful. I’m an optimist. I know that humanity will have no choice but to find a state of peace with the earth. The earth will have its way with us, or we will figure this out. The only question in my mind is whether we find that state of peace with the earth above or below the ground.