Humans – Destroyers of Earth
Have we become death, the destroyer of worlds? 2019 ARTE documentary “Humans – Destroyers of the Earth”, directed by Jean-Robert Viallet, offers an unflinching examination of the last two centuries of industrial turbo-capitalism. This eye-opening piece reveals how, in a short period of time that is infinitesimal on the geological clock, humans have used technology to control the Earth system, often with catastrophic effects. The genesis of these effects can be traced back to the advent of the steam engine, a monumental human invention that unleashed a rapid series of technological innovations. These inventions led to unprecedented levels of comfort, consumption, and prosperity. But these advances have come at the expense of the health of the planet. The central question posed by the documentary is simple yet profound: How much longer will the Earth be able to sustain humanity’s efforts?
Climate change has become a glaring symptom of this relentless exploitation, marked by the dramatic rise in sea levels and the rapid melting of the polar ice caps. This damaging trajectory seems unstoppable. Viallet’s documentary points the finger squarely at governments and multinational corporations, which are increasingly being identified as the primary culprits behind the environmental crisis. Numerous petitions from environmental organizations and impassioned pleas from celebrities for environmental action often fall on deaf ears. Meanwhile, researchers are shedding light on the frightening scale of this crisis. Since the beginning of the industrial age, more than 1,400 billion tons of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere. Biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, and it’s estimated that there could be between 250 million and one billion climate refugees by 2050.
It is predicted that by 2100, nearly 40 percent of the Earth’s surface will experience conditions that are completely new to any current form of life on our planet. Vast areas of South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean will be considered uninhabitable. All of this is happening at a rate that exceeds even the most pessimistic predictions. To put this into perspective, if the Earth’s lifespan were compressed to 24 hours, the last 10,000 years – the Holocene epoch – would be the last quarter of a second, and the Industrial Age would be the last two thousandths of a second.
Destroyers of Earth unravels the historical timeline of industrial capitalism. It highlights milestones such as the depletion of fossil fuels, the invention of the car, the development of nuclear power, the rise of mass consumption, and socio-economic phenomena such as imperialism, world wars, urban expansion, industrial agriculture, and globalization. The result: By 2023, the grim reality of the situation has never been more apparent. Global average temperatures continue to break records, forests are burning worldwide, and the frequency of extreme weather events is increasing. Our soils and waters are increasingly polluted, leading to the disappearance of forests, swamps, and entire ecosystems. Microplastics permeate even the most remote corners of the earth, working their way up the food chain and into our bodies.
The health consequences are becoming apparent as cancer rates skyrocket and global fertility rates decline. Meanwhile, toxic and nuclear waste barrels are rotting in our oceans and garbage patches are polluting the seas. Dead zones in the oceans are expanding, and most animal species are endangered or already extinct. Diseases caused by exotic viruses (hello, Covid-19) and super-resistant bacteria are increasingly coming into contact with humans. As we continue to destroy forests, mine beaches for sand, erode mountains, and exploit oil and gas in previously untouched areas, the planet is smoking, rumbling, and crying out for relief.
Yet historically, only a small minority, primarily North Americans and us Europeans, have borne the brunt of the responsibility. In fact, the documentary emphasizes that the wealthiest 20 percent of Earth’s citizens are the most egregious offenders, with lifestyles rooted in the wasteful habits of the industrialized bourgeoisie of the early 19th century. “Humans – Destroyers of Earth” paints a vivid picture of the dire consequences of unlimited industrial capitalism. It serves as a powerful reminder of the urgent need for sustainable solutions and a radical shift in our global consumption patterns. Only then can we hope to prevent further damage to our planet and ensure a viable future for generations to come.
Worth watching, even if it will probably leave you with a bad feeling in your stomach
- Stream it on YouTube (German)
- Stream it on arte.tv (German/French with English, Spanish, Italian & Polish subs)
Die Erdzerstörer (German)
Hero image: YouTube thumbnail of the video Humans – Destroyers of Earth.