Scott Tinker: Can The World Energy Supply Become Fully Sustainable?

Just possibly, but we'll have to make HUGE changes
Tuesday, November 20, 2018, 10:43 PM

As we claim often here at PeakProsperity.com: Energy is everything.

Will our global society be able to transtiton off of its extreme dependence on fossil fuels? And if so, can we do so without too much pain?

Scott Tinker is the Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, and founder of the non-profit Switch Energy Alliance, which is dedicated to helping humanity address these key questions.

Tinker remains confident a much better future energy-wise is possible; but will require a tremendous shift in behavoir, investment and technological innovation.

In his eyes, society can make the transition. But will it? That's a lot less certain...

The transition I care about is not simply from one kind of energy to another. It's to where everybody has affordable, available, reliable, and environmentally sustainable, secure energy. That's a good transition.

That introduces things into the world that allows for the empowerment of women, education, and all the basic things that the modern world enjoys and a third of the world doesn't. That's an important transition to me.

The kinds of energy that are put in place to do that are going to vary by what the world has access to. Every place in the world has different energy resources. Some are blessed with great oil and gas. Some have uranium, thorium, and nuclear that they can do. Some have wonderful wind. Some have terrific solar. There are places with wonderful tides and waves if they can capture that  energy economically. There's geothermal in Iceland, Southeast Asia, and other places. We'll use what we have where we have it to accomplish the transition to a world where everyone has access to secure energy.

The qualifying of some energy sources as "green and good" while others are "dirty and bad" is hindering that progress. It's causing political division and policymakers to do things that they may or may not do otherwise in a logical technical, economic, or scientific sense in order to meet the politics.

The challenge is with renewables. While the sun and the wind are renewable, the stuff to capture them is not. The turbines and the solar panels are not renewable. We have to mine for all of those metals. We have to mine for the silica, the rare earth elements. The chemicals in metals to make the batteries -- and we'll need lots and lots of batteries. Same with the wires to transmit the electrons where they need to be. And the landfill to dispose them, as they wear out because it's a low density resource. It takes a tremendous amount of stuff to capture renewable enegy. It hasn't been concentrated over millions of years by nature like oil, gas, and coal were.

The challenge is how do we make the energy systems of the world environmentally sustainable?

There's CO2, methane, other greenhouse gases, and local air emissions. The land use for renewables, the mining, and the manufacturing, the disposal, and all the backup systems. The water which is used across many energy systems.

How do you do it in a way that's much better than what we currently do in a way that also doesn't hinder the ultimate transition: to secure sufficent and affordable energy for the world.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Scott Tinker (58m:42s).


Chris Martenson: Welcome everyone to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson. It is November 12, 2018. Today we are going to be discussing my favorite topic, which is energy. Even better, we're going to be doing it with an expert; and, very importantly in the context of all three E's, the economy, energy, and the environment.

Now, many people rightly understand that we have to and that we're going to move back to a largely solar and alternative energy based economy. But I would guess in my estimation, roughly the same number of people badly underestimate the effort that's going to take.

Time, scale, and cost, all three elements are going to be enormous in our quest to move away from fossil fuels and onto what is almost certain to be a little bit costlier, maybe a lot costlier, and complicated set of interconnected alternative energy systems.

But, what really are the considerations and the challenges? Do you know? Does anybody? The answer to that last question is yes. Today with us is a true energy expert recommended by quite a few of our listeners. I am pleased to welcome Dr. Scott Tinker to the show.

Dr. Tinker is the Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin. He has served as president of the American Geosciences Institute, the Association of American State Geologists, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies.

Scott Tinker co-produced and is featured in the award winning energy documentary film, Switch, which has been screened in over 50 countries to more than 15 million viewers and is used on thousands of K through 12 and college campuses.

Dr. Tinker formed the 501(c)(3) Switch Energy Alliance and is working on two new films addressing global energy poverty and the energy transition. Without further ado, Scott, welcome to the program.

Scott Tinker: Thanks Chris. It's nice to be here.

Chris Martenson: Scott, really, I am personally thrilled to have you on the program. Because energy is the issue of our times as far as I'm concerned. My background, just you know includes a PhD in Biological Sciences.

I fully understand the importance of energy to organisms. Scott, in your view how transformational has the discovery and use of fossil fuels been to the human species?

Scott Tinker: Humans go back a ways.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Scott Tinker: Humans in our distant and not so distant past were using carbon based fuels, of course wood for heating and cooking. When they got fire and when we got fire. Hey, to feed our engines which are horses, and mules, and oxen. Carbon based fuels have been used as long as humans have been around. Most recently, if you look at the last 100 years. Let's say. Or, you even go back to when oil was first discovered 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania in the US., humans have begun to use fossil fuels and coal before that. There has been this interesting transition from carbon, wood, and hay, and coal, which is largely carbon with some impurities to hydrocarbons; some hydrogen thrown in there, and complex hydrocarbon chains.

Then more recently, the natural gas, which is really a hydrogen fuel, four hydrogens to just one carbon in every atom, not hydrogen by weight, but certainly by element. If you look at that transition and that decarbonization, if you will. Even as a fossil fuel mix, it's been an important one.

The upside to having the fossil energy is that nature did what humans are trying to do. It has made the energy very dense. Solid forms, the liquid forms, and energy terms; natural gas is a very dense form of energy by weight.

Nature did that. It has allowed the countries in the world that have become wealthy like ours, and others that have grown to build their economies on energy, and largely fossil energy. It hasn't happened across the world yet. But, that's a different part of the story.

Chris Martenson: In the way that I look at this, and on all these charts about economic growth, and population growth, and all of these other things. When you overlay the charts, they pretty well stack up. The explosion in human population easily can be tied to the use of fossil fuels in agriculture, and in the production distribution, and all of that, and fertilizers.

But as well, our whole economic engine, Scott the best economic chart I've got. Because it has got the tightest linear regression. There is no deviation in it. It is charting energy used to economic output across the globe. You can't just – because people import energy and hide it in their statistics.

But, when I look at this, to me one of the tightest relationships we have is economic growth and use of energy. Those two pieces seem to come together. I found a video that you produced in 2009 with the title of Energy, Environment, and The Economy. Connecting those three broad areas, how do you connect those in your own words?

Scott Tinker: Boy, it's complicated.

Chris Martenson: Of course.

Scott Tinker: You wrap those up with sort of policy, and legal, and social aspects. You can't underestimate the complexity. Because it impacts all of us from those who have no energy to those who do. I lovingly call that intersection of the three E's, the radical middle.

I have written about that. I try to play there myself. The radical middle in that space where you come away from your area. Maybe it's jobs and economics. Maybe it's energy and secure energy. Maybe it's the environment and protecting, not just the atmosphere, but the water and the land systems.

But, if you come to that middle, you're going to have to compromise quite a bit, and look hard at data, and realize you're not always going to be right. But it's a great place to struggle and interact with multi-disciplines and multi-perspectives to actually try to tackle some of these big challenges in a way that might move us forward as opposed to staying outside of that.

