As America’s most famous documentary filmmaker, Michael Moore has been unafraid to challenge the most powerful and privileged interests in the United States.
He took on heartless corporate titans in Roger and Me, dismantled the disastrous Iraq war in Fahrenheit 9/11 and forever infuriated the U.S. gun lobby with Bowling For Columbine.
Along the way, he became the rumpled, ball-capped mascot of the American left, who loved watching him skewer big-business fat cats and hypocritical Republican lobbyists while the cameras rolled.
Nevermind that he often got his facts wrong, or that he employed an unfair brand of gotcha journalism to embarrass and vilify his targets.
Moore was still going after cruel conservatives and right-wingers. And the left loved him for it.
Not anymore. Now left-wing activists feel betrayed by their boy. Moore has produced a new documentary eviscerating renewable energy sources like solar, wind and biomass.
Planet of the Humans is suddenly the hottest documentary film in the world, quickly racking up more than four million YouTube views and unleashing a tsunami of controversy.
The movie questions the environmental value of renewable energy systems, pointing out wind and solar megaprojects inflict their own damage on the planet.
Jarring visuals include industrial logging machines shredding 500-year-old yucca trees to make way for a solar energy farm.
Viewers are reminded that massive solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars are made from nasty stuff like cobalt, coal, lithium and lead.
Environmental innovators like Al Gore and Michael Bloomberg are written off as greedy green tycoons, selling dubious solutions to save the planet while lining their own pockets.
The mainstream environmental movement is appalled — including in Canada.
“I love Michael Moore, so I wanted to see it,” said Green Party MP and former leader Elizabeth May.
“But, oh my! What a dreadful, ill-informed and unhelpful film it is. The damage done could be enormous. Some Greens have contacted me in tears.”
But while environmentalists weep, oil and gas supporters celebrate the spectacle of a left-wing rabble-rouser driving their opponents up the wall for a change.
“People are going ga-ga over it,” Margareta Dovgal, a researcher with the pro-industry group Resource Works, told me.
“The message that it’s sending to a lot of Canadians is that there is no free lunch, that we need all types of energy moving forward.
“Yes, renewables are important, but we’re also going to need fossil fuels for a long time to come.”
But Canadian defenders of renewable energy say the film is often flat-out wrong when it attacks wind and solar power.
“The pollution generated in making a solar panel is a tiny fraction of the pollution that would be needed and generated for coal and gas,” Peter McCartney, climate-change campaigner with the Vancouver-based Wilderness Committee, told me.
McCartney said the movie includes a lot of old and discredited data about things like the energy-conversion efficiency of solar panels.
“It’s true that solar panels are now about 22-per cent efficient and coal-fired power plants are about 37-per cent efficient,” he said.
“But the number doesn’t matter much when sunshine is abundant and free. Free and available sunshine with no pollution is a lot better than converting energy dug up out of the ground.”
Ditto for electric cars, which the movie slams for using batteries recharged using electricity from coal-fired municipal power grids.
“Even an electric vehicle running on coal-powered electricity is still an improvement over an internal-combustion gas-fired engine,” said McCartney, who had a one-word review of the movie.
“Trash,” he said. “I can’t put it any simpler than that.”
The film may be trash to some. To others, it’s a refreshing, alternative take on environmental orthodoxy.
My own advice: watch it and decide for yourself, while you can. There’s already a movement to ban the movie and scrub it from the internet, which may be the best reason of all to check it out.
Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews.