Thanks to Mike MacFerrin, who turned me on this black comedy gold.

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Planet of the Stupid

April 25, 2020

Exhautive, devastating and much-deserved point by point takedown of Michael Moore’s sadly bogus energy doc. This is the the one I’ll be linking people to, for now.

The fact-checked response is, a film that is not just stupid, but lazy.
“Not only is the documentary bad, it’s old bad.

“All of the stuff in this documentary is ancient”

Ketan Joshi:

The film ‘Planet of the Humans’ opens with the director, Jeff Gibbs, operating a fossil-fuelled combustion engine vehicle, on a road full of combustion engine vehicles, followed up with some footage taken from the International Space Station (fossil fuelled rockets put that in space).

This is not a documentary about the environmental damage that had to occur for Gibbs to go on his drive – it is not mentioned. Nor is it about the harm from fossil fuels.

It is about why renewable energy is bad. I used to work in the renewable energy industry – first, with wind farms and later in research, government agencies and advocacy groups. So it was hard to resist both watching and reviewing this one, considering it launched on ‘Earth Day’, and it has been widely promoted.

Not only is the documentary bad, it’s old bad. Please join me on this journey back in time. It won’t be fun, but I’m glad you’re here with me.

All of the stuff in this documentary is ancient

It is clear that Gibbs has been trying to make this documentary for a long, long time.

“He is currently working on a film about the state of the planet and the fate of humanity”, read his bio, in 2012. It is clear, digging into these early posts, that he very passionately loathes the burning of trees to generate energy – a wildly controversial and genuinely problematic thing, for sure.

But as early as 2010, Gibbs was posting HuffPost blogs extending that into wind and solar, too.

This one, for instance, repeats a bog-standard list of anti-wind and anti-solar memes that, back in 2010, were fashionable among climate deniers. The ‘wind and solar are too intermittent’ meme, for instance, is a great hallmark of that era. “How much variable energy can a grid accept? Around ten percent, twenty percent tops it appears”, he wrote back then. I’d include examples of grids with higher percentages operating without a hitch today, but it feels almost cruel.

The extreme oldness of this documentary stands out. In one instance, he tours a solar farm in Lansing, Michigan, in which a bemused official states that a large farm can only power ten homes in a year.

It is the Cedar Street Solar Array, a 150 panel 824 kilowatt (that’s small) farm in downtown Lansing. Guess when that bad boy was built? 2008. Twelve years ago – an absolute eternity, in solar development years.

As PV Magazine writes, “The film reports on a solar installation in Michigan with PV panels rated at “just under 8 percent” conversion efficiency. It’s difficult to identify the brand of panel in the film (Abound?) — but that efficiency is from another solar era”. Efficiency gains in solar have been so rapid that by leaving the dates off his footage he is very actively deceiving the audience. The site generates 64-64 MWh a year, according to the owner – a more recent installation in the same area generates around 436. The footage really is from another era. It’s like doing a documentary on the uselessness of mobile phones but only examining the Motorola Ultrasleek.

Later, they visit the Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) solar farm, only to feign sadness and shock when they discover it’s been removed, leaving a dusty field of sand. In the desert. “Then Ozzie and I discovered that the giant solar arrays had been razed to the ground”, he moans. “It suddenly dawned on me what we were looking at. A solar dead zone”.

Which is a weird one, because the latest 2020 satellite imagery shows a site full of solar arrays, and a total absence of any “dead zones”. The damn thing is generating electricity.

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Full disclosure: I met Michael Moore long before he put on all that weight. He was a frequent guest at my parent’s home back in the 70s.
And I got crosswise with him more than once back then.

He hasn’t changed.

Films for Action:

When Planet of the Humans first came out, we added it to the site before watching it because we trusted Michael Moore’s track record of releasing quality films that are factually accurate. After we watched it, we had issues with the film but assumed it was at least factually accurate, since Michael knows his films will be rigorously fact-checked.

We are disheartened and dismayed to report that the film is full of misinformation and is also very, very dated. While the film makes many important points, the film also misleads in significant ways.