The further you get, the better it may feel. But probably, the less likely that you're going to have that real opportunity to work closely and try to advance things. I define them as the radical middle.

They do engage both the economic components that you've described, Chris, as well as all the way down to the 1.1 billion people in the world without electricity; and the 2.7 billion people without clean cooking, and living in various stages of energy poverty. They engage the spectrum of energy and of course, the environmental impacts that all forms of energy have, renewalable and otherwise. Fossil, nuclear, and renewable at scale, they all have major environmental impacts.

Chris Martenson: That's a fascinating topic too get onto. Just by way of setting the stage just a bit further, Scott, my main work in the world, if I could put it in some respects. Simply, it's a continuation of Dr. Albert Bartlett's educational outreach on exponential growth.

My view, very firmly held still is that perpetual exponential growth on a finite planet is just neither possible mathematically nor really a good idea. It feels to me like we're at that moment where we're going to have to transition away from a couple of big models; energy, and energy use around fossil fuels, as well as this growth model.

Now, when you're talking about an energy transition, I don't want to put words in your mouth. But, I'm presuming you're talking about not simply a continuation of the human industrial experiment as it has been right along its exponential path by some other means.

Do I have that right? Or, what are we really talking about? We're talking about an energy transition. Is it to a very different future? Or, is it to really a different way of running the current way we understand things?

Scott Tinker: Both and neither, in my view exponential growth of population is unsustainable. I think we have already started to go linear. When economies get educated, and access to energy, and modernized, growth rates and birth rates go way down.

You've seen that in modern economies. In fact, birth rates are negative in some of the more bottom ones, other than the people that come in through immigration, or with importing people.

Now, in some of the countries that have not grown industrialized yet; for example, Africa is projected to double in population in this century from one to two billion people, plus or minus. That's really rapid growth. I think that one tends to take care of the other.

It tends to be a bit of a chicken and egg conversation. Nothing grows exponentially forever in resource terms. You see forecasts all the time that get a little jolly on their forecasts when you start early and something. If it starts to succeed, you see exponential growth.

Because adding that next doubling unit, if you will – takes a bit of stuff. But each year that goes by, it takes a lot more stuff to grow exponentially. You see that in electric vehicles. They went from exponential growth in '13, '14, and '15; and just linear arguably in '16 and '17; and are already starting to go linear and then will roll over.

Because it just takes more stuff to continue to add that next increment. I don't know that exponential growth is how I would describe the systems we're in. Therefore, I don't know that they're unsustainable.

I think what it does take is energy and for the modern world. We would like to see everyone in the world have access to those opportunities. I was in the Nepal two weeks ago. I'm heading to Ethiopia next week looking at energy poverty and some of the challenges there.

It's arguably wrong. You put whatever terms you want on it. Some say morally wrong. Some say ethically wrong. Some say economically wrong. Some say it's just not a good idea because of the increased diversity and annex expansion of disparity between those who have and those who don't.

Whatever component or a combination of the things you believe, I think most would say that helping to lift a third of the world out of energy poverty will do a lot of good things for the world. It's not just food, and clothing, and shelter. It's things like immigration where you have opportunity at home.

You don't need to immigrate. You can start to read and educate your families and kids. The rights, freedom, and empowerment of women are much improved when you begin to have access to more modern systems. You're not cooking with the wood inside or walking miles to a river for dirty water, et cetera.

I think the conversation about energy is critical. We need to really think about; and again, at scale all form of energy have environmental impact. What we need to think about is what we want to accomplish with the energy, including environmentally, land, air, and sea. Not judge the energy types, but look at how we go about making those energy sources sustainable environmentally– and they all can be.

Chris Martenson: Let's talk now about that sustainability. I'm really interested in the work of Vaclav Smil, who I'm sure you're familiar with, and looking at these energy transitions. They take a lot of time –

Scott Tinker: Yeah.

Chris Martenson: – Particularly if you're allowing market forces, and particularly if you note more subtly that often when we make an energy transition historically. We are moving from, let's say, a worse, to put a declarative term on it. But we're moving from a more diffuse to a more concentrated energy source.

Before we get into these alternative energies, let's set the stage. Where are we in this fossil fuel story? Are we closer to the beginning or the end?

Scott Tinker: It depends. On a resource basis, we're not near the end. There is coal, hundreds of years. There is oil, hundreds of years. There's natural gas, probably hundreds and hundreds of years. Even at current consumption and growing consumption rates, and with growing economies, and a resource, and let me define that.

As a geologist, a resource, and all of us are, "What's down there?" What's in place in the earth? Converting that to an economic reserve is what energy companies go about doing; so, from a resource, to a reserve, to something they can produce.

We've seen different times when oil looked like it was peaking and running out. But what was peaking and running out was the oil in certain kinds of reservoirs. Technology advances always more quickly than we think it will, always. It has created access to oil in different kinds of reservoirs.

It's just not unconventional oil. It's the same oil. It's different kinds of rock systems that can now be produced with new technology. The same with natural gas, and natural gas is locked up in places that are currently uneconomic. But, in massive amounts, and I'm not just talking about in shale, but locked up ice systems called clathrate hydrate, even potentially abiogenic gases.

It's not methane and other kinds of gases are abundant. It's not really a limit to the resource in the terms that we think about. It's whether or not something comes along. I'm a big fan of Vaclav Smil, and Jesse Anusubel, and others who have looked decarbonization.

But whether or not something comes along that is better. By better, I'm going to do that in terms of energy density and economics. Is there something that is more useful than what we currently have? If and as that happens, then we transition to that.

Sometimes the economics of something goes in a way that the price becomes too high, basic supply, and demand, and other things. We find technologies to get options to that. There are many examples of that through time.

I don't think we're limited right now in fossil energy by the resource. Certainly, it's tough to replace because of its density, and the systems in place. The infrastructure in place both on the transportation side and the power generation side, they take time.

It just takes time to change technologies even if and when something better comes along. I tend to look more at, "What do we do to make sure the energy that we're using and have access to, which is doing a lot of good things for the world in terms of economics, and poverty, and human advancement can be made more sustainable?"

Chris Martenson: Let's talk about that one piece you just brought up, the time. What is the typical time involved in moving something from –? Let's say we found something. Higher energy density economics are good, but it's not currently operating at scale.

In fact, it's just something we've discovered. Or, it's still really at the pilot stage. What's the time involved here?

Scott Tinker: Yeah. It depends on the system. But I mean, let's pick. Let's do vehicles. Let's pretend like you had a little battery the size of your cell phone. It doesn't exist. I want to be real clear.

Chris Martenson: Okay. Thank you.

Scott Tinker: Yeah. Let's say we had a battery the size of our cell phone that we could charge in three minutes like we do filling up with gasoline in a car, or CNG, or something. You could charge it in three minutes. You easily put it into your car and run it for 350 miles. It was free.

