Transition Movement Founder Rob Hopkins review of the movie "Thrive"

How many people have asked me if I’ve seen the movie Thrive? Uncounted numbers. So I put the DVD on hold at the library, and finally sat down to watch parts of it over the past two nights. It was difficult for me to watch more than about 20 minutes at a time. Both the gentle, new-agey tone of the movie’s creator, Foster Gamble, and the expensive star trekkie graphic treatment felt strange, given the drastic material he presented in his section detailing what he thinks is going on to keep the human race from thriving. And yet I can sympathize with what I assume to be his concern that unless his tone is gentle, people will resist the awful magnitude of what he’s saying.

I do think his conspiratorial view of the interlocking pyramidal structure that links currency, energy, media, military, food, water, and medicine basically informative. On the other hand, his view of the future is that of the technological fix, via free energy, utilizing the god he seems to worship, a geometrical pattern called the “torus.” (He spends much of the movie tracing his fascination with this shape.)

Gamble only barely mentions ideas beloved of the Transition and permaculture movements, whereby we power down from our former proliferate use of energy, and reconnect with nature’s brilliant, bountiful systems, both in our gardens and on the levels of neighborhood and community. He doesn’t seem to pay much attention, in other words, to either decentralization or to the bottom-up renaissance that truly is beginning to emerge worldwide as the pyramid comes crashing down.

Charles Eisenstein sweetly says The Story is Wrong but the Spirit is Right in his review of the movie, noting that whatever is going on outside is a reflection of what’s going on inside. When we ourselves change, so will the world around us.

I would certainly agree with this assessment. And as a matter of fact, more and more of us are changing every day. Waking up to our own aliveness, connecting with others and beginning to set in motion open-source, self-organizing systems. I notice this happening with the Transition and permacutlure movements here. At first, we had a small army of recent, college-age graduates of permaculture design courses running around, wanting to get their hands in the dirt. Now we have little farms and projects taking root, inside and outside town; plus county, city and university sustainability and ecovillage initiatives and networks and events springing up of all kinds that reflect the goals of Transition.

But I choose to run Rob Hopkins’ review of Thrive here, since I appreciated his nuanced approach, and yet I disagree with so much of what he says! Hopkins, like many permaculturists, categorically refuses to “believe” in free energy. It may be that only with a multidimensional awareness, does this radical comprehension of the unlimited nature of the universe seep in. He also ridicules the notion of “conspiracy,” again, a bias of many permaculturists.

I decided to include the comments to his review, as they help to contextualize it.

I found his review on It was originally published published Jan 10 2012 by Transition Culture, Archived Jan 10 2012

Film review: Why ‘Thrive’ is best avoided

by Rob Hopkins

What do you do when you are the heir to the Proctor and Gamble fortune and you have spent years surrounding yourself with new agey thinking and conspiracy theories? You make a film like ‘Thrive‘, the latest conspiracy theory movie that is popping up all over the place. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have asked me “have you seen ‘Thrive’?” Well I have now, and, to be frank, it’s dangerous tosh which deserves little other than our derision. It is also a very useful opportunity to look at a worldview which, according to Georgia Kelly writing at Huffington Post, masks “a reactionary, libertarian political agenda that stands in jarring contrast with the soothing tone of the presentation”. Here’s the trailer to give you a taste:

Visually the film is like some kind of Star Trek fan movie crossed with a National Geographic wildlife film, and is largely built around Gamble’s own years of ‘research’ into the question of what it is that “stops life on earth from thriving”. A reasonable question to ask, but his approach can hardly be called ‘research’ due to the low standards he accepts as ‘evidence’ and his all-round lack of critical analysis. His research, such as it is, is cherry-picked to deepen and support his established worldview, rather than the worldview being built from a careful analysis of the evidence. As we’ll see, this is a dangerous foundation.

So here’s the film’s argument in a nutshell. Humanity is killing itself and the world around it because free energy sources are being deliberately kept from us, cures for cancer are being kept from us, all because we are controlled by an invisible elite who want to create a ‘new world order’ to control us all and prevent us from thriving. So let’s look at some of the film’s central arguments in turn.

