by Captain Future
Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 06:27:33 AM EST
Those of you in Europe may not know that thanks to a sudden onslaught of ubiquitous television spots, there's a new major voice on energy in America--and he could be a very unlikely hero of a transformative future for clean energy. And in the end, his contribution to this transformation may come down to just one sentence.
The man is T. Boone Pickens--that same billionaire oilman and hedge fund investor, who bankrolled the despicable Swift Boat Veterans ads that libeled John Kerry's Vietnam War combat heroism and helped give us four more disastrous years of Bush.
Pickens is now touting the need for a new energy plan in television and radio ads, at a budgeted cost (according to Forbes)of some $44 million.
The ad campaign has gotten a lot of free media attention as well.The first ad is already such a big deal that when Al Gore presented his proposal for carbon-free electricity within a decade, one of the first people the news media went to for reactions was T. Boone Pickens.
I've seen the first ad several times a day in limited viewing, and it is quite effective. Pickens makes the case that the U.S. is importing some 70% of its oil, leading to what he calls the largest transfer of wealth in history.
He is basically touting wind power to generate America's electrical power, freeing up natural gas for a new generation of cars and other vehicles. While experts find lots of problems with the second part of his prescription especially, I don't think there is sufficient recognition for the power of this ad to change the dynamic, especially in one particular way, with one particular sentence.
For as usually happens in the U.S., high gas prices lead to talk of alternatives--alternative fuels, transport systems, conservation methods. But also talk of more drilling for more oil in America. Sure enough, Republicans and some craven Democrats are once again calling for off-shore oil drilling, and they've never really given up trying to open up wilderness areas.
Everyone is wondering how the politics of this will play out in this crucial election year.
Then along comes the ultra-conservative, paradigmatic capitalist billionaire, and a Bush-financing Texas oil man to boot. And in this first ad, after laying out the problem of imported oil, he looks into the camera and in his Texas drawl he says this:
"I've been an oil man all my life, but this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of."
Pickens stands to make lots of money from wind power, and so does Texas, which is rich in wind farms and Thursday the Texas state government made what they said is the largest single investment in clean renewable energy in U.S. history--a $4.9 billion plan for new transmission lines to bring wind power from those farms to big Texas cities.
But that's part of the point for Pickens--he says he wants the private sector to lead the transformation, and though he sees a major role for government, his metaphor isn't JFK's challenge to get to the moon within a decade (Gore) but Eisenhower's federal highway building program of the 1950s.
So whatever is right or wrong about Pickens' approach and specific proposals, I am fascinated with that one sentence--and what it might do to start this transformation from another direction, or at least blunt the argument that more oil drilling is the answer.