Let's pretend like the energy was free. That's a lot of good stuff that doesn't exist. But even if it did, the perfect battery, free charging, three minutes, and run for 350 miles. It would take decades to transition half the world's vehicle fleet. That's just because there are 1.2 billion vehicles on the road, mostly running on gasoline and diesel.

My new magic battery in that car would be great. But, somebody would probably buy my gasoline car. Because it would be cheaper and not in demand as much. It would stay on the road for ten, or 20 years, or more. Vehicles tend to last a long time. How about coal plants?

Coal plants last 50, 60, and 70 years, or more. Asia has built a lot of new ones in the last decade, and probably not going to shut them down even as other options come on. China is building new 29 MWe [PH] nuclear reactors today.

The largest hydro facility in the world is in China, three gorges, and importing LNG, and wind, and solar. But those coal plants underpin that economy coming out of poverty. Are they going to shut those down? Highly unlikely in a long time, and for decades; so that, again, and how you then say, "Let's make coal much more environmentally sustainable."

Not just its emissions, yes, to be sure; SOx, NOx, mercury, and particulates, and even CO2, but also, the mining of it and the transportation of it. How do we make this better so that our goal, which is the environmental sustainability is achieved without putting a good or a bad qualifier on the source of energy? Or believer, or a denier, or religious terms on people who talk about different energy options?

Chris Martenson: You used the word clean and coal in roughly the same sentence. How do you put those two words together? What's possible here?

Scott Tinker: Clean to me is an environmental breadth. It includes removing the particulates from the combustion source; particulates, SOx, NOx, and mercury. That's what impacts the local air, and local air emissions, and air quality.

Most modern coal plants have unit scrubbers that scrub a lot of that out, including the ones in China and the U.S. It's an energy penalty, so it makes it more expensive. You have to use more coal to run it. But, that makes it more expensive. That puts net prices at competitively more into the market to make it clean.

CO2 emissions from coal are very real as well. To scrub those out is another unit whether it's post-combustion or pre-combustion. Integrated gasification and combined cycle power plants, there are not that many of them. Or, post combustion scrubbing, and we're doing the first real commercial scale, one of those in Texas on the Parish power plant right now.

Scrubbing it out and then putting it somewhere, in this case an oil field, and into salt water brines for overflow; so, that's called carbon capture and storage or sequestration, CCS. Again, it adds an energy penalty and a cost penalty, if the CO2 coming out of the stream is valuable enough to remove it that way.

Then, you put that on it. That's just on the combustion end. Clean on the mining end, are you open minds where they –? We have a lot of those in the U.S. and other places in the world where they literally backfill them with the same volume that was removed, and contour the land, and plant them with natives.

It's up in the Powder River Basin, for example, and in South Dakota. The land where they have mined is actually formed and planted with more natives than the direction they're currently mining, which has had the more recent century of impacts to it. Or, are you removing mountaintops? Or, are you in subsurface mining with unsafe practices to humans?

That's not sustainable. There are other mining practices for coal, which are more sustainable. Again, I think probably maybe somebody just threw a shoe at the radio or wherever they're listening. Because I'm talking about coal and cleaning it up. Some people might believe that coal is the worst thing in the world. It needs to be cleaned up.

It costs energy and money to do that. But, it can be done and is being done in many places. The upsides to coal again are that every major economy in the world has been built their electric economy around it. We're transitioning away from the U.S. China is just starting to do that.

But you can't go to China, and look at the people that have come out of poverty in the last three decades, and say, "You shouldn't have done that." That's a judgment call that I don't think anyone has a right to make. You have to then offer equally scaled and sustainable sources of electricity, including affordable, available, or reliable, or sustainable alternatives. That you're going to not use coal.

I think there's probably a good case study. It would be India. What's India going to do? It has a lot of people. Many of them don't have much energy or any and all. What are they going to do to provide electricity, for example, to six or 700 million people in India out of the one point X billion. How are they going to do that?

It's a very important conversation. They could be the first economy to do it without coal. They've got coal. But they could look toward other options to go to large scale electricity generation in India, and maybe skip that coal step, which the rest of us have done.

Chris Martenson: Those options for India, including, and obviously, they're going pretty full force on solar. Do they have hydro or geothermal? Or, what would their other options be to leapfrog the coal step?

Scott Tinker: The only two really are nuclear and natural gas. Solar won't do it. Wind won't do it. Hydro won't do it in India. They don't have the topography or the rainfall whereas someplace like, if you go down to South America. Lots of countries in South America have topography rainfall and are building dams.

Their demand is much lower. The number of people and economic demand is much lower. Places like Norway, of course, have built their whole economy on hydro. That's great, but again you have to have the right, the resource for topography and rainfall. India does not.

You have to have a fuel that can be always on. As you grow your economy, the demand for electricity is 24/7 and 365 in developed economies. We're spoiled by it. But, if you look at the hurricane that just came across Florida.

I was just reading an article on the two week outage there in the Panhandle. What folks went through there without any electricity for two weeks. You have to have something always on. In Texas we have more wind than any other state in the nation times three.

We have about 23 gigawatts of nameplate capacity. It doesn't generate that much, of course. The capacity factor is around 30 percent now for wind. But you have to back all that up with something when the wind is not blowing, which happens every day in Texas.

It's windy and it's not windy at a certain time. We have redundant natural gas plants to load-follow. Coal and nuclear to baseload with. Some storage, we can talk about storage as a separate topic, if there's time. But to really, truly build that kind of engine, economic engine takes one of those three, nuclear, natural gas, coal and some combination.

Or hydro, if you have access to that. Expanded solar is great. Wind is great. It's just intermittent daily. In most places in the world, there is a thing called night, and rainy days, and cloudy days. Some places in the world have terrible solar intensity. Others have very poor wind resource.

Some have good wind. Some have great solar, or low latitude, and lots of sunny days like the Southwest U.S., et cetera. But, you still have to have something there, some combination of storage, and optional generation to partner with the wind and the sun.

Or some people would argue, if you build enough wind and enough sun, somewhere it's windy. Somewhere it's sunny. That's a good theoretical conversation to have. It would be true. But in a practical sense, it's very difficult to get an integrated network, electric grid network of that scale.

If there are times when it's a big storm for a week, or not of a calm period, which happen, then, you're really going down a road of limited optionality. I think most people who study these things intensively would say, "You got to partner some things with other things." They all add value in the right way and at the right scale.

Chris Martenson: Now, would be, Scott, wrong of me to sort of simplify all of this in a way by saying that the fossil fuels represented sort of easy, right? To just park a coal plant in, which we did a number of decades ago. You don't worry really about the mercury, or the NOx, or the SOx, or any of the stuff coming out of the stack.

You just park it there. That's easy compared to saying, "Now, we're going to have to do some complex balancing." We're going to have natural gas, coal, and nuclear. Maybe some hydro, if we've got it.

