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Planet of the humans: A reheated mess of lazy, old myths

Posted on 28 April 2020 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Ketan Joshi's Earth, science and technology blog

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.

somber dramatic music

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 kilowatt 824 (that’s small) panel 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.

SEGS2020Welcome to…………………the DEAD ZONE

Without knowing when the footage was taken, the only likely explanation for this is the pair of dudes visited the site midway through the point at which one of the fields was being removed and replaced with newer models, something which has happened several times over the past few decades.

In a red flag for any veteran of the wind farm debate, Gibbs then uses footage of a collection of old wind turbines – rusted, gross and horrible – to illustrate the short life and lasting damage of these huge spiky bastards.

somber music

If you’re familiar with the network of anti-wind farm groups, you’ll recognise that they’re old machines from South Point on Big Island, Hawaii. They were removed in 2012, by the owner of the facility. All that is left now are small hexagonal pads on farmland used by the cattle that roam it:

farmland hawaii

“Why for most of my life, have I fallen for the illusion that green energy would save us?” It sounds like he’s saying this in 2020, but he is saying it well in the past. Gibbs was posting anti-wind memes roughly 23 full epidemics ago.

Nothing in this is new. With regards to its wind and solar parts, it smacks of 2010s era climate change denial, in which renewables were seen by detractors as expensive, wasteful, low-capacity, heavily corporatised and destined to fail. Things are different in 2020, but the director isn’t. He doesn’t need to be.

Even the ideas are old

Putting aside the sites they visit and the footage they use, there are some ideas in this documentary that are well worn and highly recognisable memes from the 2009 – 2013 climate denial wonder years.

You can tell when someone’s knowledge of this has formed solely from doing a Google search for “solar panels bad don’t like”, and it really shows in this film.

Early on in the documentary, Gibbs has an exchange with an anti-wind farm protester about coal-fired power:

Protester: You need to have a fossil fuel power plant backing it up and idling 100% of the time, because if you cycle up or cycle down as the demand on the wind comes through, you actually generate a bigger carbon footprint if you ran it straight”

Gibbs: Do you ever go to things where they just go “Oh, that’s not true, it doesn’t matter we’re going to have a smart grid”?

Protester: Doesn’t make any difference, they still gotta– they’re using it. You gotta have it idling. Because, let’s just say the wind stopped right now. Just stopped for an hour. You’ve got to have that power

This extremely silly concept – that coal-fired power stations run at 100% capacity all the time regardless of how much power they output – is so old it hurts my brain. In fact, it was big in 2012, when I came across it in Australian media. It’s wrong. If the power plant generates less electricity, it uses less coal. Gibbs is putting this eight-year-old meme in the microwave and serving it up in for his audience.

Later, he presents the work of a researcher named Richard York, who claims that the addition of renewable energy has no impact on fossil fuel output. I can’t access the paper, which is from – you guessed it – 2012, but the premise is mind-numbingly silly.

Electric grids match supply and demand at all times. Energy generated from one new source has to replace energy generated from an existing source – the grid would collapse, if it didn’t. That is why South Australia’s grid looks like this:

sagridVia OpenNEM

And Denmark looks like this:

2020_04_09 - Chart3 - DenmarkI made this chart for this

Things start to get into proper, outright, anti-vax / climate denier grade misinformation when producer Ozzie Zehner comes in.

“One of the most dangerous things right now is the illusion that alternative technologies like solar and wind are somehow different from fossil fuels”, he tells Gibbs. “You use more fossil fuels to do this than you’re getting benefit from it. You would have been better off just burning fossil fuels in the first place, instead of playing pretend” .

It is, in fact, possible to scientifically examine the emissions associated with making, transporting and erecting renewable energy, and compare it to the emissions saved by using it. There are just so many studies on this, but here’s the Breakthrough Institute’s Zeke Hausfather

It’s important to be really clear about this: Zehner’s remarks in this film are toxic misinformation, on par with the worst climate change deniers. No matter which way you look at it, there is no chance that these projects lead to a net increase in emissions.

Gibbs attends a solar conference – again in some non-specific year – and is told by a bunch of obviously well-meaning and slightly baffled young renewable energy experts (literally the only young, diverse people in the film) that battery storage is a way of managing intermittency.

“When I looked up how much battery storage there is, it was less than one-tenth of one percent of what’s needed”, he says, presenting a pie chart (augh) of IEA data with a minuscule slice from batteries. But grid scale of batteries doesn’t need massive capacities to be functionally useful for managing the integration of renewables – so it’s a deeply misleading chart.

battery

In checking the information, I can’t find International Energy Agency data for “51 giga BTU” of battery capacity anywhere on their site. 546,000,000 “Giga BTUs” is 546,000,000,000,000 BTUs. which is 160,032,600,000,000 watt hours, or around 160,000 terawatt hours.

