By Chris Lang
The new documentary Planet of the Humans is, like anything Michael Moore gets involved with, deliberately controversial. This one attacks renewable energy, some parts of the green movement, and decides that over-population is the problem. Moore released the film on his YouTube channel on the 50th Earth Day. In a week it’s had more than 3.9 million views.
There have been several critiques of the documentary. Most of them focus on the inaccurate information in the film. Unfortunately, these reviews are at least partly right. There are way too many inaccuracies in the film. Films for Action was so concerned about the inaccuracies, that it removed the film from its website for half a day. Then they put it back.
But in the flurry of criticism of the film, some important points are being missed completely. This post is the first in a series on REDD-Monitor exploring the points that the film raises that deserve further discussion, regardless of whether some of the documentary is inaccurate or not.
Planet of the Humans is not a Michael Moore film. It is directed and narrated by Jeff Gibbs, with Michael Moore as executive producer and Ozzie Zehner as producer. Gibbs worked with Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine. Zehner is the author of the 2012 book, “Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism”.
The documentary was filmed over the past decade or longer. One of the irritating things I found watching the documentary is that it doesn’t give any dates. I’ll try to put in the timeline in this series of posts about the documentary.
Here’s the documentary. If you haven’t seen it, go ahead. Knock yourself out:
Blood and Gore
In 2008, Barack Obama won the election. “Change has come to America,” Obama announced.
Obama rolled out a US$1 trillion stimulus package, including nearly US$100 billion for green energy. Gibbs tells us that fomer vice-president Al Gore, “who had a few years earlier released an Oscar-winning film, shared his ideas with the president”. The film, of course was An Inconvenient Truth, released in 2006.
Gibbs doesn’t go into any detail about the meeting in Chicago between Gore, Obama and Joe Biden. CNN reported at the time that Gore had asked for the meeting with Obama.
Obama told reporters,
“The purpose of this meeting here today was to listen and learn from vice-president Al Gore on the extraordinary work that he has done around the issue of climate change….
“I think what’s exciting about that conversation is that it is not only a problem but it’s also an opportunity….
“We have the opportunity now to create jobs all across this country, in all 50 states, to re-power America, to redesign how we use energy, to think about how we are increasing efficiency, to make our economy stronger, make us more safe, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and make us competitive for decades to come, even as we’re saving the planet.”
A close friend of Gore’s told CNN, “The Gore trip is for more than just a chat. He wouldn’t burn that much carbon flying to Chicago just to talk.”
This might have been a good time to tell us that in 2004 Al Gore set up a company called Generation Investment Management LLP. He set it up with David Blood, ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. The company was registered in London in April 2004.
Generation Investment Management was set up 10 months before the Kyoto Protocol came into force (February 2005). Gore’s meeting with Obama in 2009, looks more like a lobbying meeting with a Wall Street financier, than a meeting with an environmentalist.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Planet of the Humans mentions Generation Investment Management, but much later on in the documentary.
Richard Branson’s US$3 billion investment in “green energy”
Gibbs jumps from the Gore, Obama, Biden meeting in Chicago to tell us that Gore had “already encouraged billionaire airline owner Sir Richard Branson to invest big time in green energy”. That was in 2006.
The film shows a CNN news clip: “Branson is pledging future profits from his airline to the tune of perhaps US$3 billion. US$3 billion, that’s with a ‘b’, to fight global warming.”
Branson announced his promise at the 2006 Clinton Global Initiative.
In fact, Virgin’s US$3 billion profit was going to be invested in part of Branson’s Virgin conglomerate – Virgin Fuels. A large part of the money would go on biofuels.
In September 2006, George Monbiot summed up Branson’s promise:
Branson can make the $3 billion he claims he will spend only by expanding his existing businesses, especially the airlines. His investment plan depends to a large extent on the success of the Virgin America airline he is about to launch in the US. His vision could be summarised thus: we must destroy the planet in order to save it.
In January 2008, Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch put out a critical factsheet about “Richard Branson and the Virgin Group’s biofuel investment”.
Much later in the documentary, we see a news clip from February 2008 of a Virgin 747 flying from London to Amsterdam on a fuel mix that included biofuel manufactured from coconut oil and babassu palm oil.