Then, we're going to stack wind and solar on there for when they're operating. We can use them. Then, we have to have some kind of on demand based generation that can kick in.

These are much more complex systems we're talking about here. First, is that an inaccurate sort of characterization? The energy future is going to be more complex than the past?

Scott Tinker: On the electricity system, I think yeah, that's a good characterization, Chris. If easy was a single source and complex is multiple, fair, very fair. On the other hand, portfolios of things are more secure. Whether it's stocks, or real estate, or energy, if I have a portfolio of options available to me, I'm really better off in the long run.

Because some of those are working. Some of those are going to be expensive at times and not at other times. It's good to have that kind of, again optionality, in an electric system, if you will. I like the idea of renewables coming in for sure.

I like the idea of geothermal in places coming in; and certainly natural gas, coal, and nuclear, or hydro mixed in. It's nice to have those options, if they're available to you. You can't judge places that don't have all of those resources.

Every one of those by the way is a resource. Uranium, and thorium, and coal, and the one we understand. That's the sun and the wind, tides, and waves. They're all resource, geothermal. The more resources you have at your disposal within some geographically reasonable range, the better.

But, you're absolutely right. It's a more complex system to manage in terms of a grid. It does give you a neat opportunity, though. The time of day pricing, the smarter grids, and smarter meters, the things that artificial intelligence and data analytics are going to allow us to do as we move forward to make those systems more efficient.

I'm excited by that. I think it's a direction that we need to go. We will go. Hopefully, the world can accelerate as they follow the lead of the bigger economies. I like getting away from just coal in electricity, and just oil in transportation. I think it makes great sense.

Chris Martenson: I would agree with that. You've mentioned a number of magic words to me here, which I want to get to. Storage being one. Thorium being another, and very rare to hear that come up in conversation. But I'm pretty intrigued by it myself. I want to, though – there's a seminal concept a lot of my listeners and myself are really quite taken with based on the work of Charlie Hall and the other people who have really progressed the idea of energy return on energy invested.

It makes a lot of sense to me, particularly as one from a biological science background. Organisms thrive when they have a surplus of energy that comes in, right, versus expended. As I look, I heard you say, "Hundreds of years of oil."

Scott, I've got to be honest. When I look at the oil fields, I can't compare the Ghawar field and a single pipe that went vertically, 1,000, and 1,100 feet down that churned out 3,000 barrels a day for 50 years. I can't compare that to an Eagle Ford well that's churning out – maybe it's 8, 9, 10, and 12, 13, and 14,000 feet total.

It is going to produce maybe a few hundred thousand barrels total across its life. The energy return on that feels poor. How does energy return on energy invested factor into your thinking and your work?

Scott Tinker: Yeah. Again, those are fair descriptions of the Ghawar field and the Eagle Ford. Let me add to that a little bit. The oil that was found at Ghawar, and sometimes called easy oil. Look, my dad was a geologist and in the energy business in the '50s and '60s.

He said, "Hey, Scott, that wasn't easy." Where you had crappy, old data, and no seismic. It was hard to find. It was just easy to produce it once we found it. The Eagle Ford on the other hand is not that hard to find. We know where the source rocks are.

Let's just define shale and things like that as the source rocks where the oil is generated. It has leaked off into the conventional reservoirs. Gravity works. Oil floats up on water. The subsurface is full of water in the holes. Oil floats on the water up toward the surface, and gets trapped in conventional fields.

Where there is conventional oil that's been produced through time, there's going to be source rocks that are mature and generating. That's in the U.S. That's in the Middle East. That's in Russia and other places. Those source rocks that we are able to technologically produce from now have way more oil in them than the fields that trap the leak off.

Even Ghawar is a conventional field. I've been in the Middle East many times. I've been to Saudi many times. It's a wonderful giant field, conventional reservoir. But the source rocks that are charging it are even more extensive.

Then Russia, get ready, massive source rocks. They haven't developed those yet, Chris, because they want to sell the conventional oil and gas. It's easier to produce once you've found it. It gets them bigger margins. They want to sell that first.

They would, in fact, prefer that the shale had never been found for a while. You can chase the dollar and see who was funding anti-hydraulic fracturing, or fracking propaganda, right back to Russia and the Middle East. It's not hard to change the dollar and see that.

There are good business reasons to them for doing that. Let's just called that business. But, you're right. It's more expensive. The technology is much different to go into a shale with a vertical well, turn horizontal, drill it laterally for two or three miles, stage it off, and hydraulically fracture it, and produce those fluids back.

Very expensive and a very low margin business, it's more like a bond fund as opposed to a stock. You might bet on one stock, if you get one to hit, that's your nice conventional field as opposed to investing in some bonds in your portfolio. Let's call that the shale. They don't make a lot of money. But most of them make a little bit of money or lose a little bit.

It's the reason the majors are back into those systems now. They're different. But the point is, there's a lot of oil in place down there. We'll call that the resource. The resource in the Bakken, and the Eagle Ford, and out in West Texas is vast, trillions of barrels. The reserves technically recoverable are much smaller. Because our technology is today, not tomorrow.

What's been produced is little teeny piece of it. About two percent of the gas from shale in the U.S. so far has been produced. Two percent of what's in place and one percent of the oil. Now, we've done extensive, really detailed studies, geology, engineers, and economists on these big shale field.

This is something I understand well. It's a very small percentage. It's tough to get another percent out. Back to our conversation, if there is demand, the policy allows it. The economics are close enough to positive. Some will lose money. Some will make money.

Then, we'll continue to develop those source rocks in the U.S. Probably, we'll start to see that happening globally as these conventional fields continue to decline.

Chris Martenson: Now, this is a fascinating topic. I'm really glad to have you on for this piece. Because this is something that we investigate quite a lot. I look at this. I'm not a geologist. But I do a lot of financial analysis. I have had my financial critiques of the shale industry.

I mean, a simple thing. I think it's also subsidized. In your state of Texas last year, I have data for about 1.8 billion in severance taxes collected off the wells, and about $4 billion in road and bridge damage done by the trucks principally.

There's a little bit, if you look at the full cycle cost of these…. I'm not sure we're there yet. But as well, the majority of the shale companies have been cash flow negative for a decade.

Scott Tinker: Sure.

Chris Martenson: Now, the key piece I want to get to you, though. Recently the CEO of Schlumberger just last week, earnings call, said, "Hey, we're looking at a little bit or earnings pinch here." Because there are so many child wells going in around the parent wells.

Particularly in the Eagle Ford, he was talking about, but also in the Permian. Seventy percent of all wells going in are child wells. He is noting, they're already seeing interference parent to child. I'm not a geologist. But by the time I hear those words, Scott, I'm starting to think that play has begun to….

It's closer to the end than the beginning in the sense of just being able to throw things, pipes down there willy-nilly, and get a lot of stuff out of the ground. Now, we're kind of starting to…. We've been through the sweet spots because of the oil decline in price, all that. Where are you on that story?

Scott Tinker: Yeah.