This is ‘primary energy supply’ – how much energy was generated, but includes the quantity of energy wasted through inefficiency. If you only look at global annual electricity – the field in which batteries play – it’s around 20,000 TWh (they use a similar deception for Germany’s biomass share). So it’s an extra dodgy comparison.

Gibbs has created a self-sustaining argument here. If someone builds a battery storage installation, he can visit the site and monotone sadly about its presence. If someone decides to not build that battery, he can look up the statistics and monotone sadly about the lack of battery capacity.

In an earlier scene, at the launch of the General Motors Chevy Volt (2010, of course), he complains that the cars are being charged by the coal-sodden electric grid of that state – another great example of the infinite loop Gibbs has created for himself, considering his reaction if more wind and solar were built to make that electricity cleaner.

There’s gas, too. They repeatedly claim that shutting down coal plants results in replacement with gas. And in the US, gas has indeed expanded to fill a decent proportion of the gap left by coal:

US Gas

The UK has a similar thing too, where both renewables and gas are squeezing out coal. But scroll back up to Denmark, above, where a combination of interconnection with other countries, massive wind build-out and coal and gas shutdown has cleaned up the grid. Or Germany, where gas output remains unchanged as coal plants shut down.

There is nothing inherent to renewable energy that makes gas compulsory. All that matter is how the transition is managed. For a long time, gas was sold as a transition fuel, including by organisations like the Breakthrough Institute. But it is becoming increasingly clear that while it might ease change, it isn’t compulsory, and the urgency of decarbonisation has increased.

This film is a long, slow painful monument to laziness

It feels so weird writing about these things again. I feel like I’ve been transported back in time ten years, back to my early days in the renewable energy industry. We’d combat these viral memes every single day.

The industry looks different now. Many wind companies have learnt that insensitive, clumsy development leads to backlash that is harmful for everyone, so they’ve started to clean up their act. Solar developers are figuring out more sustainable pathways than the boom and bust of government subsidies. The human rights issues around mining and materials are becoming more prominent. Renewable companies are taking waste removal seriously.

And then this documentary comes along – a dumb old bull in the china shop that is 2020’s hard-earned climate action environment. There’s a lot of fragile, hard-fought stuff to wreck in there, and Gibbs goes absolutely wild. He’s bulldozing a lot of hard work.

music2

Gibbs obviously has a long-running gripe with biomass, which has a whole range of serious issues associated with it. Though I don’t know the industry well, I suspect many of his gripes there are valid.

But the outright lies about wind and solar are serious and extremely harmful. Wind and solar aren’t just technological tools with enormous potential for decarbonisation. They also have massive potential to be owned by communities, deployed at small scales with minimal environmental harm, and removed with far less impact on where they were than large power stations like coal and gas. They do incredible things to electricity bills, they decentralise power (literally and figuratively), and with more work they can be scaled up to properly replace fossil fuels.

Gibbs isn’t interested in this stuff. No one in 2012 was. He’s armed with a list of dot points from climate denier blog Watts Up With That, and he’s ready to go. The key harm of this documentary is that it does what so many communicators struggle, but fail to do – it presents ideas from one ideological cluster into the world of another. It is very actively and successfully escaping the ‘bubble’, and selling far-right, climate-denier myths from nearly a decade ago to left-wing environmentalists in the 2020s, and going by much of the comments, it seems to be doing well. Gibbs is transcending both time and ideological space, held aloft by a system that provides prominence to mediocrity.

It’s tough to look past how popular this has been. The film’s been boosted because many interviews feature the popular and well-known producer Michael Moore, including on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. Ludicrously, it received four stars (four. fucking. stars.) in the Guardian, a media outlet normally careful to not boost climate-denier grade misinformation.

All this prominence despite the fact that the film failed to find a distributor, and was dumped onto Youtube instead. “We’ve talked to sales agents. We believe that there will be a tremendous amount of interest in this film… This is going to get distributed. It will be seen”, Moore insisted last year.

It is clear that Gibbs’ starting point was a loathing of biomass, which then turned into a loathing of every single decarbonisation technology (except nuclear power, which isn’t mentioned in the film).