“Branson had actually invested in biofuels,” Gibbs tells us. “He was attempting to replace the jet fuel damaging the planet with biofuels that required the consumption of the living planet.”
In October 2018, a Virgin 747 made the first commercial flight using biofuel. It flew from Orlando, Florida to Gatwick, London, powered by a fuel mix containing 5% biofuel. The biofuel is made from industrial waste gases converted into ethanol, by a startup company called Lanzatech.
Branson’s Earth Challenge
Following the announcement of Branson’s US$3 billion investment in his own company, Planet of the Humans shows a clip of Branson and Gore at the 2007 Earth Challenge. “Is Al Gore a prophet?” Branson is asked. “How do you spell prophet?” Branson replies. Everyone laughs.
The Earth Challenge was a US$25 million prize, offered by Branson, for anyone who can “demonstrate a commercially viable design which results in the permanent removal of greenhouse gases out of the Earth’s atmosphere”.
In 2011, eleven finalists were chosen from more than 10,000 entrants.
Planet of the Humans returns to David Blood later on.
“There was a man from Goldman Sachs who was particularly in love with turning forests into profits,” Gibbs says. “Meet David Blood, former CEO of asset management for Goldman Sachs.”
We see Blood on a stage at a conference organised by CERES in 2013. He tells the audience that US$40 to US$50 trillion of capital should be invested in green energy.
In April 2008, Generation Investment Management bought an equity stake in an Australian company called New Forests. David Blood joined the board of New Forests.
The documentary gives us little information about New Forests. The company is part of a “financialisation of nature”. Investment companies like New Forests accesses international finance and invest the money in industrial tree plantations – which the investment companies claim are “sustainable”.
In April 2017, New Forests bought 24,000 hectares of industrial tree plantations in Laos from the Japanese pulp and paper company Oji Paper. New Forests renamed the plantation operation Mekong Timber Plantations Co. Ltd.
The tree plantations were established with funding from an Asian Development Bank project. In the year 2000, I visited the plantation area and took photographs of Oji Paper’s predecessor in the project (a company called BJA Lao Plantation) in the process of clearing forests to make way for industrial tree plantations:
More photographs of the destruction are available here:
In 2005, the Asian Development Bank admitted that “people were driven further into poverty by having to repay loans that financed failed plantations”. The Bank’s plantations project was a failure and actually created poverty. It was, in other words, a land grab.
In 2005, Oji Paper bought BGA’s plantations. And in 2012, the monocultures were certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as “well managed”.
The FSC certification was withdrawn two years later following a detailed report by Australian academic Glenn Hunt for Plantation Watch. Hunt’s report analysed the certification report produced by SGS Qualifor and found that,
“The Public Summary document issued by SGS Qualifor also fails to address significant customary tenure issues in communities in the plantation area despite customary tenure existing under the law and also being a controversial issue in the socio-political context of the one party authoritarian State of Laos. Despite there being significant reporting of grievances within the target communities related to the loss of land and forest the SGS Qualifor report finds no grievances recorded.
Hunt provided more detail about the social and environmental impacts of the plantations in his 2012 thesis.
But the fact that Oji Paper’s FSC certificate was withdrawn doesn’t mean that New Forests couldn’t get their own FSC certificate. New Forests hired the German consulting firm GFA to assess the plantations, spun a nice story about how wonderful monocultures are, and that land grabs actually relieve poverty. In October 2019, with a bit of magic FSC pixie dust, New Forests’ plantations in Laos were certified as well managed.
Generation Investment Management
Gibbs tells us about Blood and Gore’s partnership in the company Generation Investment Management LLP.
“Within this fund, Blood and Gore designated a special investment category targetting US$650 million of biomass and biofuels. The company started in 2004, two years before Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. Gibbs asks, “Was that movie just about climate change, or something else?”
The documentary shows a clip from “An Inconvenient Truth”. Al Gore stands on a stage in front of a slide with a scientist looking at a scale with gold bars on one side, and the earth on the other. “On one side, we have gold bars!” Gore says, “Mmmmmm, don’t they look good? I’d just like to have some of those gold bars. Mmmmm.”
“If we do the right thing, then we’re gonna create a lot of wealth,” Gore adds.