Chris Martenson: Is there a lot more to go?

Scott Tinker: Again, let me just say two things. One, it wasn't willy-nilly.

Chris Martenson: No. I know, but it's just….

Scott Tinker: It was a lot of people –

Chris Martenson: I know. I know.

Scott Tinker: – Who have the technology to drill a horizontal well in two or three miles laterally, and keep it in a ten foot vertical window, frack it, and bring it back. It's like a lunar landing.

Chris Martenson: It's magic. It is.

Scott Tinker: It's remarkable. Now that said, we aren't even close to the technological understanding yet of the future. If we were to stop technology, I would agree with your statement. We're probably in the mid-range or maybe on the decline.

If that's number one. If we had produced half of the resource already, I would agree with you. We're probably – well, we've got what we can. About half is produced on the decline.

The analogy, let's just step back in oil and gas terms. We can do it for any energy source. But, let's go to oil and conventional reservoirs. We used to struggle to get ten percent out. Then along came what we called secondary recovery, putting water in and flooding some of the oil out.

Tertiary recovery, and thermal floods, CO2 floods, chemical floods, and getting another ten percent out because the demand was there. Technology in shale is in its infancy even though we understand how to drill those wells. Yes, parent and child relationships are seeing some pressure drawdown.

Now they're starting to put them in multi- stories, above one another, and realizing they didn't drain the whole 300 vertical feet. Because there is this vast oil resource there, and we're only getting a couple percent out.

Again, if the demand is there, then some smart Schlumberger engineer is going to come along and say, "Hey, I know how to get another percent out of that." Let's try this. You'll start to see five, six, maybe ten percent recovery. That's not a lot, ten percent out of 100, and leaving 90 percent behind.

But ten percent would be ten times more than what we've done so far. That to me is not a story in which we're in the backside of decline. We're actually still climbing. It will have fits and starts.

Certainly, if something better comes along than oil for the globe, mostly for transportation, but used for so many other things as well, then maybe the technology focus isn't on that system. It goes to some new thing.

Chris Martenson: This gets us to the crux of the matter at this point. Listen I'm a huge fan of making this energy transition. In fact, I wish we were doing it faster. In fact, I'm nuts over the fact, Scott, that we're not doing things that seem brain dead simple to me.

Like when you land in Tel Aviv, or in China, and you look out the window. You'll see solar thermal collectors to heat water up on every rooftop practically. Because they have mandated it. Because it makes sense. Because the sun heats stuff up. Great, who knew?

I love seeing that. I rarely see them in my own country when I'm landing in a city. We don't really use them yet. I think there are lots of things we can and we should be doing. I'm looking at an MIT study here. Some group there has calculated that at our current pace, the energy transition will be complete in – let me check the headline. Four hundred more years, meaning we're going slow. Do you have any sense of urgency around? Is that too slow?

Scott Tinker: Hey, I love solar and thermal heating on the roof, too. They have it in Greece. It just makes great sense, right.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Scott Tinker: You heat the water and use it at night. If it's a cloudy day, and you don't heat your water, then you use some backup something or other, electric, or gas, or whatever. There are things like that, that are wonderful, and should be done. They will be, once people kind of get the economics.

We've been a little spoiled by access to electricity and other systems in the developed economies. The transition, there's an interesting one. My transition means to where the world has energy.

My transition is not from one kind of energy to another. It's to where everybody has affordable, available, reliable, and environmentally sustainable energy, secure energy. That's a good transition. That introduces things into the world that allows for again, the empowerment of women, immigration, and migration to change in terms of why it's happening.

Not to mention education and all the basic things that the modern world enjoys, and a third of the world doesn't. That's an important transition to me, to get access to the world for energy. The kinds of energy that are put in place to do that are going to vary by what the world has access to.

Every place in the world has different energy resources. Again, some are blessed with great oil and gas. Some have uranium, thorium, and nuclear that they can do. Some have wonderful wind. Some have terrific solar.

There are places with wonderful tides and waves. They can capture that economically; geothermal in Iceland, and Southeast Asia, and other places. Again, we'll use what we have where we have it to accomplish the transition to a world where everyone has access to secure energy.

The qualifying, some energy is green and good, and others is dirty and bad is hindering that progress. It's causing political division and policymakers to do things that they may or may not do otherwise in a logical sort of technical economic scientific sense in order to meet the politics. The challenge is, of course, this.

Again somebody might throw their second shoe. But the sun and the wind are renewable. The stuff to capture them is not. The turbines and the solar panels are not renewable. We have to mine for all of those metals. We have to mine for the silica, the rare of elements. The chemicals in metals to make the batteries, lots and lots of batteries to back them up.

The wires to transmit the electrons where they need to be. The landfill to dispose them as they wear out because it's a low density resource. It takes a tremendous amount of stuff to capture it. It wasn't concentrated by nature like oil, and gas, and coal were.

The challenge is how do we make the energy systems of the world environmentally sustainable in it, global, global atmosphere, or CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gases, local air emissions from combustion of things?

The land use for renewables, the mining, and the manufacturing, the disposal, and all the backup systems; and water which is used across many energy systems. How do you do it in a way that is much better than what we currently do? But also, it doesn't hinder the ultimate transition, which is secure energy to the world.

Chris Martenson: Excellent points, and I want to turn now in the time we have remaining to this idea of the future. Two things popped up. I can't wait to hear about thorium. I want to get to that next. First, storage though, storage is the one thing, Scott.

If somebody came along and had that little battery you described, the magic thing, and the size of my phone, my entire worldview changes in a heartbeat. I have been very anxiously looking out. I hear exciting things coming out of labs.

They've got this incredible new – somebody came out with it. We were going to use sodium. He was the grandfather of some other battery type. Then somebody says, "I got this flow battery." They all look good. What are you seeing in terms of storage? Where really are we? What can we look forward to?

Scott Tinker: Yeah. When Switch came out in 2012, I used to go to places and do Q&As. I still give lots of talks and when asked about that. You remember The Graduate. The one word was plastics.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Scott Tinker: My one word is storage. Like you, I think it does. It flips things on its ear a bit, if we could store energy well. What does that mean, though? Let's define what storage means. It has to be affordable. It has to be reliable. It has to be scalable.

Now, those three things together are really tough, Chris. You could get scalable but not affordable. You could get affordable, but not scalable, or reliable. It may be reliable, a really beautiful little battery, but not scalable. None of those things impact things in the way they need to.

That's a tough challenge. Chemical batteries. We have a guy here at UT who invented the lithium-ion battery. He's in his 90s. He is in his second part of his career. He says he's working on solid state batteries.

Chris Martenson: Yeah.

Scott Tinker: If we can get those kinds of batteries more efficient; again mining and manufacturing is non-trivial. You go inside a battery manufacturing plant some time and take a look around. I mean, we call them…. Elon calls them Gigafactories. But they're big chemical manufacturing plants. What does that look like? Where do we dispose all of these batteries when they wear out?