But he ends up at population control – a cruel, evil and racist ideology that you can see coming right from the start of the film. I wish I had the emotional energy to go into it, but I have spent it all. Earther’s Brian Kahn writes:

“There’s a reason that Breitbart and other conservative voices aligned with climate denial and fossil fuel companies have taken a shine to the film. It’s because it ignores the solution of holding power to account and sounds like a racist dog whistle”

The film features a parade of – solely – white Americans, mostly male, insisting the planet has to reduce its population. There is no information provided on which people in the world need to stop fucking, but we can take a guess, based on the demographics of the people doing the asking.

This documentary – particularly the parts on energy, renewables and industry- is extremely bad. It is Jeff Gibb’s 2010 Huffington Post blog drawn out in one hour and forty minutes, which feels like like a decade. I knew it would be lazy, but the magnitude of laziness here is incredible. It it mostly old. It is obviously re-hashing some specific gripes, like its attacks on the nicest guy in the whole of climate activism, Bill McKibben. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’m like 2,000 words in. I don’t have the energy to glue together every single fragile thing that this bulldozer has destroyed.

It is the ultimate expression of lazy privilege to make something so void of effort, but so widely viewed and promoted. Criticism will be rebuffed as Not Being Able To Handle The Truth, or the classic We Just Wanted To Start A Discussion. It is still a package of old, dead ideas reheated by someone who knew that he did not need to put any effort into updating his thinking. There was no chance he would be talking to climate activists, talking to young people, talking to experts, talking to community advocates, talking to people from other countries, or really talking to anyone who wasn’t already mostly in his vicinity.

It should have faded off into the pit of Youtube’s unwatched terabytes, but it didn’t, because mediocrity is celebrated, boosted and broadcast if it comes from someone who looks and sounds the right way. That is a serious vulnerability. The hard work of climate and energy advocates, as they grapple with challenges like corporate malfeasance, the impacts of mining and bad development can be shattered by the monotone arrogance of a single person inflicted with the Dunning Kruger effect.

Somber music.

For a list of posts rebutting the film, see here.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 31:

  1. The following is another fact check on the so called documentary. Fact check: New Michael Moore-backed documentary full of errors, fundamentally misunderstands electric system.

    The criticisms of renewables are clearly dated and wrong and an awful lot of cherrypicking is going on, one of the logical fallacies usually used by climate denialists. For example picking the worst and oldest wind farm they could find.

    That said, renewables do need plenty of storage and it would be foolish to claim they are perfect. But nothing is perfect. Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good (a quote from Voltaire)

    But the article doesn't drill down adequately into the origins of this absurd attack on renewables. There are apparently some comments in the movie and by M Moore that strongly associate renewables with billionarie capitalists who are seen as a problem, so the attack on renewables looks politically motivated. Nothing wrong with scepticism about billionaire capitalists, but this is an example of scepticism going off the rails into the twilight zone because its not clear why some product or service is inherently bad or should be rejected,  just because its a product of capitalism.

    The alternative suggested is to keep burning fossil fuels and instead aim to reduce population growth and use hugely less energy. Now there is no doubt getting population growth down should be a part of climate mitigation because it reduces energy demand, and environmental pressure, but even if the fertility rate dropped to zero tomorrow (it won't) it would take decades for population size to fall in absolute terms so population reduction can only be a part answer to the climate problem. And expecting people to make massive 50% plus reductions in energy use doesn't look terribly realistic. So we need a new energy grid even if it is constructed by billionaire capitalists, (at least until someone comes up with a better way of financing such grids that actually works).

    This is not an argument against sensible reforms to the capitalist system, or an excuse for billionaires who back climate denialism, or who rip off the system and set a bad example generally. There is a strong argument that capitalism needs to evolve, but conflating this with the value of renewables doesn't make a lot of sense.

    This is related: I Am a Mad Scientist

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  2. The "Great Global Swindle" of 2020, if anyone remembers that piece of cr*p.

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  3. Population control (to not have children) is a kind of 'ultimate' individual action.  But will it necessarily bring down CO2 emissions?  In the coronavirus pandemic, we are witnessing a test of whether 'individual action' can really make a difference in CO2 emissions.  People are taking extreme actions to avoid general contagion.  As a result, the air over most cities hasn't been this clean in decades.  Yet all this sacrifice is estimated to only decrease carbon emissions by about 5%.    Peter Sinclair has an article on this issue, and its worth thinking about.

    This begs the question: If we halve the population, would the remaining people just burn twice as much coal (not directly, but in pursuit of more and better lives)?