Free energy machines

One of the key threads of the film revolves around free energy, the idea that we can generate unlimited clean energy by just tapping into the ‘torus’, a shape that supposedly pervades the universe (see right), and which could yield endless free energy. ’Thrive’ would have you believe that there are dedicated independent scientists around the world bravely defying the laws of thermodynamics only to have their work seized by the FBI, their patents bought up and ‘lost’, or harassed into silence. Yet all we are offered as evidence is some grainy film of machines that could be anything doing anything, and some smart computer graphics of spinning torus shapes.

If this amazing breakthrough that would rewrite science and win Nobel Prizes for anyone involved were actually a reality, and if you were going to spend huge amounts to make a film to argue for their existence which you would then put out into the public arena, surely you would get a working model of such a device into the studio with some impartial scientists to verify it in operation? If they actually exist, and actually work, then this wouldn’t be a big challenge surely? As Kyle Hill writes in his review of the film, “wanting something to be true does not make it more possible”, and “someone wanting to invent such a device is not evidence”. ‘Free energy’ is a world notoriously riddled with charlatans and cranks.

Gamble argues that these technologies could provide “enough energy to transform the entire earth”, and here’s a key point I want to challenge. The idea that free energy would be a universal good (even if it were feasible, which it’s not – the US Patent and Trademark Office gets so many nonsensical requests for patents on perpetual energy devices that they now refuse to even look at them without a working model) is deeply dubious. Kimberly Carter Gamble, Foster Gamble’s partner, states at one point in the film that:

“… so much of the pain on the planet has to do with the lack of access to energy”.

Wow, now there’s a statement. How many people on this planet would argue that much of the pain on the planet has to do with the developed world having lack of access to energy? While of course for millions in the developing world, lack of access to energy is a huge impediment to being able to attain a reasonable standard of living and to move beyond poverty, in the developed world, cheap energy (you could argue that for the past 150 years fossil fuels have been so cheap that they might as well have been ‘free energy’) has allowed Western nations to conquer, plunder, colonise, mine, clearcut, dominate and oppress.

While it has also allowed us to do many good things, energy cannot be seen in isolation from our relationship with other resources. Free energy would mean we would drain the aquifers faster, degrade the soils faster, work our way through the earth’s other depleting resources at an accelerated rate. Nowhere in the film is the idea of limits even mentioned, apart from occasional mentions that believing in ‘scarcity’ is one of our problems.

Can anyone seriously argue that the United States (which is principally the focus of this film) with a new free source of energy would be a more responsible member of the global community? Would they happily share it with the rest of the world? (the current stand-off about Iran’s nuclear energy programme rather indicates that they wouldn’t). I would argue that it is only the realisation that we are nearing the end of the age of cheap energy, cheap fossil fuels, that is finally bringing some sense, some awareness of the fact that we live on a finite planet and that we need to live more responsibly. Gamble’s argument that we could have enough free energy “to transform the entire earth” fills me with dread and foreboding rather than excitement.

We are told that oil companies are spending “huge amounts of money” suppressing free energy, with no evidence presented to support that at all. I would hazard a bet though that if even any money at all is spent on such things, it is a tiny fraction of what is spent on climate change denial, funding dubious organisations which attempt to undermine climate science, all of which gets no mention here. Of course we already have technologies that can harness natural energies and which provide clean energy – they are called renewables, we know they work, and we can install them today. ‘Free energy’ is a fantasy, and will always remain so. As Kyle Hill writes in his review, ”just because the universe is hard to understand and many times mysterious, does not mean that anything goes”.

Down the conspiracy rabbithole

Then we are bombarded with the full range of conspiracy thinking. 9/11 was an inside job, there is a conspiracy to suppress natural medicines, “Big Brother’s not coming, it’s already here”, we are one step away from a “military dictatorship”, a climate treaty in Copenhagen would have been “a tax base for tyranny”, there are ‘chemtrails’ in the sky to deliberately poison us, there is a deliberate attempt to reduce the world’s population underway, there is only a cancer epidemic because all the cures have been suppressed, etc, etc.