I'm sure everybody takes it to their recycling facility, but at scale? It's not a trivial challenge there. How else do you store energy? Now, pumped hydro is a real simple way. You pump water uphill when you have a lot of excess energy, motion of wind, or extra sun, or other things.

You flow it downhill through turbines when you need it; the same thing with compressing air, compressed air storage, wind up a flywheel, charge a capacitor. Capacitors are getting really neat with nanosheets and nanomaterials now, put a lot of potential there. Hydrogen, fuel cells are wonderful ways instead of diesel, perhaps, as big backups to energy systems.

Thermal building in a different way, such that they store heat in the day, and then release it at night, if it's chilly. Just broad forms of energy efficiency, using less to do more is another. I think of the concept of storage. If I can do the same amount of work. I use that, an energy term, but in an economic term as well.

With energy and using less to do it, I have saved energy. I can use that later. That's a storage, isn't it? It's a different kind. I think there are neat things going on. But I don't want to trivialize the difficulty of affordable, reliable, and scalable in terms of storage, and put our eggs all in that basket.

Still, when I come home from a trip, if I get in a gasoline engine after three months, it's still there. That gasoline hasn't gone anywhere. All of the energy's density is there. I start my car and drive away.

That's an interesting form of energy storage that I wouldn't get with a battery. There are challenges to each of these things that I think we shouldn't trivialize in the name of oversimplification or politics.

Chris Martenson: Thank you for that and very well said. This is a point I have been trying to make a lot. Because people will come and say, "Look at this amazing thing that Elon Musk has done with the Tesla cars beginning with the Roadster on through.

Before they get too far, I just say, "Please wander with me over to the big world of lithium mining and how much there is." Right, it's just a simple equation. If you'd want to have this many vehicles on the road, and you want to use that battery chemistry. We're going to need this much lithium.

All of a sudden, it becomes a very difficult story to really get to your three things; affordable, reliable, scalable. Scalable is the issue I have around that, and maybe affordability too, when it comes to lithium. If you're looking at third world people who are looking at a buck a day, a Tesla is kind of out of reach. Even a lithium battery of a small flashlight size is kind of pricey.

Scott Tinker: Yeah. In fact, we drove a Roadster in Switch. It's a beautiful motor. It's so much fun. A Tesla S, the 4-door sedan has 7,100 lithium-ion batteries in it. If I do 7,100 times ten percent of the 1.2 billion vehicles currently in the world and growing.

Let's call it 120 million vehicles. We're going to electrify ten percent of them, ten percent of the world's vehicle, a 120 million times 7,000. That's a lot of batteries.

Chris Martenson: It sounds like a lot. There little beautiful Panasonic AAs. It's astonishing. I don't think people really realize that if you took a can opener, and you opened it up, that's what you find you'd find.

You can run a lot of flashlights on a Tesla car. But still brilliant, and I love that we're talking about re-electrifying vehicles now, again in the early part of this century when we did it 100 years ago, too.

Scott Tinker: Yeah.

Chris Martenson: In the time we have got to ask. Thorium, I really have only had one. I have Kirk Sorensen on a couple of times. He is the only person I've had really come on and actually mention the word. But when I have been in China and talking to people from India, they're both pursuing thorium. Where do you stand on that as an idea?

Scott Tinker: I like it. I'm not a nuclear physicist. But I think that thorium has from what I know and understand, some advantages over uranium. We went uranium here in the U.S. as did the world. The byproducts of uranium include plutonium, which we by the way needed at the time for Cold War reasons.

I think that thorium has some big advantages as I understand them in terms of waste, managing the waste, and handling the waste, efficiency, and availability of thorium. I would love to see India pursue a thorium nuclear component to their electric grid.

Again, if your largest concern in the world is climate change, then the fastest way to get there that's scalable and affordable is nuclear fission. I'm not talking about fusion, fission which exists today. Thorium and uranium both are critical to that process.

Again, big economies that need to grow and industrialized, and need the electricity, nuclear is a part of that solution. You're seeing some interesting bedfellows now. I shared the stage with Stewart Brand a couple years back in the Northeast U.S. called Ken Presents, a TED-like thing for an hour.

Stewart is a brilliant guy and done some wonderful work environmentally, the original environmentalist, Whole Earth Catalog, and Clock of the Long Now, and these things. We converged at the end.

He is big on density, nuclear, and GMOs for food, et cetera. We converged. I think people were a little disappointed. The geologist from Texas and the environmentalists from California were actually agreeing.

But there is a reason for that. You see these different NGOs, and governments, and industries saying, "Yeah, nuclear or small modular reactors." More efficient ways to put the depleted, your spent uranium away, and that kind of thing.

I think we'll see it happen. But, it has got some public resistance. Perhaps just, how do I want to say that, lack of more recent, and good information. That could be shared with the public to let them understand those kilowatt hours of nuclear power have been remarkably safe across the world.

Chris Martenson: Yeah. Scott, I completely agree with that. Listen, I don't think we have enough data on the thorium fuel cycle to be certain. But what I know of it and how it's been explained to me. I say, "Well, this sounds better than the u235 plutonium cycle to me."

To u233 cycle, the actinides are much shorter lived. If it melts down, it cools rather than runs away from you. It's from a safety aspect. Anyway, affordable, reliable, scalable, I can see a path with thorium in it. I'm just concerned that the United States just doesn't seem to have any interest in that as a technology, at least not on a public sphere, and not at the government level.

Scott Tinker: Right.

Chris Martenson: I'm intrigued by that one at this point. But again, I'm still looking at it with one eye half closed. Because I'm not totally sure yet. But I'd love to see what the data is and get some more work on that. I certainly….

Scott Tinker: It's a single global atmosphere. If India can do that, that would be a wonderful contribution. Like France has done to atmospheric reduction of emissions. We do other things that are good. Everybody kind of does their part, but you don't try to create one formula for each economy.

Chris Martenson: Exactly. For more on this, everybody I'm looking at a website right now on my screen right here. It's Switchenergyproject dot com. There is a huge number of educational videos on there that start right at the beginning with such things as, "What's electricity?"

It progresses all the way up through each of the alternative options. You have wind, hydro, biofuel, solar, or geothermal nuclear. It's all in there, really clear, very well produced, super high quality. Scott, how did you make all of those? What's behind those?

Scott Tinker: Let me direct you t towards Switchon dot org now. Because our new website has just come live.

Chris Martenson: Excellent.

Scott Tinker: It's at a much more modern Netflix style. It's a customized user experience. You go in and you look at one. It directs you towards another one. It tracks your progress. It lets you see what you're seeing. It's really fun.

There are 300 of those. They're a short format, one to three minute videos, primers 101s. The Switch Energy Lab, me in a goofy white lab coat with goggles doing experiments.

The Switch film itself, feature length, and chaptered; it's subtitled in several languages. I did it out of passion, Chris. Really, seriously, I think that nonpartisan, objective energy information isn't that easy to get it, and particularly in video form.