    I should also note, most of us don't 'hate' fossil fuel.  We don't like the industry paying to foist a lie upon the public and decisionmakers, preventing its true cost from being calculated.  If wind power has problems it admits to, that is not a scandal.  The scandal only occurs if it doesn't admit to them.  I haven't seen 'planet of humans', but I suspect it is pointing to issues renewable power already admits to, and is actively working to improve, so where is the scandal?

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  4. Adding up to the articles posted above:

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/28/climate-dangerous-documentary-planet-of-the-humans-michael-moore-taken-down

    https://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/films-for-actions-statement-on-planet-of-the-humans/

    https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2020/04/22/new-michael-moore-film-charges-enviro-leaders-have-lost-their-way-and-sold-out-to-corporate-interests/

    Last not least, Zeke Hausfather:

    https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1253800553311727616.html

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  5. Population growth nowadays is mainly driven by the fact that humans are getting healthier and much older than in the past. Fertility rate is declining since the 1960s and has now halved. The UN estimate a peak by the end of this century with a global population of about 11 billion people.

    https://ourworldindata.org/future-population-growth

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  6. Sir Charles @ 5:

    >>The UN estimate a peak by the end of this century with a global population of about 11 billion people.<<

    It's only a few years since the UN estimate was a peak of 9Bn. Then in the last year or two, 10Bn. So now 11Bn?

    There may be many problems with this film, but its comments on population are correct. Just because there's the same taboo on even mentioning overpopulation as there is on criticising religion doesn't mean it's not THE centre of the problem.

    Every living part of the ecosystem competes in a Darwinian fight to increase its share, until it overblows itself and suffers a partial or complete die-off. Humanity is different, because we have been clever enough (Ha!) to mostly eliminate the usual causes of such die-offs.

    We probably need at least two earths for sustainable existence: it's well pat time to accept that unless and until the human load on the planet comes down to something that can be sustained the future isn't sunny. Eating fewer livestock, wearing vegan sandals and switching off the odd light is pointless when there are another three of us every second to feed, grow up, house etc.

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  7. @6 Wol

    "It's only a few years since the UN estimate was a peak of 9Bn. Then in the last year or two, 10Bn."

    Source?

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  8. Wol, as you are doubtless aware, the global desirable goal is zero nett carbon emission by about 2050.   Technically, it is likely achievable in a practical sense ~ but political inertia will probably make us overshoot that date (judging by how things are running at present ! )

    In comparison, have a look at the projected world population curve if by 2030 the human fertility rate drops to about 1.4  (present day examples : Italy, Japan).   Or achieves that 1.4 fertility rate by 2050 . . . or 2070.   Unfortunately , those scenarios are extremely unlikely to happen within the next half-century.

    Africa & other poverty-stricken regions will not reach a low reproduction rate until they have a large increase in education levels for women, combined with increased wealth (and social security for old age).  This seems to be the lesson of history.

    Even with a 1.4 rate, miraculously, in the near future ~ the world population would stay high throughout this century [2020-2100].  So without the techological "fix" for carbon emissions, there cannot be a cure for the global warming problem.

    If you notice today's amount of heel-dragging & push-back on CO2 emissions, then you might like to imagine the future outrage coming from the political and/or religious firebrands protesting about any suggestion of population limitation as direct governmental policy.

    In short, we might achieve timely carbon emission control ~ but (wars and plagues aside) there is zero chance we can do that by population control.  Fixing excess resources consumption, ecological pollution, overpopulation etc . . . are all problems which will mostly  have to wait until we fix the basic climate/AGW problem.

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  9. The guest author, Ketan Joshi, has a beautiful site, https://ketanjoshi.co/2020/04/24/planet-of-the-humans-a-reheated-mess-of-lazy-old-myths/ It is a pleasure to visit that site and to read the comments.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Hyperlinked URL.

  10. All criticism of POTH fails to give hard current facts to refute the claims in the documentary they mostly denegrate the makers.

    "Renewables" are not! After electriity generation FFs perform 80% of all work around the world. An enormous amount of work.

    Advocates for a renewable do not talk about after switching over electrical generation, a monumental task that insures we use up most of the afordable FFs, then we will also electricify all the work that FFs do for us more than doubling the amount of "renewable energy" needed, putting it into dream land. Every open area will need to be covered in solar, wind, biomass production, and every drop of FFs will be used to accomplish it, and used very rapidly due to the urgency.

    With the global shutdown it is clear that we can cut all energy use in half instantly and cut further as we get smarter about it.

    If people around the world were told the truth and understand that AGW is not a belief system that you get to believe in or not, then they would make the choice themselves to not have babies or fewer babies which would stop population growth instantly.

    The promis of a "renewable" future is lie causing way more harm than good. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] As was the case with your previous comment, nebulous assertions and dismissive, hand-waving claims lacking specific examples are sloganeering and are generally unhelpful to this discussion.  For example, read here and here to see specifics that run counter to your claims.

  11. Can the world run on renewables? Yes, Stanford researchers say.

    Additional reporting here => Renewable Energy Could Power the World by 2050

    Cost of energy

    => 3 clean energy myths that can lead to a productive climate conversation

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  12. jef @ 10 - sorry, nothing you said there makes any sense or bears any resemblance to reality.

    Note that I'll also have a piece debunking this film in the next week or two.

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  13. Solar and Wind Cheapest Sources of Power in Most of the World

    Solar and onshore wind power are now the cheapest new sources of electricity in at least two-thirds of the world’s population, further threatening the two fossil-fuel stalwarts — coal and natural gas.

    The levelized cost of electricity for onshore wind projects has fallen 9% to $44 a megawatt-hour since the second half of last year. Solar declined 4% to $50 a megawatt-hour, according to a report Tuesday by BloombergNEF.

    The prices are even lower in countries including the U.S., China and Brazil. Equipment costs have come down, technologies have improved and governments across the world have boosted clean-power targets as they seek to combat climate change. That could squeeze out coal and natural gas when utilities develop new power plants.   ...

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  14. With respect to population reduction, it is happening whether we like it or not.  There is just a wee overshoot because of the youth demographic of some countries but in many many countries the birth rate is below the replacement rate of 2.1.  Read The Empty Planet by Bricker.  No need to do anything.  Just educate women and even this is not necessary.  Just give them affordable (read free in some cases) contraception and they will do the rest.  https://mtkass.blogspot.com/2009/02/malthus-pyramid-schemes-starvation-and.html

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  15. jef @10

    "All criticism of POTH fails to give hard current facts "

    Not by my observation. The link I posted included several facts. Jef has to show in detail why you think its wrong, only then will people listen.

    "Advocates for a renewable do not talk about after switching over electrical generation, a monumental task that insures we use up most of the afordable FFs, then we will also electricify all the work that FFs do for us more than doubling the amount of "renewable energy" needed, putting it into dream land. "

    Not correct. While converting to renewables is indeed a big task, its technically and economically feasible according to numerous studies that you have not even attempted to refute.

    Renewables are inevitable because sooner or later we will run out of fossil fuels. Peak oil and peak coal on wikipedia review the academic estimates and suggest we will run out in 100 - 150 years globally. Its expected that the coal rich USA will run out of economically recoverable coal in just 50 years. So renewables are inevitable, and possibly nuclear power to some extent in some places. That's another argument. The point is we need a new and clean energy grid.

    "Every open area will need to be covered in solar, wind, biomass production, and every drop of FFs will be used to accomplish it, and used very rapidly due to the urgency."

    No, if a country like the USA was entirely powered by solar farms it would cover less than 0.5% of the land area. Here are some credible calculations and graphics.

    "With the global shutdown it is clear that we can cut all energy use in half instantly and cut further as we get smarter about it."

    No it is not clear. There has been no significant change in electricity generation. There is less traffic on the roads and less air travel, but only because people are in lockdown and factories have closed. You cannot keep that up for long without severe shortages emerging. Refer to the second link I posted.

    The lockdown does not prove we can reduce energy use in a dramatic and long lasting way. It does suggest that we can reduce some energy use, eg more working from home. This might remain after lockdowns are lifted, time will tell.

    I do agree with Jef to the extent we must aim to reduce our energy use, but we have to be realistic about expectations. People are unlikely to be prepared to go cold in winter etc, or face supply shortages of consumer goods we take for granted these days. But people clearly are buying more energy efficient appliances, insulating  homes, and some are flying a bit less and buying smaller cars. There are some realistic things we can do to be encouraged, but others look like wishful thinking to me. 

    "If people around the world were told the truth and understand that AGW is not a belief system that you get to believe in or not, then they would make the choice themselves to not have babies or fewer babies which would stop population growth instantly."

    Yes, but it still would only have very limited benefit in terms of meeting the Paris Accord goals, because it takes time for the demographics to change as eclectic points out.

    More realistic median estimates are population reaching about 10 billion by around the end of this century then slowly falling. Realistic policies might improve this a bit to maybe 9 billion people and falling more sharply. This would obviously help stop warming getting up around 5 degrees but it wont stop us getting to 2 degrees at least. And less people might consume more of the available energy and materials, in one big extravagant party, so we are reliant on some way of discouraging that.