UFOs are also brought into the picture, which is odd as they serve little to deepen his argument, rather the argument seems to go like this: there are UFOs and they are extraterrestrial craft, and in order for them to have got here, they must have free energy machines, so therefore the Elite must know about this and be keeping it from us. As he writes on the film’s website, “if we can expose the suppression, reveal the truth about ET visitation, and further develop new energy technologies that ETs apparently rely on, then we can decentralize power and make massive strides toward a thriving future”. I’ll leave you to decide whether that 2+2+2=9 kind of logic makes any sense to you, and whether the word ‘apparently’ constitutes an evidence base. Naturally, no evidence is presented to support this other than a few fuzzy videos of lights in the sky in different parts of the world.

Wheeled out as ‘experts’ to support the film’s arguments are Deepak Chopra and, erm, David Icke, among others. Gamble is keen on talking about “my research”, yet his research, such as it is, is so undemanding that I am reminded of Sir Terry Frost’s words, “if you know before you look, you cannot see for knowing”. Gamble wheels out the classic conspiracy theorists’ gambit, “could I be wrong? Perhaps. But what if I’m not?” No, you are wrong. And even if you were right, you have presented us with so little evidence to back up you claims that you would have no way of knowing whether you were right or not.

He also does the other classic conspiracy theorist’s trick of saying “don’t just take my word for it, do the research yourself”, offering links on the film’s website that all back up his arguments, rather than giving a rounded balanced view of arguments and counterarguments. There’s some dreadful rubbish on there, the film ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ is presented as evidence that climate change is probably not a problem, for example, and the appalling section on climate change beautifully states “those who point to solar activity as a cause of global warming are often ridiculed and accused of being funded by the oil industry, even when that’s not the case”. “Even when”?

Ah, so that’s what ‘Thrive’ is all about …

Then, at the end of the film, we finally get into Thrive’s manifesto, it’s vision for the future and how we might get there. There is lots in there that I wouldn’t disagree with, more local food, renewable energy, local banking, local shopping and so on, apart from free energy being thrown into the mix too. But now, it is in this final section of ‘Thrive’ that the dark side of the film emerges. One of the things put forward, alongside local food, renewables and so on, is “little or no taxes”. Eh? Where did that come from?! Ah, now we get into the real agenda of the film, a kind of New Age libertarianism, a sort of cosmic Tea Party, and it all starts to get deeply alarming.

Gamble sets out his 3 stages to get to humanity’s being able to thrive. Firstly, he argues, we need to hugely scale back the defence industry and the Federal Reserve. Well I could go along with that, but then the second is “shrink government’s role in order to protect individual liberty”, and the third is then, because we are now freer, with “no involuntary tax and no involuntary governance” and with “rules but no rules” (?), we can all now thrive. OK, whoa, let’s pause here for a moment. Indeed the film’s website goes further, describing ‘involuntary taxation’ as “plunder” and ‘involuntary governance’ as “tyranny”.

Thrive's vision of a thriving world: no taxes, no government, 'free energy charging stations' and community markets.Thrive’s vision of a thriving world: no taxes, no government, ‘free energy charging stations’ and community markets.In her review, Georgia Kelly quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes as saying “taxes are what we pay for a civilised society”. In spite of all it’s cosmic graphics and pictures of forests from the air, it is in essence a kind of New Age Tea Party promo film, arguing for a society with no government, no taxes, no laws, alongside “interplanetary exploration”, which somehow combine to create a world that respects the rights of all. Apparently, this would lead to a world where “everyone would have the opportunity to thrive”. In reality, it would lead to a world in which the wealthy would thrive, but the rest of us would lose healthcare, social welfare, libraries, public transport, pension entitlement, social housing etc etc. Sounds more like a surefire route to the kind of Dickensian world that led to the creation of a welfare state in the first place.