The film distributor published a scathing review of the film they have now disavowed.

Instead of focusing on biomass, however, Planet of the Humans sets out to tar all green alternatives with the same disdainful brush. A whole array of solar panels is described by one man as being barely enough to power a 1200-watt toaster. Another person says his panels are only 8% efficient, and to get the efficient ones would cost him “$1 million per square inch.” These and other claims in the film are false and hugely misleading.

The efficiency of solar panels has been steadily rising while their price has been steadily falling. If you are able to stop the film and look closely at the array that “could barely power a toaster,” you will see that it consists of 60 solar panels, each rated at around 300 watts, for a total rating of 18.30 kW (18,300 watts). That’s a lot more than a toaster’s worth.

The “only 8% efficient” array in Lansing, Michigan, may have consisted of very old and inefficient solar panels, but a modern solar farm of that size (approximately 250 panels, each rated at 300 watts) would generate at least twice as much electricity as the speaker was claiming, at a tiny fraction of the cost he was quoting ($1 million per square inch).

Many solar farms now contain thousands of panels, not just a few hundred, and can power entire communities. And there are now more than 2 million of these farms across the US, with a total capacity of 77 GW (77 billion watts). That may still be only a small percentage of the nation’s total electricity needs, but it is much more than you would think from watching this movie.

Wind

Planet of the Humans goes on to suggest that, like solar power, wind will never be able to produce enough electricity to meet our demands. It quotes an expert from Germany saying that the contribution of wind and other renewables to German electricity production is still small in comparison with coal and other fossil fuels. This is incorrect.

What the movie showed to back up this claim was a pie chart showing, not German electricity sources, but German energy sources. This includes natural gas used for heating buildings, petroleum products used for transportation, and other industrial uses of energy. Wind may only account for a small percentage of Germany’s overall energy needs, but it produces nearly 30% of its electricity, and that is important.

Other European countries, including the UKSpain, and Portugal, are now getting more than 20% of their electricity from wind. And Denmark produced 47% of its total electricity in 2019 from wind. These hugely significant and rapidly increasing amounts of electricity coming from wind are not mentioned in the movie.

Meanwhile, scientists, engineers, and even other filmmakers have mercilessly skewered the film’s gross negligence.

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I am crying…

Jeremy Deaton for Nexusmedianews:

This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Inthe normal course of business, healthy companies succeed and sickly companies fail. But the coronavirus has interrupted the normal course of business, putting even successful firms on life support as they struggle to pay for sidelined workers and shuttered storefronts. The government’s goal, in theory, should be to keep these companies alive without lending a dime to firms that were already going under.

But the Federal Reserve could fall short of this aim by giving a jolt to fossil fuel companies that were failing before the coronavirus. Through its recently announced debt buyout programs, the Fed could end up giving aid to energy companies whose financial woes predate the pandemic by at least half a decade.

“If you listen to the oil industry, you might think that its crisis began in March, and that’s what they want everyone to believe,” said Clark Williams-Derry, an analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “They want everyone to forget about the last six years.”

Over the last decade, fracking unlocked new reserves of oil and gas. For a time, business seemed promising. But as firms flooded the market with cheap fuel, prices began a swift and precipitous decline, dropping from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to around $30 in 2016. The market never fully recovered. Oil and gas companies took a hit and — because low-cost natural gas edged coal off the power grid — mining companies did as well.

“Fracking has literally broken the business model of the entire fossil fuel sector,” Williams-Derry said.

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The Right Message for the Moment.

Aaron Mair was first African American President of the Sierra Club. He toured Michigan’s manufacturing belt in the fall of 2019, I was lucky to record.

As oil has gone from WTI to WTF, creative thinkers have some solutions.

Jeff Spross for The Week:

For a brief spell on Monday, one of the most watched metrics for crude oil prices went negative. Oil producers were literally willing to pay people almost $40 a barrel at one point to take their product. It was the first time in history that had happened.

