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Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans – A Review from the Trenches of Colorado’s Fracking War

by Thomas Q. Williams 

“What is the chief end of man? To get rich. In what way? Dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must.”  – Mark Twain

Deception to make a buck is as American as apple pie. It’s a cultural tradition that kept our mythic traveling carnivals and old west medicine shows afloat. Themes of deception feature heavily in our nation’s literature as well, starring in classics like the Wizard of Oz and the King and Duke characters of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Now snake oil is being sold once again. This time not as a miracle cure for dropsy but “a green new dream” of renewable snake oil. 

“Big Green” is a sham

Michael Moore and director-narrator Jeff Gibbs’s film, Planet of the Humans, is required viewing for any self-described environmentalist as the deception in the “Big Green” and renewables energy movement is savagely pointed out. Moore claims “Environmental groups have gotten in bed with corporate America.” That means things aren’t going well because Wall Street doesn’t have a philanthropic bone in its body. 

For the public, the hopeful belief that “Climate Change + Renewables = We are Saved!” has been overshadowing the grim reality that “green huckster billionaires and bankers” are profiting immensely from it. 

The save-our-planet crusade is largely a hoax because the billionaires behind the curtain have realized they can make a lot of money by pretending to come to the rescue. 

The real root causes of our destruction are overpopulation, out-of-control consumption, and never-ending economic growth 

Our climate goose is not just cooked but on fire. 


Look no further than the scientific facts – like record spikes in petroleum extraction and methane releases which are simultaneously linked to the Big Green push for renewables. And that’s the bottom line: the green miracle isn’t working. To do better while we still can means dropping the billionaire savior myth and be brutally honest with ourselves and fellow activists.

The Sierra Club, dirty money

The Sierra Club is taking multi-million-dollar donations from the worst polluters on the planet. In 2012, the New York Times reported the Sierra Club accepted $26 million from Chesapeake Energy Corporation(1), and more recently, a cool $50 million from Michael Bloomberg for its “Beyond Coal” project, a plan to replace coal with natural gas, itself a destructive fossil fuel. 

“…implementing Beyond Coal was and is about trading coal for natural gas”  – Boulder Weekly, Who Killed the Vote on Fracking(2)

Trading coal for natural gas is, simply put, an illusion. Natural gas, which is typically fracked, is no environmental improvement – but allows the fossil fuel industry to maintain their profit margins through exploiting the subsidies available for biofuels. 


The Sierra Club looks even worse when Moore’s film shows a $3 million contribution from timber baron billionaire Jeremy Grantham redacted on their IRS filings. It’s not the crime but the coverup. 

“Runners shouldn’t smoke, priests shouldn’t touch the kids, and environmentalists should never take money from polluters”  – John Passacantando, former director of Greenpeace(3)

The Nature Conservancy, 350.org, Green Century Funds

The film irreverently quips “The Nature Conservancy” is now the “logging conservancy.” And there’s a special place in the documentary’s hell for Bill McKibben and his leading environmental organization 350.org. 


McKibben makes a strong case for biomass and about divesting from fossil fuel companies who are “writing Genesis backward.” His answer is to invest in Green Century Funds. Director/narrator Gibbs examines the Green Century funds more closely to find they are chock full of oil and gas infrastructure companies; mining executives including Newmont, a tar sands exploiter; McDonald's; Coca Cola; logging and paper companies; and lastly bankers, lots of bankers.


Living our decades-long Colorado nightmare

While the movie refreshingly calls out the hypocrisy of Big Green nationally, this is the nightmare we’ve been living with on the front range of Colorado for decades. The Centennial State is the great battlefield of the anti-fracking movement, yet governors and political and community leaders play the same games of deception. Our local “Green Hucksters” read from the same script in such a polished and convincing manner that typical left-leaning Colorado voters buy their fluff every time and feel good about it. 