Responding to any of the truly global issues, such as climate change (which ‘Thrive’ clearly dismisses as part of the conspiracy), would no longer happen due to intergovernmental co-operation presumably being interpreted as steps towards a ‘one world government’. The film presents its suggestions in complete isolation from any notions of ‘society’ and community, presenting a vision of the future where the entire global population is living the same lifestyle as Gamble, the resources to enable this presumably being imported from other planets, or perhaps created afresh using magic?

Nowhere in the film do you hear the words ‘less’, or anything about reduced consumption in the West. Just as free energy and cures for cancer are our birthright, so, presumably, is the right to consume as much as we like – to think otherwise is to lapse into a ‘scarcity’ mindset. What I find most alarming about ‘Thrive’ is that most of the people who have asked me “have you seen Thrive?” are under 20, and they seem genuinely excited by it. Perhaps it is the simplicity of the message that appeals, the “all we need to do is” clarity of its ask. But having to discuss why free energy machines are impossible and the shortcomings of conspiracy theories with otherwise educated young people who are inheriting a warming world with its many deep and complex challenges is deeply depressing.

How we might actually help the world thrive

‘Thrive’ is dangerous because it invites us to put our faith for the future in a fantasy. A fantasy that free energy is possible, a fantasy that the only thing that is preventing us from creating a benign and enlightened society is a handful of powerful families. Things that are already very successfully preventing the world from thriving include:

  • climate change (you try thriving in a world with a world whose temperature has risen 11°F, as the IEA warned this week)
  • the fact that we fail to see reducing our oil demand as a key as a key aspect of energy security, oil prices having quadrupled since 2003 and going nowhere other than up, UK North Sea oil production falling by 22.5% in 2011 (a record fall) and North Sea natural gas production falling by 29.5% (a record fall) in 2011
  • Social inequality, which as the book ‘The Spirit Level’ so brilliantly showed, underpins many of our other social problems
  • Our economic system, designed to channel money upwards rather than downwards and to enrich the 1%, but this is a sufficiently abhorrent system (see, for example, Nicholas Shaxson’s brilliant ‘Treasure Islands’, review coming soon) without invoking secret societies and conspiracies to explain it

The solutions are already out there, there are proven technologies, proven strategies, and we need to work on all levels, as indeed the film argues, and to withdraw our support from a corrupt and ineffectual model which is taking us over the brink, and put that support into creating a more resilient, localised and accountable model. However, it’s not about ‘interplanetary travel’, it’s about finding our feet, here and now, in the communities and the soils that surround us. It’s not about ‘free energy’, it’s about learning to appreciate what a precious thing energy is and learning to live well with less of it. It’s not about ‘no involuntary taxation’, it’s about taxes that disincentivise the things that are narrowing our future options, and incentivising the things we need to get in place urgently. It’s not about ‘no government’, it’s about truly democratic government using its considerable powers to build resilience, decarbonise society, shift the collective focus. The few countries in the world that are actually seriously engaging with the climate issue are those with stronger government, not weaker government.

I have occasionally been interviewed for a film and then squirmed with embarrassment when I have seen the final context in which my interview has been used. I can only imagine that some of the progressives, such as Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, who appear in this film, are similarly horrified with ‘Thrive’. It is a film that offers us nothing, and which, taken to its logical conclusion, would lead to our having thrown away the few options for actually thriving that remain open to us. It is the film equivalent of a self-published book, with no critical editor rounding off the corners, and as a self-funded film a sense that you can do what you like. Avoid.

Original article available here

The Conversation

“But communication is two-sided – vital and profound communication makes demands also on those who are to receive it… demands in the sense of concentration, of genuine effort to receive what is being communicated. ”

—Roger Sessions

Showing 13 comments

  • Petershunt

    The first thing to accept is that there are conspiracies. They do exist on both the macro and micro scale. From the False flag operation of invading Poland bu the Nazi to the fake end around in a football game.