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  16. It is disappointing to see something so obviously contrary to "expanded awareness and improved understanding applied to help achieve a sustainable and improvable future for humanity" be so popular in supposedly more advanced nations.

    But I am used to seeing opposition to achieving and improving the Sustainable Development Goals be "Very Popular", especially among the populations of the supposedly more advanced nations.

    Any nation that has a significant portion of its population easily impressed by something like this movie is obviously not very advanced, in spite of its developed impressions of advancement and superiority.

    Any nation where harmful misleading story-telling can be popular enough to be influential, and is not clearly reducing the ability for harmful misleading story-telling to be influential, is failing to protect itself from being taken over by people who want to rule by Tyranny (Not an extremist claim or hyperbolic. This is a serious problem).

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  17. Jef@10:

    There are hundreds of papers describing All Power renewable systems.  You are sim[ply uninformed.  Here are two: Jacobson 2018 and Smart Energy Europe 2016.  Use GOOGLE Scholar to obtain the papers that cite these two papers and you will find much more than you want to read on All Power renewable systems.

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  18. Two more excellent critiques of the film...

    Michael Moore produced a film about climate change that’s a gift to Big Oil by Leah C Stokes, Energy & Environment, Vox, Apr 28, 2020

    Inside Clean Energy: 6 Things Michael Moore’s ‘Planet of the Humans’ Gets Wrong by Dan Gerino, InsideClimate News, Apr 30, 2020

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  19. I watched this film and was prepared to dismiss it, but it had much of importance to say. (I was a little disappointed by the skewering of Bill McKibben, but that's another story.)

    I don't actually think the film was a criticism of renewable energy in general, and it certainly wasn't an endorsement of fossil fuels.

    Rather, it was a realistic appraisal of the problem we face. There is NO way that renewables (or nuclear) can scale up to the required level in the time frame we have to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. (Not to mention that renewables generally add to, rather than replace, existing energy sources.) It is a fantasy to expect that we can continue our way of life by replacing fossil fuels with renewables. The simple truth is that we are between a rock and a hard place. In a way, the promotion of renewables is a scam which lets society continue to ignore the problems of overpopulation, economic "growth", and excessive resource use for a little while longer. One way or the other, we are either going to have to make unpleasant and dramatic changes to our way of life, or nature will make those choices for us. I'm not optimistic about our ability to make those changes.

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  20. Pete @19

    "There is NO way that renewables (or nuclear) can scale up to the required level in the time frame we have to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. "

    You haven't explained why. You have just made emotive assertions. I will explain in simple terms why we can! 

    Firstly the Stern Report estimates converting to renewables will cost about 3% of global economic output per year between now and 2050, and other reports estimate roughly the same. This is comparable to what countries typically spend on the military or old age pension per year, therefore its obvious we can find that sort of money with a little bit of repriortising of spending.

    Now look at how quickly countries changed and reprioritised industrial production during WW2, in just 5 years, away from things like building construction to armaments and scaled up armaments. So its obvious renewables could scale if we wanted (and some nuclear power, if that is wanted). We wont do it by 2050, but we could get close enough to make a big difference to climate outcomes.

    I think the thing standing in the way is ignorance, politics, and lack of motivation, and a focus on other spending, but there is at least a chance those thing can change and some signs they are in some places.

    "(Not to mention that renewables generally add to, rather than replace, existing energy sources.)

    That is simply not the case. For example the UK has replaced an awful lot of coal production with wind power. And you are confusing a lack of sufficient progress in some places with what is possible if we want.

    "In a way, the promotion of renewables is a scam which lets society continue to ignore the problems of overpopulation, economic "growth", and excessive resource use for a little while longer. "

    I disagree. You really need to read the comments made by other people before you post your own. Population growth has not been ignored. Its been slowing since the 1970s, and many countries have policies encouraging lower rates of population growth. But there are limits on what such policies can achieve and how quickly rates will fall. They are not a panacea.

    Yes high rates of economic growth are unsustainable long term, but rates of economic growth are falling anyway. Do - the-research.

    You also seem oblivious of the enormous difficulties in persuading people to make huge reductions in their use of energy and technology. I would suggest its going to be even more difficult doing that than persuading people to build renewable energy, and I'm not persuaded that huge reductions to use of energy and technology etcetera even make sense. They certainly  have unpleasant consequences that must be weighed against the climate problem.

    Our only hope appears to be a combination of both renewable energy and more realistically achieveable reductions in energy use.