“And when it came time for Al Gore to choose between the entire planet and getting him some of them gold bars, what choice did he make?” Gibbs asks.
Al Gore on the road to Copenhagen
Gibbs doesn’t answer. We see footage of Gore at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee session on Global Climate Change in January 2009. Gibbs tells us, “Here’s Al Gore earning his keep by pretending to care for the rainforest while lobbying congress on behalf of the sugar cane ethanol industry.”
Then we see Christopher J. Dodd, Senator from Connecticut (1981-2011) asking Gore “Any comment on the Brazilian effort here, with the issue of the possibility of expanding into that Amazon River Basin with further deforestation to produce more ethanol out of sugar cane is a worry. Apparently you’re not as concerned about that, because…”
“No, no, no, I am.” Gore replies. “I simply forgot.”
The documentary cuts to helicopters flying just above the heads of people in Brazil. Children scream.
It’s very dramatic, and Gore appears to have forgotten about the problems with sugar cane plantations in Brazil. But it relies on some pretty misleading editing.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee session was titled, “Addressing Global Climate Change: The Road to Copenhagen”. It was about the US position on the UN climate change negotiations that would take place in Copenhagen in December 2009 (COP15). The aim was to agree a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol.
In his speech, Gore mentions Brazil’s plans to reduce deforestation (announced at COP14 in Poznan),
Developing countries, as you said, Mr. Chairman, that were once reluctant to join in the first phases of a global response to the climate crisis, have, themselves, now become leaders in demanding action and in taking bold steps on their own initiatives.
Brazil has proposed a very impressive new plan to halt the destructive deforestation in that nation. Indonesia has emerged as a new constructive force in the talks. And China’s leaders have gained a strong understanding of the need for action, and have already begun important new initiatives.
Gore doesn’t mention sugar cane in his speech, a transcript of which is available here.
During the questions after his speech, Gore explains further,
Now, on the prospects for the treaty, as compared to Kyoto. The general expectation and acceptance, in the developing world, that they will have binding commitments in the first phase, makes this a very different kind of outlook than was the case with Kyoto.
When Gore finishes his speech, Dodd asks him three questions. The second question is about sugar cane plantations expanding into the rainforest. Gore doesn’t mention sugar cane plantations in his answer. Dodd reminds him. Here’s Gore’s response:
No, no, I am. Thank you for giving — I didn’t answer it, and I thank you for giving me another chance. I simply forgot.
President Lula has recently proposed, on the eve of the Poznan negotiation last December, a truly impressive large short-term goal of avoiding the deforestation pattern that has been so prominent in the Amazon.
What’s been going on there is really very troubling, and, with your permission, I’ll show you a very quick example of it, from the western Amazon basin, over a period of 25 years.
[Video of satellite pictures showing Amazon deforestation.]
President Lula’s proposal is to stop thoughtless destruction of valuable areas of rainforest. And it’s important to note that the exploitation of the sugar-cane growing areas in Brazil, which gives a highly efficient source of ethanol that’s efficient economically and in terms of energy balance, does not have to inevitably have the knock-on consequence of causing destruction in the Amazon. It’s a different area of Brazil, and, with the kind of policy innovation that President Lula has proposed, I believe they can, if they enforce it — that’s been one of the problems with past initiatives — if they enforce it, I think that they can continue to provide global leadership on ethanol production and avoid deforestation
In Planet of the Humans, at the end of this segment we see Gore saying “it’s important to note that the exploitation of the sugar-cane growing areas in Brazil does not have to inevitably have the knock-on consequence of causing destruction in the Amazon.”
The documentary cuts to flames from burning sugar cane. A voice-over says, “Sugar-cane fields are burning. They are set alight before the harvest to eliminate the leaves and tops of the plant which makes cutting more efficient. Environmentalists blame the seemingly endless sugar-cane fields for air and water pollution on an epic scale. And along with deforestation, the threat it poses to the environment is becoming clear.”
And we see footage from 2005 of indigenous people’s homes being burned down to make way for sugar-cane monocultures.
“Is there anything too terrible to qualify as green energy?” Gibbs asks.
Sugar-cane monocultures are a serious environmental and social problem in Brazil and elsewhere. It’s a bit of a stretch to say that Gore was “lobbying congress on behalf of the sugar cane ethanol industry”. But Gore was lobbying.
