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Climate Deadlock and Censorship: Planet of the Humans, Liberals (certain kinds), & Friends of Liberals (Naomi Klein)

If you are asking yourself, what is this blogpost really about and do I really want to read it, the answer is “censorship” and yes, if you care about truth.

Specifically, this is about the attempted pre-emptive censorship of a documentary film (Planet of the Humans) by 
1.  investors whose plans for big bucks from renewable energy — green capitalism — are being questioned in the film 
2.  climate advocates who have either (a) spent too much time trying to assure Americans that we can keep our lifestyle—if we just switch to renewables, (b) taken money from the investors, or (c) both 
3.  friends of those investors and/or climate advocates.

As a lifelong climate activist myself, I watched the film.  After a few days, I wrote a blog wondering what all the fuss was about:  U.S. CLIMATE ACTION — 40 years wandering in the desert, 40 years desertification: Untangling the Confusions.

Not only do I agree with the main premise of the film and feel relieved that someone has burst the bubble about carbon reduction and renewable energy. In fact, Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, two of the early critics of the film, had made contemporaneous public comments basically saying the same thing as the film: in the last 25 (McKibben), 40 (Klein), 50 (Gibbs) years, we have not made much climate progress. In fact, things have gotten worse, despite our collective activism since the first Earth Day in 1970. More specifically, not only has global warming increased (not decreased), but every other aspect of the biological world that allows nature to renew itself—topsoil, biodiversity, clean water, clean air, the earth’s green skin (forests and perennial plants)—is disappearing. 

According to Michael Moore (who did not direct Planet of the Humans but who was the Executive Producer and is the primary spokesperson for the film), the censorship campaign began soon after the film’s release on April 21, 2020. I’m guessing that the censorship team was waiting for the release, based on earlier screenings at film festivals, etc.

On the Useful Idiots podcast (May 31, 2020), Moore describes the smear campaign. It involved sending letters to all sorts of important people who have the ability to sway public opinion. We now know that that list of people included Cornel West (who didn’t bite) and Naomi Klein (who did). The original campaign didn’t work because millions of people watched the film in the first few weeks.

Finally, on May 25, the censorship team achieved a temporary victory: YouTube shut down POTH because of a fair-use copyright accusation re a 4-second clip in the film. On May 28, Michael Moore Tweeted : “Claiming a 4-sec “copyright” issue, opponents of “Planet of the Humans” got it taken down! The environmental movement(which we’re all part of) has failed 2 stop the climate crisis getting worse. They don’t want u 2 know that or how they’re in bed w/ Wall St as we show in the film”

Naomi Klein replied that very day: “Oh yes, big secret you spilled. I wrote a book about it 6 years ago. I’m opposed to the film being censored. I am in favor of its dangerous errors being acknowledged and corrected – same as with any journalism. Cool that you are part of the environmental movement.”

So here’s where I start to get really confused about someone I had come to admire more and more over the years and appreciate her speaking truth to power. Either Naomi Klein was alerted to Moore’s tweet or was keeping an eye out on her own. In any case, her unsolicited reply was quite the snark. I like righteous snark as much as anyone, but I believe that a good journalist would have already realized that Moore, Gibbs, and Zehner have been defending themselves admirably, that what the critics were saying about the film was materially false (as well as over-the-top, outrageous, and possibly slander), and that outlets like The Guardian and Commondreams had refused the POTH team’s rebuttals of critical op-eds, another indication of strange bedfellows.

In other words, it seemed as if “nice” people like Bill McKibben (as described by Klein) and good “journalists” like Naomi Klein (per Klein’s May 28 Tweet) weren’t really interested in getting at the truth. Since the film’s release, both Bill McKibben and Al Gore seem to have been on rehabilitation tours, in case anyone might have taken their disingenuousness (McKibben) or apparent conflicts of interest (Gore), as laid out in the film, seriously. I did and I do.

Naomi Klein may say she’s against censorship, but she’s gone along with the smear campaign and her May 28 Tweet casting gratuitous shade on Moore’s claim to be part of the environmental movement makes her doubly duplicitous. Moore describes, rightly in my opinion, the environmental movement as a people’s movement while Naomi Klein comes off as a snobby intellectual who thinks she has a bigger claim for some reason. Is it because she’s written bestselling books about climate change? because she’s friends with McKibben, Gore, etc.? or ??? I don’t find Klein to be snobby, but something’s going on here. What?

LIBERALS (certain kinds)

On June 5, Planet of the Humans was restored to Michael Moore’s YouTube channel, the copyright accusation against the film having been found to be false. It’s still free to watch. But it was censored for 12 days, thanks to a questionable orchestrated effort in which Naomi Klein is now implicated as a more-than-willing participant.

So, if you’re wondering when do we get to the part about certain kinds of liberals — well, here we are.

I don’t much like political labels—left, right, liberal, conservative, progressive, socialist—and try to avoid them as much as possible. But in this instance, to get at the root of the dispute that Naomi Klein has with Michael Moore (and the larger issue of censorship), I have to use the language that they used.  Curiously, and again, it’s remarkably similar language attempting to convey similar (if not identical) ideas.

Not only do Michael Moore and Naomi Klein agree on the current climate deadlock, but they agree that it will be the liberals who “are gonna get us killed”—or, at least, certain kinds of liberals.