    The movie is politically motivated and I'm willing to bet you are as well. You probably dont like the capitalist system, rich people, and 'industrial' society. Is that a correct guess? Hell, neither do I in some ways, but the alternatives are even worse. 

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  21. Pete @19 , yes self-evidently it is a fantasy if we expect to continue our "default" policy of ever-increasing economic growth without limits.  And based on profligate use of resources.   At some point we must transition to aiming for "quality growth" rather than dollar growth.

    But in the near future  i.e. this century , we must solve the global warming problem first  ~ and as explained earlier, we cannot (politically) solve overpopulation as a pre-condition, because there just isn't time to do that.  Nor is it politically possible to go ultra low-tech lifestyle.

    Renewables - solar and wind - are our only practical method.  Nuclear fission is too expensive & too slow to build (for more than a tiny fraction of the power generation needed).  Likewise with the still-over-the-horizon  fusion powerplants.

    30 years is a long time, but present-day-tech renewables can do the job by 2050 or thereabouts.  But what is needed, is a Manhattan-type Project to develop synthetic hydrocarbon fuels (organic base ~ not alcohol, but long-chain hydrocarbons) for ships / planes / heavy vehicles).   30 years should be adequate for all this.

    You are right, that there is not yet sufficient urgency in tackling our major problems.  History points to the probability that we will continue to dawdle . . . and then desperately ramp-up our efforts later in the day.

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  22. Thanks nigelj and Eclectic for the good points.

    nigelj, you appear to be an optimist. Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but I think I’m a realist.

    It may theoretically be possible to totally transform our energy systems in the next 30 years but, for the most part, society doesn’t even see the need, let alone the urgency to do so. My point, and I think the major point of the film, is that there is this magical thinking that by simply switching to renewable energy sources we can continue to grow, consume, and carry on as we always have. It’s a soothing message—and one many of the major green groups have bought into—that all we need is a little relatively-painless tinkering with the technology. (I have been a supporter of, and volunteer with, numerous environmental and conservation groups over the years, and I continue to be involved. These days I mostly donate to groups that don’t have charitable status and thus are free to critique and criticize society's sacred cows.)

    As critical as the climate change issue is, I would argue that we have even more immediate and pressing issues including the loss of biodiversity, the degradation of soils and farm lands, and the contamination and loss of fresh water. I am concerned about the unintended consequences of another mad dash for resources like lithium and rare-earth metals to feed our latest technological lurch. (Are there even enough of these relatively rare resources to feed our insatiable appetite?)

    Having said that, I’ll 100% agree that renewable sources are better than fossil fuels, and that more renewable sources are better than fewer. My main concern is that society is not even having the conversation about the tradeoffs involved. Rather, the assumption is that we can just engineer our way out the trouble we’re in and carry on as if nothing has changed. But what if the engineering and tinkering are wholly inadequate? Should we continue down this unsustainable path? Who gains and who loses by the choices we are making? Society should be having a conscious conversation about where we’re going. Right now, we’re on autopilot.

    To answer your question nigelj, I quite like technology and industry. I have a STEM background, and I’m fascinated and impressed by our cleverness and technology. I like driving my car, using the latest gadgets, flying all over the world on vacation, having fresh food all winter long, and getting wine shipped in from literally the other side of the world. But I’m also cognizant of the dangers, costs, and unsustainably of this way of life, and I’m trying to reduce my impact. I’m also a passionate lover of wildlife, and remote and wild places, and I feel heartsick to see the wild disappearing before my eyes. (As Steve McQueen is reported to have said, “I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.”)

    I’ve always said that our two biggest “environmental” problems are organized religion (humans are “special” and superior to the rest of “creation”), and capitalism (infinite growth in a finite world).

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  23. Pete @22

    I like to think I'm a realist. Mitigating climate change obviously wont be easy.

    I agree to the extent we should use the earths resources as sparingly as possible, and minimise waste and we should accept gdp growth cannot continue forever. But I wont be adopting a very basic hair shirt lifestyle either. It doesn't make sense to me because this sort of low tech self flaggelation approach causes problems, and only delays the point where future generations run short of some things, so I support building renewable energy.

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  24. Has anyone read the book "Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air"?

     

    The author calculates the energy usage of the average British resident per day, and goes through a list of renweable energy sources using observational energy density (power generated per sq km) to see whether they can meet the demand. One primary message that comes out is that renewable energy is very dilute, so you need huge land (or sea) areas for solar or wind electricity generation. The conclusion is that Britain cannot live on its own renewables. Admittedly the book was written about 12 years ago so maybe the energy density of renewables has increased (but so has energy consumption).