    Deception and distortion are useful tools. Just look at how Greenspan and Clinton cooked the inflation figures and subsequently Bernanke just decided one day not to report the M2 figures as this is where he had his so called printing presses delivering money to his failing brethren in the banks.

    It is far from and honest game and the current society at large is being sacrificed for others while the new earners will be asked to pay the bills. The aged savers have had their legs cut out from underneath them as their savings and CD earning fall way behind inflation just to recapitalize the big banks.

    No it’s not fair and conspiracies do persist.

  • Anarchy Pony, “The military’s job is to fight enemies of the State, the Police’s job is to protect the citizens and enforce the law, when the Military becomes the Police, the Citizens become the enemies of the State.”-Commander Adama. Smash the state, Fuck the market, Might doesn’t make Right, Might just makes the Rules. Thou shalt not suffer a fascist to live. Applejack is unequivocally best pony.

    The whole premise is absurd, plenty of peoples have “thrived” quite well throughout humanity’s existence with very little energy. And of course they just slide what exactly “thriving” may be past you without any real critical evaluation of the concept. One could easily describe numerous indigenous hunter gatherer tribes, in the past at least, that thrived, and they had very limited technology. They lived utterly different lifestyles than all of us are accustomed to, and many noted that it was a more fulfilling and enjoyable lifestyle as well, Benjamin Franklin himself remarked that “No European who has tasted savage life, can afterwards bear to live in our societies.” One can argue whether that would be the case in the modern world.

  • Yogazeal

    I did watch most of the film, altho some with half an ear. I fully agree with this sad review. I would like to point out that “Our economic system, designed to channel money upwards rather than downwards” was definitely designed – and continues to be tweaked – by some very powerful and intelligent forces.
    Seems that “very powerful and intelligent forces” DOES constitute a conspiracy, and over the centuries banking has been a tangle of reptilian collusions. Cold-blooded conspirators are reptiles similar to the management of Monsanto, agreed?

  • You just know the Gambles would pay anything to keep this guy away from the family business.

  • Arjen

    Thank you Rob! I have seen the trailer and heard many people be enthralled by the movie, but I have not been able to bring myself to watch the thing. Thanks for doing the work!

  • Don_Alejandro

    Gamble’s 3 stages for humanity’s being able to thrive reminds
    me of the “Underpants Gnome” episode of South Park. The gnomes had a three stage plan, as
    illustrated by their chart:

    1: Collect underpants

    2: ?

    3: Profit

    Needless to say, the gnomes were stuck at stage 1, stealing underpants from poor Butter’s every night…

  • Toxicosis

    I’ve watched the documentary. No doubt that the something for nothing mentality as far as free energy technology is concerned is flogged ad nauseam. The main presenters detailing, however, as to how the world’s power elite run the banking system is constructed well-other than the lizard people. Fantasies will never replace reality, and this film far too much basks in the glory of feeding into can-kicking and materialistic escapism.

  • I’ve been disappointed by how many people I like and respect liked that film. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it.

    One intriguing contradiction: They quote Paul Hawken favorably in his speech on Blessed Unrest, but cut out the bit about Paul Hawken saying that there is no conspiracy of lizard-people– which is a direct comment on David Icke and his comment that lizard-people are in cahoots with the Rothschilds to control us all. In fact, when Hawken says this, about 40 seconds into…
    and some people clap, he encourages to rest to do so in response to this claptrap.… (at 1:00, David Icke talks of shape-shifting lizards)

  • Adam Goodwin

    I think it is disturbing that the author of this article feels one of the biggest problems with the movie is that it seems to coincide ideologically with the Tea Party movement. Who cares?

    I’m an anarchist (originally referred to as a libertarian socialist), and I think government is the problem too. The only difference between myself and a contemporary ‘libertarian’ is that I’m not under the delusion that ‘market forces’ will somehow be discernible if government collapses. But that’s a big difference. Real libertarians understand humans to be naturally cooperative and helpful to each other, rather than this _enforced_ ‘market ideal’ that atomizes people. That’s what almost free energy (from fossil fuels) has done to our species. The ‘market ideal’ needs lots of guns behind it from a central location in order to ‘legitimize’ the utterly destructive and anti-social activity we refer to as economics.