Trading has recovered since then, but crude oil prices remain crushingly low, and are now a genuine existential threat to the U.S. oil and energy sector. That’s inspired demands for a federal bailout of the industry, including from President Trump himself — along with a chorus of opponents saying the industry isn’t worth saving. But depending on what we mean by “bailout,” this could be a moment of historic opportunity for the climate change movement.

First, though, what in God’s name just happened?

The last decade’s boom in North American shale oil production was a mixed blessing: It created a bunch of jobs and made America a net exporter of oil, but it also flooded the international market with supply. Meanwhile, demand for oil was being eroded by gains in energy efficiency, green energy, and green tech. Much of the remaining global supply is controlled by state-run oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia, who dump supply into the market based on geopolitical strategy as much as market signals. This big ramp up of supply relative to demand led to a price crash several years ago, from which the industry has been slowly recovering.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic. The stay-at-home orders and economy-wide lockdowns, both in the U.S. and around the world, sent that already-soft demand for oil into a nosedive. If massive parts of society are no longer working, commuting, flying, etc, they have no need for fuel. Then Saudi Arabia and Russia got into a price war, and ramped upproduction in an effort to sabotage both the U.S. industry and each other. President Trump managed to broker a detente, but the agreed-to production cuts were not nearly enough to balance the lower demand, so prices kept plunging.

Of course, if the supply of oil is far outpacing demand, all that excess oil has to go somewhere. And there’s a whole market for oil storage that smooths out these price falls. The problem is, the current glut is so extreme that this market has literally run out of physical storage. There’s just nowhere to put the oil anymore. So when the oil storage contracts for the month of May settled early this week, oil producers literally found themselves having to pay the storage people to take the oil and figure out what to do with it. Hence the price plunge into negative territory.

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My daughter is in lockdown in Chicago, fortunately able to work from her apartment.
In conversation yesterday I mentioned John Prine’s passing, and she stunned me by saying she did not know his work.
That prompted a flurry of searches on my part to find the best links to key songs to make this critical introduction, and I ended up reminding myself of songs I hadn’t heard in years, if not decades.
This is one.
The duet with Nanci Griffith has a sweetness to it that makes it one of the best renditions.

Bonus below – Boundless Love.

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I Am a Mad Scientist

April 23, 2020

Kate Marvel PhD in Drilled News:

I’ve heard it a couple times already, from a journalist, a family friend, a neighbor: You must be happy about all of this. The implication is that because I’m a climate scientist, I must be excited about this time of reduced economic activity and greenhouse emissions. The Earth is healing, they say. Nature is returning. Why wouldn’t I be glad about it?

Friends, I’m definitely not happy. I’m not even sad. What I am, more than anything, is angry.

I’m angry at the very idea that there might be a silver lining in all this. There is not. Carbon dioxide is so long-lived in the atmosphere that a small decrease in emissions will not register against the overwhelming increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution. All this suffering will not make the planet any cooler. If the air quality is better now, if fewer people die from breathing in pollution, this is not a welcome development so much as an indictment of the way things were before.

I’m angry at the politicians for creating that status quo. I’m angry they ignored the scientists and put their own careers or pocketbooks ahead of the survival of their citizens. It’s infuriating to see the willful, cynical ignorance: bashing models (as if there existed any science not built on models, simple or complex) and weaponizing uncertainty. An epidemiological model, like a model of the climate system, is a way to explore different futures and the impacts of different choices. It’s a tool, not a crystal ball. But at the core of all useful models lies something true: the inescapable facts that mass and energy are conserved, that a greenhouse gas traps heat, that a virus can turn a host cell into a factory for self-replication. Misinformation, rumors, and hatred may go viral, but nothing is better at spreading than a virus itself. Politicians are powerful, but science is real.

I’m angry at the scientists, too, or at least at the institutions that employ them. I’m angry at a culture of precarity and fear that makes scientists timid, compliant, and reluctant to speak truth to power. I’m angry that speaking truth to anyone, powerful or not, is discouraged unless it results in a publication, grant, or other resume-boosting reward. How can scientists be listened to if we’re too frightened to raise our voices?

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We’ve had plenty of warnings.
Some collected on this page.

Below, Archival video of scientists, What did We know, and when did we know it?

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