We were awarded many awards by environmental film festivals, but the energy industry embraced it as well, and as have governments. We are continuing to film. We're making movies right now, a big film on energy poverty.

We'll add that content. But, I really appreciate you pointing it out because I think it's so important, particularly for students of all ages. But particularly students in universities and high schools to get a balanced look at energy, and understand at some level. There are solutions here, but the challenge.

It's not just a black and white, good and bad thing. It just isn't that way. It's not political will. Really, it's a complex set of dynamics that we're working on. They can do. They will do. I'm confident in next generation, if they're given information that's reasonable to start from.

Chris Martenson: Switchon dot org, please check that out, people. If you want to, host a viewing of Switch. I assume that's possible. It can be found at that website as well, Scott.

Scott Tinker: Absolutely, and it's free of charge.

Chris Martenson: Excellent.

Scott Tinker: We make it all free. Yeah.

Chris Martenson: Excellent. If we're going to solve energy poverty, we shouldn't start with a poverty of information. Thank you for doing that work. It's really important work. I absolutely, 100 percent agree with nonpartisan and nondenominational. Just get the energy information out there, big decisions have to be made.

There are no easy answers. It's down to decision time. That's the fundamental cornerstone of Democracy. I guess, a well informed electorate understanding what the issues are. These are the most important issues, though.

No energy, nothing else is possible, full stop. That's my view at any rate. With that, everybody, we've been talking with Dr. Scott Tinker. Scott, thank you so much for your time today.

Scott Tinker: It's been a wonderful, Chris. I appreciate your insights and willingness to engage. Thanks.

Chris Martenson: You're welcome.

Endorsed Financial Adviser Endorsed Financial Adviser

Looking for a financial adviser who sees the world through a similar lens as we do? Free consultation available.

Learn More »
Read Our New Book "Prosper!"Read Our New Book

Prosper! is a "how to" guide for living well no matter what the future brings.

Learn More »


Related content


Mots's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 18 2012
Posts: 201
Interesting perspective, no EROI discussion

Chris, Adam
Thank you very much for providing this discussion. This had much unexpected information, particularly about how industry scientists think about carbon mining going forward. 
But no real discussion of EROI.  Perhaps the seriously low EROI of solar due to intermittency and low EROI of shale carbon can be explored further with other experts.   Thus a review of inputs to EROI in both areas would be great specific topics for the future.  I myself am spending much personal time reviewing EROI for solar with experts and making my own measurments.  I am shocked to see how much the market forces are overcomoe by govt decrees and how low EROI seems to be for large grid tie installations as well as for small off grid, when users rely on extremely expensive batteries.  The inputs are hard to pin down and everything is all over the map.  Good grist for further scientific and engineering consideration.....  

If the low EROI of solar cannot be overcome then many of us should consider abandoning current efforts. on the other hand, Scott Tinker's emphasis on energy source mix is well placed, and specific life style changes have not really been explored by any of these speakers.

Edwardelinski's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 23 2012
Posts: 353
Check Out

Lazard.com.They have a levelized cost of energy and storage for 2018.

skipr's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 9 2016
Posts: 178

I stopped listening when he said that the exponential function describing resource depletion is going linear.  It's the same old (energy & resource hungry) technology will somehow cure the problems created by technology.  There was an interesting article by a member of the Club of Rome.  It describes how their World3 model shows how increases in efficiency etc will delay the inevitable fall off the cliff.  But when we do fly off it, the crash will be much more severe.

rheba's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 22 2009
Posts: 74

Couldn't finish listening either.

I am beginning to focus thinkers who talk seriously about Degrowth and Deep Green Resistance. There truly is no hope for continuation of waste based industrial capitalism and the lines are being drawn.



Uncletommy's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 4 2014
Posts: 694
The forest always blocks the view of the trees,eh?

Thanks PP group for another excellent forum on the subject of energy use and supply. Dr. Tinker and his associates have done good things for the dissemination of the challenges facing energy use in our rapidly expanding world. His offering, Switch, is a good example of the type of in-depth exploration more people need to be made aware of. Unfortunately, many of us today won't be around to see the results of the great energy innovations being made today and forward in the future. Also, unfortunately, these innovations blind us to the key concept that it is really about the energy that we don't use, that will minimize the effects of human activity on the planet and the effects on us, individually. While it was briefly touched on in his film, it was largely overlooked due to the preponderance of "glitzy" techno-gimmickry of the current focused, "WOW factor. Is a transition coming? Yes; but at what cost.

Not that I wish cast aspersions on the issues, but if one takes a minute to view Dr. Tinker's, Switch, I think a clip of the last few minutes of the movie can sum it up quite well. In his narrative, he lauds his family's efforts to switch over to an electric golf cart to run errands in his upscale neighborhood. As they leave their garage, what was prominent to me was the bicycles hanging in the garage appearing in mint condition. For me, this is indicative of how we are missing the boat in this quest of energy efficiency. It is, largely, somebody else's problem. Happy cycling and enjoy your next meal under your solar-array canopy before it ends up in your local municipal bio-digestor.

Uncletommy's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 4 2014
Posts: 694
newsbuoy's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 10 2013
Posts: 388
Civilization Is A Heat Engine

Great interview Chris! as always. It offered unbiased information which as far as I can tell is another mile-marker on our way through the predicament. We need more energy to fix the problems caused by the past energy burned to fuel the growth of human civilization. Kinda like a Naloxone for Humanity. Dr Michael Mann has suggested traveling back in time to change choices made. Problem is he may have already done that and was BBQ'd as a witch for the effort.

BTW it takes 40-50 years to completely decommission an old nuke. There are around 450.

Would anyone like to start a bitcoin wager to be collected in 2030? [kidding]

asgordon123's picture
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 5 2018
Posts: 20
What's Mr. Tinker missing?

to me he's missing the entire concept that much of today's energy and the technological advances that have made it possible are a result of taking on an ENORMOUS amount of debt at incredibley low and unsustainable interest rates.   he mentions 'affordability' several times but seamingly fails to realize that much of the energy we enjoy today wouldn't be possible if we actually had to pay for it now, instead of borrowing from the future...it simply isn't affordable at all once the true costs of debt become apparent.

What am I missing?

treebeard's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2010
Posts: 642
Linear projection

No real switch here, same old same old, just peddling technology overcoming resource depletion.  Let’s do what we are doing now, just smarter.

 All technologies have their issues let’s just pick the best ones of these and move on.  Unfortunately misses the boat entirely.    We are in the middle of a paradigm shift, one from consumption and exploitation to cooperation and cocreation.

stay the course and everyone will be lifted out of poverty, well that ain’t happening.  Little bit of guilt there, if you don’t believe in this you’re OK with dooming large segments of humanity to energy poverty, a life of poverty.

Conflict, violence, division, degradation, exploitation are not side effects that can be mitigated by doing it smarter. They are baked into our current way of doing business, two sides of the same coin.  We are evolving, but technological evolution is not the future, it is a side show.