 

Constituents overwhelmingly admire our newish governor, Jared S. Polis, as an environmental leader because he promotes electric car charging stations and renewable (electric) energy by 2030. These voters seem to ignore Polis helped to bring fracking to Colorado along with every Republican and Democratic governor in the last 20 years. And forget his unforgivable last-minute dropping of his anti-fracking ballot initiatives in 2014:

“As Colorado and the rest of the country where the oil and gas industry operates know, Polis chose the latter and pulled the measures at the last minute. He did so in exchange for several concessions from then-governor John Hickenlooper – including the appointment of a 21-member task force made up of oil and gas industry insiders, Democratic Party loyalists. representatives of environmental groups that support more regulation but never demanded bans. Hickenlooper also agreed to drop the state’s lawsuit against the City of Longmont for having established oil and gas regulations considered stricter than the state’s and promised to enforce a 1,000-foot setback as the norm rather than the exception. The deal also hinged on killing two proposed initiatives put forward by oil and gas backers and funded by the industry …The anti-fracking supporters who had gathered signatures and spent years knocking on doors for the opportunity of a statewide vote were blindsided.”  – Boulder Weekly, Who Killed the Vote on Fracking?(4)


Polis isn’t our first corrupt petroleum governor 

Oil and gas’s dirty prints have been tarnishing the state capital’s golden dome since the mining industry waned. Polis’ predecessor, Hickenlooper, actually sued Longmont and threatened to do the same for any municipality that tried to ban fracking. Hickenlooper’s actions laid bare that our highest state official was far more an employee of the oil and industry than the state’s governor. 


In early 2020, reports surfaced that oil and gas have not been paying its’ taxes either. Apparently, Hickenlooper and Polis have neglected to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and gas industry revenue. In a pandemic, that’s a lot of respirators and masks. Or shelter for the homeless. Or any problem where the callous response is always: “How are we going to pay for that?” Actually, we have a lot of money, but the state is too corrupt to collect it.

“Enquiring minds…might wonder why an industry that assures us it contributes billions to the state’s economy each year didn’t pay enough in taxes to fund a small agency that primarily keeps the industry’s oil rigs clanging and the oil and gas pipelines flowing to points of use outside the state. Little of it is used here. Colorado is very much an oil colony.”  – Phil Doe, Every Day’s a Holiday for the oil and gas industry in Colorado(5)



Boulder County Commissioners spew Greenwash

Closer to home, Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones shares green rhetoric day and night – but, along with her political compadres, refuses to ban fracking. Planet of the Humans shows the unimpeded link between the green movement and even Earth Day celebrations usurped by corporate powers. Coloradoans need to finally admit we are an oil plantation under the tyranny of the fossil fuel industry. What’s more, both the Republican and Democratic Parties are the industry’s spokespeople.

"Boulder County should understand the staggering amount of greenwashing that continues to occur courtesy of the Boulder County Commissioners (BCC). They legalized fracking yet continue to greenwash us into believing they oppose it. Elise Jones claims to have dedicated her career to environmentalism, meanwhile collaborating with the fossil fuel industry suggesting natural gas is an important bridge from fossil fuels to renewables… The Democratic Party will talk about renewables, solar panels, and LED light bulbs until the county is turned into an oil field.”   – Mandi Papich, Imagine 1,800 fracking wells in Boulder County(6)

Conservation Colorado, L.O.G.I.C, Colorado Rising

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most local anti-fracking groups are no better. 


Conservation Colorado is clearly a greenwashing front group for the Democratic Party, often featuring Hickenlooper saving a little square of public land somewhere. 

League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradoans (L.O.G.I.C.) gets major funding from Jared Polis; and 350.org can’t have a lot to say after founder Bill McKibben was brutalized by the film. That leads us to Colorado Rising. 


Originally a promising group, Colorado Rising felt the solution to fracking was setbacks and got initiative 112 on the ballot for a statewide vote. Jared Polis immediately opposed it, claiming a 2,500-foot setback requirement from a new fracking pad to residences would be a death knell for the state’s favorite industry. The measure failed to pass, but the group’s momentum energized a citizen base and its fundraising was remarkable. They raised a lot of money and today claim coffers of about a million and a half dollars. And, therein lies the problem; only a group with very determined leadership can survive being co-opted by powerful Democratic Party donors. 

Colorado Rising’s website states “New York and Maryland and countries like Ireland, France and Germany have banned it (fracking) outright” but oddly they don’t seem to believe we can do it too. When pressed why they don’t spend some of their considerable finances advocating for a ban on fracking (it is a climate emergency after all), Colorado Rising claims a ban isn’t feasible because of some mysterious poll that exists somewhere. 

