It’s been several months since the debut of Planet of the Humans, the hatchet job on the environmental movement and clean energy produced by left-leaning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Though harshly reviewed by experts, the film has garnered 9.1 million views (up from 8.8 million, when I started writing this piece). That’s enough attention to conduct some forensics on clean energy’s response to consider how to prepare for more attacks.

Moore’s film was just the latest attack on the viability of climate solutions using lines originated by the fossil fuel lobby. Let’s remember:
· “Climategate” hack : Fossil fuel front groups and allied politicians cherry-picked sentences from climatologists’ emails to frame the science as bogus and posted them online in a coordinated attack just before the UN climate treaty negotiations, wrecking consensus on solving global climate disruption.
· The trumped-up Solyndra ‘scandal’ – in which the government-subsidised PV technology developer went bankrupt – in 2011 cratered US Republican support for clean energy, with Solyndra’s Chapter 11 drawing an FBI raid, probes by two congressional committees and what we calculated to be $800m in negative ads during former US president Barak Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
· Tech magazine Wired’s misinformation-powered feature article in 2012 that said cleantech was a bubble that would burst chilled venture capital investment in the sector.
· Investigative news show 60 Minutes (CBS) ran a hit job in 2014 that was used to justify attacks on pro-clean energy policies in several crucial states. Fast on the heels of this story there was a push for a two-year freeze on clean energy standards in the states of Ohio, California, Arizona and Nevada.
Solyndra, of course, was the biggie. It collapsed clean energy’s support among conservative Republicans to the low 40%s from a pre-Solyndra high of 94%, dragged solar – and by industrial connection wind – energy into the US political culture wars, and disabled bipartisan Congressional support for clean-power policy.

The damage caused by the Solyndra was greatest because it was fully leveraged by clean energy opponents over roughly 18 months. The story quickly became a truism among national business and policy media even though the federal loan guarantee program in question turned a profit of several billion dollars for US taxpayers.

Wired’s piece was less leveraged, and the episode of 60 Minutes drew a fierce, coordinated clean-energy sector response that broadly matched the attention the original story garnered. It remains our one success story.

The pandemic, recession and election have dominated our attention span in 2020, making it difficult for outlets that act as fossil fuel boosters to leverage the Moore film. But they have tried.

While Moore’s film was being widely panned by experts and news outlets for being divorced from basic business reality – Newsweek called it an “an ill-premised, intellectually dishonest stunt” and Vox “a nihilistic take, riddled with errors” – anti-renewables pot shots were being taken in the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart and by fossil fuel’s go-to errand boy, Robert Bryce .

During all this, the five leading clean-energy advocacy organisations posted a total of three blogs and five social media amplification posts. The rebuttal can was carried by individual environmental actors: climatologist Michael Mann, who was viciously attacked during Climategate; documentary filmmaker Josh Fox; and, environmentalist Bill McKibben.

And as for US clean-energy trade associations – the American Council on Renewable Energy (Acore): one blog, three socials; the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA): one blog; and Climate Nexus: one article, two socials. The Solar Energy Industries Association and Advanced Energy Economy did not muster a response.

In their defense, AWEA, SEIA and Acore were focused on getting pro-renewables policies covered by the huge stimulus bills passed earlier this year. Even with hindsight, it’s hard to argue with their priorities. But there’s no getting around the fact that our industry was far from vociferous in the face of Moore’s attack-dog ‘documentary’.

This “response disparity” suggest we got lucky with the Moore film, which is different than being prepared, skilled and proactive in our own defense. Market disruption is a full-contract sport, and this game is far from over. Whether Trump or Biden is in the White House in January, we need to fix our readiness level, and soon.

· Mike Casey is president of Washington DC-based clean-tech PR agency Tigercomm. Read his earlier columns for Recharge here.