    The big joke is that both the ‘state’ and the ‘market’ are elaborate stories we have been telling ourselves and our children since the 1600s. History before that seems to fall under the same pattern because all the historians that kept records did so to serve power interests, and many modern historians can only envision the past based on what they see in the present. Read Peter Kropotkin.

    The movie did suck, because it is recreating the dream we’ve all lived in since Titusville, Penn., 1859–energy is so abundant in the world, it might as well be free. We’re the only species on the planet that now behaves (and thinks) in a way that contradicts the Laws of Thermodynamics. Feel that gnawing sensation in your stomach? That’s evolution’s way of reminding you that you need energy. That’s your first clue about the Laws of Thermodynamics. But, that’s OK, we can all continue to ignore as long as the local 24 hour supermarket stays open.

  • Radical Muni

    I don’t see the purpose of claiming that free energy is a fantasy. It’s been proven time and time again with multiple prototypes and machines. There are ways in which we can design perpetual energy and provide energy to all our neighbors, for free–minus the cost of fabrication and design. If you are seriously against alternative energy solutions then you are, in my books, a monetarily-greedy, selfish individual with no ambition to encourage our society. Thank you, that is all.

  • ebosdepew

    Would you please cite one or two of the many proven free energy machines, for discussion’s sake?

    Mr Hopkins mentions in paragraph 10 that truly proven alternatives exist and await deployment at scales that can make a dent, while we gear down for our low-energy future. Conservation–using less–is the tool which will make the greatest impact on energy use–and it’s free! In the West per capita energy usage is at unsustainable and unjustifiable levels, soon to be modified. Why not get ahead of it?

    The dangers of free energy schemes are many; the opportunity cost equates to a game of chicken, for existential stakes. I’d rather get up from the table.

  • Luanetodd

    “…for free–minus the cost of fabrication and design.”

    Therein lies the devil of details…it is not ‘free’ when it takes a lot of energy to take advantage of the supposedly free energy.

    Closer to free is taking advantage of self replicating ‘harvestors’ (plants & animals come to mind) to do the conversion to things needed by human animals. And the less processing required the closer to ‘free’ we get.
    As our ancestors knew, you could take advantage of certain naturally occuring raw materials (rocks for example) and with the application of human energy convert those materials into tools to facilitate harvesting of the energy convertors.

    Maybe we will focus on these types of technology again.

  • Finthecelt

    The author recommends MORE government? Ah yes, that’s the solution. (fail)

This entry was posted in 2012, beyond permaculture, conscious grieving, culture of secrecy, dark doo-doo, free energy, local action, multidimensions, new economy, UFO/ET, waking up, wild new ideas. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Transition Movement Founder Rob Hopkins review of the movie "Thrive"

  1. There is unlimited “free energy,” and we already know how to tap it with simple, inexpensive technology. It’s source is a thermonuclear reactor that can provide humanity with energy for so far into the future that we need never worry about it again.

    The reactor has a name. It is called the sun. It’s a safe reactor because it’s 93 million miles from the earth, and we are adapted to its radioactive emissions. And it will provide us with energy for five billion years — long enough for us to figure out other ways and places to survive.

    If you want to learn more about capturing and distributing the sun’s energy, I recommend checking out the Desertec and Desertec-UK websites. The concepts and possibilities presented there — and the fact that the project is already underway — will blow your mind.

    There is no need for the hocus-pocus “torus” nonsense of the Thrive cult for humanity to…well..thrive.

  2. Unimpressed says:

    I stopped reading after Hopkins’ misquote. Gamble said “rules but no rulers”. Hopkins’ review is null and void if he had the naivety to misquote the film and imply a lack of logic through (?) symbolism. Shame too because he had some valid points up until then.

    “…. because we are now freer, with “no involuntary tax and no involuntary governance” and with “rules but no rules” (?), we can all now thrive.”

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