A Geologist on the Relationship Between Energy & the Environment

Added: Feb 2, 2024

In this podcast episode, Jordan Peterson interviews Dr. Scott Tinker, a geologist with a background in business and a wealth of experience in energy, environmental, and economic research. He has traveled to over 60 countries and has a deep understanding of the relationship between energy and the environment.

Key takeaways


Increased carbon dioxide levels have led to a radical increase in green space on Earth's surface, benefiting plant growth and crop productivity.


Historical context shows periods of significantly higher carbon dioxide levels in Earth's history, offering insights into long-term impacts on ecosystems.


Efficient energy use and promotion of dense energy sources like methane, hydrogen, and nuclear power are crucial for addressing emissions while promoting human flourishing.


The binary narrative oversimplifies complex issues surrounding energy and the environment, necessitating a balanced, multi-dimensional approach.


Music serves as a metaphor for finding harmony between competing forces, reflecting the need for balance in addressing energy, the environment, and the economy.

The Nexus between Energy and the Environment

Dr. Tinker discusses the complex relationship between energy and the environment, emphasizing the need for a balanced and objective approach. He highlights the importance of considering multiple viewpoints and the necessity of factually complete analysis. He also stresses the significance of being both completely factual and factually complete, acknowledging the challenges of achieving factual completeness in a rapidly evolving field.

The Impact of Carbon Dioxide Increase

One of the key points Dr. Tinker addresses is the impact of carbon dioxide increase on the environment. He presents data that shows a radical increase in green space on the Earth's surface, particularly in semi-arid areas. This increase in greenery is attributed to the rise in carbon dioxide levels, which has led to improved plant growth and crop productivity. Dr. Tinker also references NASA's estimation that twice the size of the continental US and three times the size of the Amazon jungle has greened since the year 2000.

Historical Context of Carbon Dioxide Levels

Dr. Tinker provides historical context by discussing periods in Earth's history when carbon dioxide levels were significantly higher than they are today. He references the Mesozoic era, characterized by high CO2 levels, warm temperatures, and lush vegetation. This historical perspective offers valuable insights into the long-term impact of carbon dioxide on the Earth's ecosystems.

Geological and Environmental Perspectives

As a geologist, Dr. Tinker brings a unique perspective to the discussion, drawing on his field experiences and extensive knowledge of Earth's geological history. He emphasizes the importance of understanding long-term geological and environmental cycles, including glacial-interglacial periods and their impact on the planet's climate and ecosystems.

Challenges of Scientific Publishing

Dr. Tinker and Jordan Peterson discuss the challenges of scientific publishing, including the need for a technical revolution in the field. They explore the idea of open-access platforms for scientific research, where peer review is transparent and accessible to a broader audience. This discussion highlights the potential for transforming the scientific publishing landscape and promoting greater collaboration and knowledge sharing.

The Role of Faith and Science

The conversation delves into the intersection of faith and science, with Dr. Tinker and Jordan Peterson exploring the role of faith in scientific inquiry. They discuss the importance of approaching scientific research with a sense of humility and openness to new discoveries, drawing parallels between the principles of faith and the pursuit of truth in scientific exploration.

Progress Through Fossil Fuels

Tinker explains that the use of fossil fuels, such as coal, hydrocarbons, and methane, has powered human societies and led to significant progress in the modern world. He highlights the importance of energy in lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to take a longer-term view of environmental sustainability. He argues that providing low-cost energy to those in absolute privation is crucial for sustainable development and environmental consciousness.

The guest also discusses the concept of progress and the need for efficient energy use. He points out that only one-third of the energy used in the United States does useful work, while the rest is wasted. Tinker emphasizes the importance of efficiency in energy use and the potential for reducing waste to increase energy availability without adding more primary energy.

The Issue of Environmental Sustainability

Tinker addresses the issue of environmental sustainability and the trade-offs involved in achieving it. He argues that it is not feasible to move towards environmental sustainability at the expense of the poor, as it would lead to devastating consequences. He emphasizes the need for dense energy sources, such as methane, hydrogen, and nuclear power, to address emissions while promoting human flourishing.

The guest also discusses the challenges and impediments to progress in the energy sector. He mentions the cultural aversion to nuclear power in countries like Germany, which led to an increase in coal production after shutting down nuclear reactors. Tinker highlights the need for a shift in mindset and the adoption of efficient and sustainable energy sources to overcome these challenges.

The Scale Challenge

Dr. Tinker emphasizes the scale challenge of addressing energy consumption and environmental impact. He points out that while China is a leader in solar and wind energy, these sources still only make up a small percentage of their total energy consumption. He also highlights the rapid growth of China and India's populations and the need to address the scale of energy consumption on a global level.

Fertility Rates and Population Growth

The discussion shifts to fertility rates and population growth, with Dr. Tinker noting that fertility rates have been declining globally over the past 30 years. He emphasizes the importance of lifting people out of poverty as the most effective method of population control, and highlights the need to balance economic growth with environmental sustainability.

The Binary Narrative

Both Dr. Tinker and Peterson critique the binary narrative that often dominates discussions around energy and the environment. They argue that the complexity of these issues is often oversimplified, leading to ineffective solutions. Dr. Tinker uses the analogy of a Turner diagram to illustrate the need for a balanced, multi-dimensional approach to addressing these challenges.

The Role of Music

Peterson introduces the concept of music as a metaphor for finding harmony between competing forces, similar to the need for balance in addressing energy, the environment, and the economy. They discuss the importance of bottom-up information propagation and the role of markets in providing intelligent signals for finding the appropriate balance.

Net Zero Poverty

Dr. Tinker shares his vision of "Net Zero Poverty," emphasizing the need to address energy poverty while also considering environmental sustainability. He discusses the challenges faced by students in a case competition focused on lifting real countries out of energy poverty, highlighting the complexity and multi-dimensional nature of the issue.

The Dual Challenge

The conversation concludes with a focus on the dual challenge of addressing energy and environmental sustainability. Dr. Tinker and Peterson express optimism about the potential for eradicating absolute poverty as a solution to these complex problems. They emphasize the need to empower young people to take on these challenges and work towards a more sustainable future.


Full episode

Episode summary