“If you don’t like fracking, you like nuclear, if you don’t like nuclear you love coal, if you don’t love coal, you don’t love electricity.” This comment produced laughter last Wednesday night across the crowd in Bunker auditorium. The theatre was packed as students, faculty, and members of the Golden community attended a premiere showing of “Switch”, a movie about the energy future of the United States. Following the screening was a question and answer session with the man behind the movie, Dr. Scott Tinker, a geology professor with a passion for energy. Tinker’s comment was intended to demonstrate the fallacy of a simple-minded approach to solving the energy problem.
Tinker described how he set out in 2008 to create a documentary about energy that would be “objective, broadly inclusive, global, and a-political.” The film follows his journey to a number of different sites around the world that are at the forefront of modern energy production. The film includes segments on oil, coal, biofuels, natural gas, solar, wind, and nuclear power. The film also addresses electric cars, geothermal energy, and the debate around “fracking,” a process used to extract natural gas and oil. Tinker includes an objective assessment of the costs and benefits of each method of energy generation.
A unique characteristic of “Switch” is that all energy outputs are expressed in “people” units. Or in other words, energy is described in terms of how much energy is consumed by a person per year. For example, a deep-sea oil rig may produce energy for 7,000,000 people. Tinker explained that this unit was selected to help the individual relate to the scope of the energy problem.
The movie ended with some of Tinker’s own predictions about the landscape of energy generation in the next fifty years. Tinker asserts that as demand drives the price of oil up, more oil will be discovered. However, oil and coal, the two largest sources of energy, will still decline in the next fifty years. They will be replaced mainly by natural gas and nuclear power, which will be supplemented by renewable sources including wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power.
The film “Switch” is part of a larger initiative, the Switch Energy Project. The project includes a website: swtichenergyproject.com, k-12 energy curriculum, and broader initiatives to inform the public about the energy debate. For anyone who missed the film, it will be available at select theatres over the next year, and there are additional screenings in the Denver-metro area this fall. Segments of the movie are also available online.
Tinker ended the evening by discussing how every individual can make an impact through thoughtful discussion and simple changes in behavior. He hoped that the film would spark conversations, and his message for students was; “at the end of the day, “Switch” is about more than changing sources of energy, it is the switch in our behavior, a switch in the way we think about energy.” Michael Harty, a sophomore studying geology remarked, “It was great. I felt it was a very practical and balanced discussion of our current energy situation and our options of where to go from here. Having Dr. Tinker here..is another reminder of how great of a place Mines is to be a student.”