     

    http://www.withouthotair.com/c4/page_32.shtml

    http://www.withouthotair.com/c6/page_38.shtml

    http://www.withouthotair.com/c8/page_55.shtml

    http://www.withouthotair.com/c10/page_60.shtml

    http://www.withouthotair.com/c12/page_73.shtml

    http://www.withouthotair.com/c14/page_81.shtml

    http://www.withouthotair.com/c16/page_96.shtml

    https://www.withouthotair.com/c18/page_103.shtml

    http://www.withouthotair.com/c25/page_177.shtml

    http://www.withouthotair.com/c30/page_231.shtml

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  25. Alea,

    There are hundreds of peer reviewed papers that show that it will be easy to transition to renewable energy.  The transition to renewable will result in more jobs, cheaper energy, much less pollution and increased health (primarily from decreased pollution).  The book you cite was never close to accutrate even 12 years ago.  Further advances and decreases in cost of renewable energy since then make it all the more absurd.

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  26. Alea @24,

    You say of the book you cite ('Sustainable Energy - without the hot air' by  David MacKay) "The conclusion is that Britain cannot live on its own renewables" but this is surely not the message presented by the book. The book shows the task is possible but not easy with the conclusion saying:-

    32 Saying yes

    Because Britain currently gets 90% of its energy from fossil fuels, it’s no surprise that getting off fossil fuels requires big, big changes – a total change in the transport fleet; a complete change of most building heating systems; and a 10- or 20-fold increase in green power.
    ...
    We need to choose a plan that adds up. It is possible to make a plan that adds up, but it’s not going to be easy.
    We need to stop saying no and start saying yes. We need to stop the Punch and Judy show and get building.

     

     

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  27. MA Rodger @26

    Page 114: "We've established that the UK's present lifestyle can't be sustained on the UK's own renewables (except with the industrialisation of country-sized areas of land and sea).

    Figure 28.2 on page 215 shows a map of renewable energy generation with a bit of nuclear and clean coal thrown in. As mentioned several times in the book, the land area required is huge, nearly half the land in the UK.

    He shows plans that might work which include importing renewable energy from overseas, such as solar farms in deserts, and geothermal from Iceland.

    It is a bit unfortunate in the UK that the places which have the highest potential for renewable energy generation also have the lowest population density (Scotland), and vice versa (SE England).

     

    Since the book is out of date and so is overly pessimistic regarding renewable energy potential, I will have a look at some of these research papers that say transitioning to renewables is easy.

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  28. Alea,

    Jacobson 2011 includes calculations of how much land will be occupied by the required generators (primarily wind and solar).  In most of the EU, more wind will be used since they are so far north.   For the UK there is a large wind resource off shore which would use up zero land, only fill ocean space. 

    In general the land area used turns out to be realtively small.  From the abstract of Jacobson 2011

    "Such a WWS infrastructure [producing all power from renewables] reduces world power demand by 30% and requires only 0.41% and 0.59% more of the world’s land for footprint and spacing, respectively." my bracket

    For onshore wind the foot print of the generators is very small.  The land in between generators can be used for farming or other uses.   Currently strip mining renders a lot of land unusable.

    World power demand is reduced because renewable energy is much more efficient than fossil power.  For example to generate 1000 watts of electricity from a coal burning power plant: 10% of the power in the coal is used to mine and transport the coal to the power plant.  Thermal generators are about 40% energy efficient (the remainder is waste heat).  To generate 1000 watts of electricity you need to mine 2800 watts of coal.  If you use solar panels to provide 1000 watts of electricity to the grid you only need to generate 1000 watts of electricity at the panels (essentially 100% efficient).  Electric cars save even more power because ICE motors in cars are only 20-25% efficient.

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  29. The Solutions Project (Jacobson runs it) has plans for most of the countries in the world.  The UK solution projects Percentage of United Kingdom Land Needed for All New Wind, Water & Solar Generators
    0.80% Footprint area 0.99% Spacing Area.  That is hardly half the land in the UK.  Offshore wind is about 33% of power.  Perhaps a different method of measuring the area is used in the two sources.

    The area used by renewable energy was a big argument 12 years ago when your book was printed.  After Jacobson 2011's calculations it has been rare to hear this issue raised.

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  30. Michael@28 The link doesn't work but I have found the paper and downloaded it. I will read it as it sounds like I could learn something from it, if not give me a bit of hope.

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  31. Alea,

    Sorry about that.  For anyone else here is the correct link.

    Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I:
    Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure,
    and materials
    Mark Z. Jacobson a,n, Mark A. Delucch

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