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Removing The Ideological Blindfold

Oppdatert: 27. mai 2020

Planet of the Humans has received wide praise, but also its fair share of criticism. The Malthusian and “Limits to Growth” crowd are predictably sympathetic to one of the underlying arguments of the film, in that the root problem is that we are too many people, consuming too many resources. Although the film never really argues in favor of drastic measures such as population control, this viewpoint has nonetheless been ascribed to it.

The techno optimistic crowd on the other hand claims that the documentary is outdated and misleading, often drawing on the arguments from Rosling and Pinker, who has shown how humanity is better off on every conceivable metric than ever before, mainly because of technological progress.

In addition to falling into the familiar dichotomy of doomsday predicting wizards and techno-prophets, the film has also has caused further fragmentation within the environmental movement and drawn unwanted support from people that flirt with climate change denialism. The latter was hardly the desired outcome for staunch leftists such as Gibbs and Moore, but the fact that the film does not only preach to the choir is in my opinion one of its greatest strengths.

The film does not offer revolutionary information that no one has considered before. Many have questioned the sustainability of transitioning to a green economy without a fundamental departure from the economic growth paradigm. It is also well known that the power structure behind fossil fuels is also behind much of the renewable energy investments around the world. After all that is where abundant capital exists after decades with a world economy driven by oil.

The most important contribution of the film is perhaps that it forces environmentalists to question the orthodoxy and examine the pros and cons behind their proposed solutions to our environmental predicaments. The film gives environmental ideologues a welcomed incentive for introspection, and more generally it can give people who are married to their "green" ideas the opportunity to simultaneously hold conflicting thoughts in their head. Too many people blindly follow authorities and established truths that are often based on ideology rather than reality. That is certainly the case for parts of the environmental movement, whether it be those that preach the coming of the end-times, or the ones dreaming of technological utopia.

Ideological doctrine does not offer good solutions to the messy nature of complex problems, and when ideologues on either side of an argument carry the torch for their adherents, they collectively fail to consider the flaws in their logic. We cannot expect technological progress to be the only solution to the problems we face, nor can we expect society to magically forego every comfort of modernity to save the planet from ecological collapse. We need to look for pragmatic solutions based on the best available knowledge, and we need to do so without closing ourselves into different echo chambers. As Pinker puts it: A rational society should seek the answers by consulting the world rather than assuming the omniscience of a bloc of opinionators who have coalesced around a creed.

To solve the huge challenges that lie ahead for the planet's environment every position needs to be scrutinized. But vested interests are not in a good position to challenge themselves and that is also why Planet of the Humans is an important film. It raises the questions that many of the green economy proponents are seemingly unwilling to investigate. It shows how the concept of green energy can be a very misleading term, and that an unholy alliance between capital interests and politicians seeking the green approval stamp can cause more environmental harm than good.

Going forward we need more voices like Gibbs and Moore, who are willing to risk becoming unpopular with their own people by pointing out that their emperors clothes might not be as green as they are portrayed to be. Transitioning to a ecological sustainable future is an unbearably complex undertaking and the problems we face are not something we can simply windfarm our way out of. Technological progress will certainly create solutions, but techno-optimism needs be combined with a fundamental respect for the natural world. If green growth and abundant renewable energy is at all possible it is not a panacea without a greater emphasis on ecological sustainability. Combining the ideas of the green economy with the compelling vision of E.O. Wilson, that half the earth should be set aside for nature and wildlife, could be a way to bridge the gap between rival ideologies. Our petri dish is not infinite, and we need to give more of nature room to replenish and grow on its own terms without the constant encroachment that has sadly become one of the hallmarks of human progress.

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