Al Gore on the road from Kyoto: Cashing in on carbon trading
Among the things that Gore was promoting were cap-and-trade and REDD to be included in the Copenhagen Agreement. In his speech, Gore says that one of the elements that is “key to a successful agreement in Copenhagen” is, “the inclusion of deforestation, which, alone, accounts for more than 20 percent of the emissions that cause global warming.”
(Gore is wrong about the 20% figure. In its 2007 report, the IPCC estimated that deforestation accounted for 17% of emissions. In 2009, a paper published in Nature Geoscience argued that the figure was actually closer to 12%. And in 2014, the IPCC stated that in 2010 emissions from Forestry and Other Land Uses accounted for 11% of emissions.)
Gore’s speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would have been the perfect opportunity for Planet of the Humans to explore Gore’s disastrous role as lead negotiator for the US in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. When the European Union asked for emissions reductions of 15% by 2010, the US managed to push the target down to 5.2% by 2012. And it was Gore who negotiated the offsets loophole into the Kyoto Protocol.
That would have been the perfect opportunity for Planet of the Humans to explain that in 2008, Generation Investment Management spent US$12.59 million on a 9.6% share in Camco International Ltd, a Jersey-based company that holds one of the world’s largest carbon credit portfolios. (In 2012, Camco International changed its name to Camco Clean Energy.) By March 2009, Generation Investment Management had increased its share in Camco to 18.94%.
When Gore promotes cap-and-trade, REDD, and other market mechanisms he needs to declare his conflict of interest. His company Generation Investment Management profits directly from these market mechanisms.
Blood, Gore and tax havens
This image comes during the credits at the end of the documentary:
Generation IM Asia Fund LP – Delaware
Generation IM Global Equity Fund LLC – Delaware
Generation IM Credit Feeder Fund I L.P. – Delaware
Generation IM Credit Feeder Fund II L.P. – Cayman Islands
Generation IM Climate Solutions Fund US LP – Delaware
Generation IM Climate Solutions Fund Cayman LP – Cayman Islands
Generation IM Fund PLC / Generation IM Asia Fund – Ireland
Generation IM Climate Solutions Fund (II) (US) L.P. – Delaware
Generation IM Sustainable Solutions Fund III (A), L.P. – Guernsey
Generation Growth Capital Fund II, Limited Partnership – Wisconsin
Generation IM Sustainable Solutions Fund III (B), L.P. – Guernsey
Generation IM Climate Solutions Fund II (Cayman), L.P. – Cayman Islands
Generation Growth Capital Fund III, Limited Partnership – Wisconsin
Generation IM Fund PLC / Generation IM Global Equity Fund – Ireland
Here are some more Generation IM firms and funds:
Generation IM Climate Solutions (Scotland), L.P. – UK
Generation IM Climate Solutions GP (Scotland) Limited – UK
Generation IM Climate Solutions I (Scotland) LLP – UK
Generation IM Climate Solutions II (Scotland) LLP – UK
Generation IM Climate Solutions SLP II, L.P. – UK
Generation IM Credit Feeder Fund III L.P. – Jersey
Generation IM Credit Feeder Fund IV L.P. – Delaware
Generation IM Global Ex-U.S. Equity Fund LLC – Delaware
Generation IM Investments (Delaware) LLC – Delaware
Generation IM Investments (Scotland) L.P. – UK
Generation IM US Facilities LLC – Delaware
Generation IM Sustainable Solutions Fund III SLP, GP Limited – Guernsey
Generation IM Sustainable Solutions Fund III SLP, L.P. – Guernsey
Generation IM Sustainable Solutions Fund III, L.P. – Guernsey
And then there are the Luxembourg funds:
Generation IM Credit Master Fund FCP-SIF
Generation Investment Management Sàrl
GIM Credit Holdings (Luxembourg) S.à.r.l.
And yet another Cayman Islands company:
Generation Investment Management I GP L.P.
And then, of course, there’s Generation Investment Management LLP,
Generation Investment Management US LLP, Generation Asia Equity Fund, LO Funds Generation Global, Generation Growth Capital, Inc, Generation Investment Management Services Limited, and The Generation Foundation.