T. Boone Pickens, the multi-billionaire oilman who helped fund horribly immoral ads against Democratic candidates came out with the Pickens Plan last year. After looking it over, it was easy to see he was using his wind energy plan as a front for an alternative goal. After looking into it a little further, it became obvious that Pickens only wanted to look ‘green’ so that he could control a larger portion of the natural gas market, then sell that natural gas as part of a transportation sector makeover, so that he could make billions more. Which he’s free to do, of course, in our messed up semi-market-based economy. I wrote three posts on Pickens before feeling comfortable that he wasn’t likely to succeed in his ridiculous plan any time soon -
By now, most of us have seen or heard T. Boone Pickens’ ads touting his absolute, undying love for the country and, in a very practiced boyish, next-door guy kind of way, his heartfelt desire to reduce the amount of oil we import and help some wind power development along the way. I observed him in a panel during the DNC at the Big Tent and came away very unsatisfied with him and his plan. What was labeled as a discussion came closer to being part sales pitch, part lecture. T. Boone must be used to the old way of doing business, because every blogger I spoke with afterward came away as unimpressed as I was. Why no questions from the audience, for example? I think T. Boone figured out that this crowd would pose some very unwelcome questions considering members of the corporate media were also in attendance. I believe those same corporate media folk have been sucked into Pickens’ charisma without taking the time to examine his plan in a critical fashion. It’s rare when journalists actually do their jobs anymore, which is part of the reason the old-time entities are collapsing in on themselves.
The situation isn’t much different in Colorado based on an article in today’s (Sunday’s) Business section of the Denver Post. They carried a piece by Al Lewis of the Dow jones Newswires that did some minor cheer-leading for good ol’ T. Boone but didn’t get into his plan’s details too much. The title: T. Boone taps into forgiveness. The “story”: despite T. Boone’s funding Republican candidates and causes over the years, Democrats came out of Denver absolutely loving the Pickens’ Plan. The evidence: not too much here. Apparently, Al Lewis came away impressed. And I’m sure other folks left the lecture in star-struck awe. But I don’t think they’re in the majority. Al Lewis’ characterization that Democrats just couldn’t get enough is a little too much to swallow, quite frankly.
The most important panel I attended today at the Big Tent at the DNC revolved around the next energy policy of our future president. Talk about celebrity power: T. Boone Pickens was part of the panel and attendance in the Tent was the highest I’ve seen it all week. It was moderated by John Podesta, a former Clinton Chief of Staff. The third person on stage was Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.
In a nutshell, the Pickens plan doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t go far enough because his plan doesn’t address climate change in any meaningful way. It is an energy plan and one that could be described as transitory to 100% renewable. But he doesn’t present it as such. He presents it as the end game. If his plan, or something close to it, is the end game, climate change will effect us in ways we can’t imagine today. Read on if you want more details.
Yes, two parts of his plan deal with a wind corridor from Texas to Canada and a solar corridor from Texas to California. That’s a good thing. The third portion of his plan, however, advocates changing U.S. trucking fleets over from diesel to … diesel. The diesel would come from changing natural gas to diesel, but they would still run on diesel. That means we will still be utilizing fossil fuels for transportation. Unfortunately for his plan, natural gas is becoming increasingly difficult (read: expensive) to get out of the ground. Natural gas will become even more expensive if we convert national fleets of trucks to run on natural gas. One reason: the Pickens plan doesn’t guarantee domestic natural gas will be sold domestically. Like oil, it will go to the highest bidder. That’s what commodity traders do: sell for maximum profit. Pickens wants to switch expensive oil for expensive natural gas.
One rich person’s plan to address our nation’s energy policy has garnered huge media attention recently. I’m not talking about Al Gore either. I’m talking about T. Boone Pickens, a billionaire who made his money in the oil sector. He outlined his plan to reduce oil imports by at least a third in 10 years. Which sounds like a laudable goal, right? The goal sounds good. How he plans to get there is insane. He’s only tackling part of the energy problem we face. What is totally ignored has the potential to completely dwarf our energy problem: climate change. I’ll say this as many times as is necessary until people really get it: a 20-foot rise in sea levels will displace billions of people worldwide. If we think our current set of geopolitical issues are large, wait until governments have to deal with those kinds of numbers.
Here’s the part of Pickens’ plan that I like: build enough wind farms to supply 20% of the nation’s electricity by 2020. That’s a solid goal that is completely achievable, but only if we as a country decide that it is. There are big challenges along the way, certainly, but that should motivate us to act instead of intimidating us into submission.
Here’s the part of Pickens’ plan that is ludicrous: replace oil with natural gas as an energy generating source. Why would we trade a bad carbon source with a slightly less bad carbon source? Why not move directly and immediately to a near-zero carbon source? Part of the problem: replacing oil infrastructure with natural gas infrastructure. As I mention above, this could have the benefit of emitting less carbon overall into the climate system, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. How long do we then use natural gas as an energy source? Until all the natural gas is similarly used up? Then we face the dilemma of being forced to adopt renewable energy sources.
Or we could skip the middle step and move directly to renewable energy infrastructure. We face enough obstacles in enacting renewable energy as our predominant and eventual sole source of energy. Let’s tackle that problem now while we have some crumbs of time left before we irrevocably tip the climate system to a state we can’t recognize.
It honestly worries me that a billionaire oilman is pushing a plan that is getting so much corporate media attention. It makes me wonder what other monied interests are silently getting behind the plan, while more viable plans are cast aside. These kinds of business plans (really, that’s all it is) neglect critical science issues. I think that’s a bad idea.
Also in the news: a group of Republican Representatives will visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO this Friday the 18th of July. Which is very interesting because those same Representatives voted to cut NREL’s budget when they controlled Congress. NREL came very close to losing enough funding to prevent it from doing its work: researching alternative energy and efficiency projects. Only when a sizable number of scientists were about to be laid off due to funding issues and was pushed hard in local media did Republicans restore funding they had taken away from the lab.
The Republicans are characterizing their trip as reflective of their “all of the above approach” they push for in Congress. Which is a bald-faced lie and should have been reported as such. No such luck from our corporate media, of course. Democrats are not standing in the way of responsible energy policies. They recognize that this country cannot drill its way out of the energy problem that demagogued activists have been warning would come along for decades.
Republicans are going to continue to act like they’re moving toward renewable energy solutions to avoid inspection of their failed energy policies of the last generation. These are the people that gleefully brought us $140 oil, never forget that.