Director: Harry Lynch
Is fracking polluting our water? How dangerous is nuclear energy? Will gasoline prices continue to rise forevermore? Can we honestly clean up coal? Or can renewables really power our future by themselves? These are the sorts of big questions which drive the new documentary “Switch,” director Harry Lynch’s attempt to circumvent the controversy attached to matters of energy policy debate. Steeped in science, but possessing a kind of specious evenhandedness, this is a well intended but frankly boring blend of boosterism and lecture, of the sort one might expect (or at least hope for) on the small screen.
Dr. Scott Tinker, a geologist and University of Texas professor, serves as “Switch”‘s guide, taking viewers on a wide-ranging and admittedly frequently interesting journey of energy plants all over the world — from Spain’s PS10, a 300-foot tall solar power, to oil platforms, wind farms and an amazing hydroelectric power station under a mountain in Norway, fed by a 20-mile underground pipeline.
Thorough and sober-minded, the film nonetheless suffers from a lack of narrative clarity and purpose. “Switch” digs into the math of consumption (the United States uses 20 billion barrels of oil a day, and the world uses the equivalent of a tanker full every 13 minutes), in an undeniably hearty fashion. And in an effort to quantify energy in a way the lay person can understand, Tinker pegs a number to the average annual total energy consumption for one person over the course of an entire year: 20 million watts.
But facts are delivered at a machine-gun clip (Norway gets 90 percent power from water!), with little time devoted to the change in technologies and cultural attitudes which have contributed to their development. Mostly, though, “Switch” is damned by Lynch’s blind acceptance of Tinker’s amiable, ambling curation. The many workers, industry leaders and other energy experts Tinker interviews paint generally rosy pictures, which are allowed to stand. A good drinking game would be to take a shot every time Tinker essentially repeats a line dialogue from one of his interviewees (“So what you’re saying is…”), in lieu of asking penetrating or edifying follow-up questions.
It is not merely that “Switch” — in its stuffy, academic forthrightness — aches to avoid the passions that enflame so many when it comes to the issue of climate change and environmental and energy debates, it’s also that it’s just boring. In its scrupulous desire to cultivate an all-approaches look at the global energy question, Lynch has crafted the equivalent of a cinematic term paper.
NOTE: For more information on the movie, visit its website at www.SwitchEnergyProject.com.
Written by: Brent Simon