Dr. Scott Tinker is serious about charting a rational energy policy for the
future. You can tell this because he can
envision a positive role for both nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing
(a.k.a. fracking). Visiting diverse
energy-producing sites around the globe, Dr. Tinker looks for a balanced menu of
options to replace so-called “legacy” fuels in Harry Lynch’s documentary Switch (trailer here), which opens in
New York tomorrow.
seems Dr. Tinker largely accepts the current terms of the global warming
debate, but he never really belabors it in Switch. He just starts from the premise sending a lot
of emissions into the atmosphere is generally a bad idea. Fair enough.
However, he is level headed enough not to endorse anything along the
lines of the Kyoto Protocols. According
to Dr. Tinker, the West really is not going to be the problem in the
future. At current rates, China and
India will be releasing far more emissions than America and Europe combined—and
they are not going to stop unless they determine it is in their economic
is also honest enough to admit the advantages of petroleum. This is not something the evil oil industry
forced onto reluctant consumers. You can
fill up your tank and drive for miles, yet it never leaves behind any soot or
residue. That is why replacing it is
quite the trick.
follows Tinker as he visits some remarkably photogenic power plants, but he
never really finds any one panacea.
Ocean and geothermal power are great if you happen to be in the perfect
location, like Norway or Iceland, but not practical for a country the size of
America, let alone China. Solar and wind
can be nice supplements, but they are intermittent. Electric cars are cool, but they are still
electric, which largely means more demand for coal.
unexpected dark horses emerge from the pack, like natural gas. Yes, it is a fossil fuel, but a remarkably
clean burning one. Addressing the media
scare campaign around hydraulic fracturing, Tinker’s experts flatly state there
have never been documented cases of ground water contamination, arguing the
greatest potential hazard would be spills at surface level. Of course, this is not risk specific to
fracturing, but applicable to just about every commercial endeavor.
nuclear power also factors into the mix.
While the media focuses Fukushima and Chernobyl, it has ignored France,
where eighty percent of electricity is nuclear generated, without
incident. As Tinker and his colleague
crunch the numbers, it is hard to see how the world would wean itself from fossil
fuels if nuclear is not part of the calculus.
Tinker is a smart and engaging presenter, who is undeniably far more
knowledgeable about energy than the ideologues typically populating
documentaries. Nonetheless, Switch gets a bit repetitive, showing
scene after scene of Tinker touring big shiny installations, asking just what
exactly does that valve-thingy do?
that as it may, Switch will definitely
sharpen your thinking on energy. It offers
a pretty comprehensive Cliff Notes for all forms of energy generation, scrupulously
free of bias. While obviously part of a
larger media campaign (just like Lee Hirsch’s Bully, a.k.a. The Bully Project, and a host of other theatrical docs), Switch will still reward open-minded
viewers. Recommended for slightly wonky types,
it opens this Friday (9/21) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.
Labels: Documentary, Dr. Scott Tinker, Hydraulic fracturing, Nuclear Power