“They claim they (Colorado Rising) have done poll testing each time they did an initiative. So rather than fight for the ecosystem and make that case, they bought into the “what-can-pass” watered-down bullshit and lost anyway. And now they’re back at it for a second time with the same watered-down, “poll-tested” initiatives. Meanwhile, the drills keep on drilling. They’re not fighting for the rights of communities/ residents. They’re fighting for a few more feet of setback than Polis proposed himself in 2014.”  – Merrily Mazza, former Lafayette city councilwoman

The bottom line: setback regulations, even if passed, are easy to skewer with clever lawyers and can be rendered next to useless. 


East Boulder County United, meet the Bad News Bears

Decidedly unpopular in the green fight, a motley collection of free thinkers and anarchic activists formed East Boulder County United (EBCU). These rogues have never wavered in calling for a ban on fracking. EBCU also owns a colorful legacy of calling out the frauds and charlatans, often to the exasperation of fellow activists. 

Here are some warning signs of “scripted environmentalism” as stated by EBCU co-founder Cliff Willmeng:

  1. A subservient and codependent relationship with the Democratic Party

  2. Activism dominated by professionals, who are in continual need of funding sources 

  3. Demands that rely on a resolution on the same system that created the ecological disaster Colorado has become. 

  4. An acceptance that environmentalism is a negotiation between the political class, industry, and communities around the terms by which environmental exploitation will take place. 

These elements are as much the nature of scripted environmentalism today as they were in 2011. In fact, 2011’s version of state-sanctioned environmentalism, which was referred to as the “Colorado Model” by political and industry insiders, was and still is being exported nationally.


In 2018, EBCU members physically shut down a Lafayette city council meeting that was about to approve fracking measures. The Lafayette community supports a ban.


In 2019, EBCU member and Community Rights Advocate, Tonya Briggs, was elected to Lafayette city council while campaigning with nearly no money. 


At an earlier point in time, EBCU was approached with an offer of financial support from unnamed BoCo donors, but, of course, the quid pro quo required a softer approach in support of the local green-washed Democratic elected officials. EBCU said no thanks.  


As the filmmakers do, EBCU has the unpleasant task of asking the hard questions: 

  • “Why don’t you support a total ban on fracking?”

  • “Why do you have such close ties to the Democratic Party, even being staffed by their operatives?”

  • “Where do you get your funding?”  

  • “Why do you have so much money, and why aren’t you doing more with it in an environmental crisis?”

  • “Is your message to keep supporting and voting for Democratic Party officials even though they oppose our values”? 

These questions are off script – so don’t expect much of an answer.


Back to Planet of the Humans…

Toward the end, director/narrator Jeff Gibbs speaks of the green advocates and renewable energy leaders he’s met and wonders: “What if they’ve made some sort of deal they shouldn’t have made and are leading us all off the cliff?”  


In our desperation to solve the burgeoning climate crisis, we have created a demand for renewables rather than energy conservation, and the financial sharks smelled blood in the water. We’re being sold a shiny green renewable world as though our over-consuming, over-populated, market-expanding way of life can continue indefinitely. 


I wonder if Colorado Rising and L.O.G.I.C. members will have a “Damascus moment” and flout their Democratic Party connections and call for a ban?


We’ve got to be brutally honest to get this right, and that means putting down the renewable script.



(1) https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/science/earth/after-disclosure-of-sierra-clubs-gifts-from-gas-driller-a-roiling-debate.html

(2) https://www.boulderweekly.com/news/who-killed-the-vote-on-fracking/2014

(3) https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/science/earth/after-disclosure-of-sierra-clubs-gifts-from-gas-driller-a-roiling-debate.html

(4) https://www.boulderweekly.com/news/who-killed-the-vote-on-fracking/2014

(5) https://www.boulderweekly.com/opinion/every-days-a-holiday-for-the-oil-industry-in-colorado/

(6) https://www.dailycamera.com/2017/09/20/mandi-papich-imagine-1800-fracking-wells-in-boulder-county/

(7) https://corising.org/about-us/

(8) https://www.boulderweekly.com/opinion/colorados-scripted-environmentalism-is-an-impostor-for-the-real-thing/

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