First, their respective recent statements about liberals:

NAOMI KLEIN on Juice Media (May 21, 2020 interview)
 a verbatim transcript
 These quotes are from one section, near the end of the transcript.

“I think my battle is is with like, the people who, who, who, who saw Bernie surging in the polls and thought, let’s gamble on, on Biden, you know, who we know is a riskier candidate. What is it about – I mean, I’m having trouble with words because I know liberal means something different — the meritocratic liberal class, right and the the depths of a hatred of, of the left of a kind of a working class movement of a sort of the scruffiness of it. …

“and so in this moment where the people who supported Bernie are just being sacrificed so literally, in order to keep our way of life and to get the machine running again, this question, you know, I was doing I did a webinar with the progressive group in the states and I was on with a guy named Eric Ward who works with the Southern Poverty Law Centre and he said the only question that matters is whether liberals are going to stand with labour or stand with capital. And that’s really stayed with me and I feel like that that’s the question….

“I love your Honest Government Ads keep keep taking on more like to keep taking on your crazy goddamn coal-addled government. But I actually think that that we also have to take on the ‘small l liberals’, you know, who are so afraid of the change that we need to actually keep us safe, so afraid that they will saddle us with these – they preferred Johnson to Corbin – and I worry that they prefer Trump to Sanders. And we need to, we need to challenge those folks….

“And you know Trudeau is a reminder really of of how dangerous liberals are, you know, I have a friend who says ‘the liberals are gonna get us all killed’. She’s been saying it for years and I always say back to her she’s never written it publicly so I can’t say who it is but I always think she should write that up. The liberals will get us all killed. We always call each other up or just text each other ‘the liberals will get us all killed’. Because it is less clear, right? Because people get seduced by it.”

Episode 86 start at 1:26

34 years ago a San Francisco Examiner columnist talked to Moore, after seeing Moore get disrespected by some “liberals — elite liberals — who fight anything good that comes from the working class.”
The columnist told Moore: “These elite liberals love humanity. They just hate people.”

It seems to me that Klein and Moore are talking about the same people — “meritocratic liberals” and “elite liberals” — liberals who don’t see the working class and can’t brook any changes in their own lifestyle, life plans, or self-image. But Moore is working class and Klein is not. (Hence, Klein’s reticence about talking about her income, which I believe I read in an interview when she took the position at Rutgers University in 2018.)

Neither Moore nor Klein name the other kind of liberal or leftist, but it’s clear that they both think there’s two types in the U.S. Now that we know Klein’s part in trying to censor Planet of the Humans, is it fair to ask, what kind of liberal she is?  Is she one of those meritocratic or elite liberals, embedded in corporate $$, power, and status? Or is she just friends with them, but really some other kind of liberal?  I think she would do well to answer, in public, Eric Ward’s question: is she “going to stand with labour or stand with capital”?

So, yes, Naomi Klein:
—What are the “dangerous errors” in Planet of the Humans?
–Who or what are you trying to protect?
–Why did you allow yourself to get used in the attempt to censor a good faith film?
–Have you, a journalist, talked to any people who find the film a valuable contribution to the climate movement?
–Have you talked to any long-time climate activists, such as myself, who’ve been wondering why we were working so hard and not making progress — both in our individual climate spheres (e.g., regenerative food-and-farm systems, where there still is almost no funding and many of us can’t even make a living) and in overall climate metrics — temperature, carbon dioxide ppm, biodiversity, topsoil, clean water & air, environmental justice, etc.? 

The criticisms of POTH have been shown, to my satisfaction, to be wrong. If you still think there are “dangerous errors” in the film, how about a friendly debate with someone from the POTH team, moderated by someone like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now?

Better yet, how about an apology to the POTH team and to the grassroots activists who’ve made this a people’s movement from April 22, 1970—and who’ve gotten co-opted, cheated, or ignored by the “meritocratic elite liberals” and their friends who cared more about their lifestyle than soil erosion, more about social class than truth or honest conversation?

You’re also welcome to come to Evanston, IL, where I can show you exactly how our multi-faceted grassroots environmental movement got co-opted by the renewable energy meritocratic liberals — and their friends. As my first blog on Planet of the Humans describes, we have made some recovery. It remains to be seen if the COVID pandemic wakes Evanstonians up enough to start “leaving the leaves”.

MOVING ON FROM NAOMI KLEIN and other friends of meritocratic liberals…

In my opinion, Planet of the Humans is the George Floyd of climate deadlock. It was a breakthrough moment, and thank goodness for that. We who’ve been questioning the narrow focus on carbon as the problem and green capitalism as the proposed solution now have some solidarity with a larger group. We’re not quite organized yet, but I trust it’ll come. 

Per my first blog on the climate deadlock (as exposed by POTH), U.S. Climate Action, watch for public policy proposals that deal with:
— the money question
— the democracy question
— the knowledge question

Along the lines of all three together, here’s some news I just received: I’ve been told that U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN) will be introducing a bill promoting the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as an alternative and more accurate measurement of economic growth. This single metric has a tremendous amount of power to change public investment decisions, more dramatically and more intersectionally than 350 ppm. For more information on GPI, follow Ken Pentel at Ecology Democracy Network (Minneapolis, MN).

Also watch for a new and expanded interest in local foods, regenerative agriculture, biodiversity, indigenous governance, and beauty. The COVID pandemic has provided both the force and the opportunity for more people to connect the dots and to see how our individual lives and individual issues are all connected.