Organic is great, but if you want to feed the world you need GMO’s right?  This is this the kind of thinking projects the past onto the future without understanding the deeper transformation of the underlying current changes. There is an emerging vision that understands we are not at war with each other and the world around us, and there are more than the words winners and losers that define relationships.

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 25 2009
Posts: 1253
Feed the world?

Draft animals and starvation? Settle your mare?

remedievalization? How I fear that expression, however, it may be the best description of what’s to come. 



AKGrannyWGrit's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 6 2011
Posts: 517
Not Buying It

Mr. Tinker seems to be totally politically correct.  His site looks like a huge fortune went into its development.  The messages, education and information are no doubt corporations approved. A perfect spokesman for the industry!

The message is - Resources are vast there are still billions of barrels of oil yet to be acquired. And technology is constantly improving.  Don't worry, be happy!

Well thank god, and I thought we were in danger of resource wars.

My father used to say - bah-humbug.  While I can’t articulate the data I do believe the message is too good to be true.  Whats the real story, after all we are told what they want us to hear.

Cranky Granny

AKGrannyWGrit's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 6 2011
Posts: 517
Oops Mistake

That should have been “trillions” of barrels.

dcm's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 14 2009
Posts: 234
it's one thing

it's one thing to say these green sources have costs and limitations, it's quite another to suggest that on some basis, they all have problems...as if they somehow equate. I'm with the others, the more I listened, the more he sounded like a spokesmodel. Taking the position that you're only looking out for the underprivileged of the world doesn't cut it and sounds like a marketing gimmick. Last time I checked,  it's the underprivileged who are getting hit the hardest and the quickest by the global warming gift.

In this article, he reveals his hand a little faster:


As Chris demonstrated quickly, eroei was also minimized in another effort to (1) equate these sources and (2) suggest these sources will be there for us for hundreds of years. This contradicts even the internal investment patterns of the industry 



brucethompson's picture
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 26 2015
Posts: 6
Where's the money coming from?


I agree completely with your comments.

I watched the Switch movie before listening to the podcast. Very nice (and expensive) production. Where did the money for this production (and other projects in the Switch Alliance) and come from? I found this article which talks about the funding sources for the Switch Alliance.


I also found this grant request for Project STARR in the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG):

The Bureau of Economic Geology is an organized research unit of UT and the State Geological Survey. Its work is critical to the development of Texas energy, water and mineral resources and protection and management of the Texas environment. The State of Texas Advanced Resource Recovery Program (STARR) was charged with helping operators increase production from state lands' oil and gas leases to increase the royalty that supports the Permanent School Fund. Continued revenue neutral funding is important for this vital state program. 

So an important project in this UT department is focused on helping oil producers in Texas increase production. This does not seem to be a department with a neutral view on current and future energy sources.

The message from the Switch Alliance is definitely one that says "Everything is fine. Technology will solve all problems." Its a message that fossil fuel based energy companys would be happy to promote.

Chris did a great job of restraining himself in this podcast.

AKGrannyWGrit's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 6 2011
Posts: 517
Do YOU See The Connection?

Harvard Professor Graham Allison offers some insight.  Perhaps we could ask him where he thinks we are in the energy story?  

sebastian's picture
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 9 2010
Posts: 20
I have the strong sinking

I have the strong sinking feeling/belief that most of what we humans are doing is generally not sustainable and bad for the environment,

specially at the scale we are doing it.

We are a greedy bunch, even when we have good intentions we don’t fully understand that our day to day  actions have serious and real repercussions. I feel stuck, aware of this predicament but unwilling to make the very hard choices to act right. I’m trying with my homestead but sometimes I think it’s just more of the same comercial activity with a slightly less bad long term effect  

I say this without judgement  (I’m in this predicament myself) but I believe something that is missing from the PP conversation is the personal accountability part of the equation. We talk about investing   a lot and the markets gold/silver but really these activities are again at the core of poor human choices. If the “proper” way forward is to live sustainably than what does that mean? 

It can’t be stock markets and gold bullion and hight tech anything can it?

It feels more and more obvious that baring a total Mad Max break-down we are hopefully headed towards a future like my grandfathers early years in a prairie farm. Lots of hard work with draft animals and simple tools. 

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 25 2009
Posts: 1253

Your Granfather was my Father. He died happy. There are still a few left who have their mare settled.

Stabu's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 7 2011
Posts: 121
Yes, Carbon Is Common

The tone of this guest exemplified what I call "academic calmness" that many real climate scientists have had for amazingly long to reflect away any concerns. Yes, we all know that carbon is very common - the 10th most common element in earth's crust - and hence there's a nearly limitless supply of it. And yes, it's a good reminder that we haven't gotten more than a fraction of it out thus far. I was honestly surprised that we've only gotten 1% or so out, when I thought that we were somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-20%. Regardless, there's no way for us to get the 2nd percent out let alone the 3rd, 4th etc. or we'll end up frying ourselves in the next few centuries the very latest. The best option we can hope for to avoid really horrible things seems to be near-term economic stagnation followed by a slow decline accompanied with a steady population drop through collapsing birth rates.

peter31's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 1 2009
Posts: 35
Congratulations on your self restraint Chris!

Chris, I would like to thank you for inviting this guest on to the podcast and for interviewing him with tremendous self restraint.  I listened to the podcast from start to finish, because although I don't agree with many (most of?) Mr Tinker's opinions, I think it is important to listen to and try to understand what the "other side" is thinking.

At the end of the podcast I was left with a profound sense of unease which I haven't quite got over yet.  Mr Tinker is very well qualified and experienced and an excellent communicator, but It seemed to me that too many of his beliefs are underpinned by a Mr Micawber like "something will turn up".  There are vast untapped reserves of oil and gas which are uneconomical to extract?  No matter; something will turn up, somebody will invent someting to make them economical to extract in the future.  And so on.  So everything is basically fine; we have plenty of time, we can continue our present lifestyles and continue planning for a future of more of the same.  That was the message I was getting, it's a very seductive message, and it's exactly the message which governments and fossil fuel industries want to hear, and want us to hear, which is probably why Mr Tinker's organisations are so heavily sponsored by governments and fossil fuel industries.

But what if he is wrong?  What if the magical something doesn't turn up, and those fossil fuel reserves turn out to be uneconomical to extract and have to stay in the ground?  What do we do then?  That doesn't seem to feature anywhere in his world view.

I think I'll carry on with my personal preparations, if that's OK with Mr Tinker.   

robshepler's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 121
Hard to read!

I found myself stunned by his view point, did not expect it here on PP. I also found myself just scanning his responce and jumping to the bottom to see if Chris was going to clober him!

Great restraint. There is too much clobbering in this world, good to see someone respect the speaker and allow his point of view, no matter how misguided.

It brings to mind that I should do more listening and less thinking about a response. A courtesy that I really like in others.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments