Lifting billions of people out of energy poverty while reducing emissions is possible, but it hinges on asking the right questions, said Scott Tinker, CEO of Tinker Energy Associates and director emeritus of the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology.

“Humans are remarkably inventive and innovative. I think when we set up the right questions, we will answer them. Answers are pretty easy. Questions are really hard,” he said. “The great science advancements have come because we actually framed the question correctly and then set out to do that. We've got to get the questions right.” 

The answer to climate change is not solar, wind and batteries, Tinker said during a Voices of Innovation session at CERAWeek by S&P Global on March 21. Those are a part of the solution, as each energy form has its own pros and cons for different energy needs, he said.

Using solar panels to bring power to remote villages in Colombia or Kenya is remarkably powerful, but a facility such as Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, where CERAWeek’s Agora sessions are held, requires far more electricity.
“You don't light up this whole facility without really dense energy,” he said. “Let's agree that dense energy for a dense planet and economic growth is going to be a big piece of it.”

Natural gas is a plentiful, versatile, dense fuel, he said.

“Natural gas will be here for a very long time. And there's quite a bit of it,” particularly in shale, Tinker said. “Russia has a bunch of source rocks, so does the Middle East, and they're quietly developing those and finding out about them.”

Ultimately, to solve climate challenges, the right groups of people—particularly climate and energy experts and investors—need to come together to focus on asking the right questions.

“Davos, COP and CERAWeek need to kind of come together. The folks with the bucks and the folks with the passion and the folks with the solutions need to come together and convolve around that, and we will do it. I’m very optimistic,” he said. “Energy people are showing up at COP. Climate folks come to CERAWeek.”

But Tinker also sees the world divided by terminology that isn’t really helpful to finding solutions.

The myth of renewables

Every energy collection system in the world comes from materials mined from the earth, Tinker said. Drilling rigs. Pump jacks. Pipelines. Solar panels. Wind turbines. Batteries.

“All of that stuff comes from the earth. It's all mined,” he said. “You mine, you manufacture, you collect energy, you dump it and then do it over and over. It's not renewable. None of it's renewable. But this is just a mythical word we've invented.” 

While mining methods have improved, it’s not a green process, Tinker said.

And when components are used up, many are dumped in landfills rather than recycled because it’s cheaper to make new, he said.

The world has the resources, he said, and more people are flourishing. But further progress can be made, especially with an estimated 700 million people living in poverty worldwide.

Solvable but not simple

“Energy won't end poverty, but you can't end poverty without energy,” Tinker said.

Access to energy speeds up access to improved diets, housing, clothing and education, he said. 

And education has a tight correlation to fertility rates in that the more education, the lower the birth rates, he said. 

But in the near-term, the world faces a complex challenge as it works to lift people out of energy poverty while simultaneously polluting less, Tinker said. 

“It's not a binary challenge, though. It's not one thing. It's multiple things. And we have to work the problem in a multivariate way. So, it's not simple, but it is solvable. We will get it right if we all deal with the complexities of it,” Tinker said.