Fast Company

Let’s Hear it For T. Boone Pickens

If you have cable TV, you’ve probably seen the new “energy awareness” commercial, paid-for and narrated-by T. Boone Pickens. For those of you who haven’t laid your eyes on this, watch it here.

The half-scowl, tobacco-aged drawl, and no-bullshit-Texas-attitude make T. Boone Pickens somewhat of an intimidating figure for a primetime TV advertising spot. At first glance, his commercial feels like a campaign promo, or a bit of liberal agitprop. But this would be far from the truth. This is an unaffiliated, non-partisan ad, designed to raise awareness and support for alternative energy initiatives.

And what’s more? It's created by an eighty-year-old oil tycoon and unofficial industry spokesman, the very same guy that has contributed heavily to just about every Conservative administration of the last fifty years and played a prominent role in the Swift Boating of John Kerry.

Yes, T. Boone Pickens was a one-time corporate raider, the man who orchestrated Mesa Petroleum’s buyout of Gulf Oil--a deal that got him featured on the cover of Time Magazine.

Pickens has been an oil king for years and has donated quite a bit of his earnings to George W. Bush & Company. But T. Boone is no stranger to the role of maverick; when it comes to his country, and what he believes is right, well T. Boone Pickens has always marched to the toot of his own kazoo. In spite of his past, this year he renounced his affiliation with the Republican administration because of what he saw as sluggishness in responding to the global oil crisis. Now he’s using his money and celebrity to take on the U.S’s alternative energy deficiency. And he's not holding back.

His ad doesn’t explicitly call-out the Bush Administration for its proposed short-term solution of drilling, drilling, drilling, but he does say that the current crisis is “one problem we can’t drill our way out of.” Wow, a couple of years ago I would have said that this guy would be Swift Boated within a few weeks. But considering that T. Boone isn’t running for office, that he’s just trying to help his country, and that he’s an ex-Republican, well, not even Karl Rove can spin the Administration out of this one.

So when a baron of this magnitude steps out of the oilfields -- his oil fields -- to address the nation, candidly, on our myopic energy policies, and the pitiful nature of our addiction, well that’s almost like Philip Morris deciding to drop tobacco and get into health care.

Of course, Pickens is a businessman first and foremost. His $10 billion project to build the biggest wind farm in the world -- in his own backyard -- is, to my eyes, an extremely lucrative investment. He expects to see at least a 15% return on his money. And I'm sure he’ll find a way to get it, even if he has to power the turbines himself.

But his capitalistic motives don’t take away from the audacity of his energy plan, or his mission. T. Boone Pickens is dedicated to what he sees as a necessary transformation in the American mindset, and he’s willing to do what it takes to educate the populace and to help kick our habit. From David Chase’s interview with Pickens in the June issue of Fast Company, “I’m going to take action. Opponents say it's going to cost so much money to address. And I say, well, hell, go ahead and spend it. I'd rather take a chance that I'm right than that I'm wrong. I don't want to wait around until the house burns down, 'til I decide whether it's a serious fire or not.”

This is something that needs to be celebrated and not satirized, though admittedly it’s hard to avoid. When a man who seems to rise directly from a scene in “There Will Be Blood” decides to put his own fortune and reputation on the line to combat our energy crisis, well, then we should probably listen. We’d be stupid not to.

Not to mention the fact that this guy scares the pants off me, so I’ve joined in his campaign. He’s got a plan; you should read about it here.

Or don’t, but do so at the risk of T. Boone showing up on your doorstep with six-shooters a-blazin'.

I don't know about you, but for me, it's give me alternative energy, or give me death. T. Boone is watching.

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2 Comments

  • Rip Empson

    Harl,

    I think T. Boone is doing this because it's something he believes strongly in. He's a big supporter of individual rights/small gov't. Pickens has also been chairman of National Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition (now Clean Energy), and is personally invested in natural gas as an alternative source of energy. In terms of the wind farm, well Texas voters (the population is expanding exponentially) are clamoring for more power. What a great opportunity to prove what wind power can do. Why not advertise? Why not try to sell this to Americans? After all, the gov't has been doing such a bang-up job, someone has to...

    That being said, T. Boone just sold his Yahoo shares (of which there were millions) for a sizable loss. So, whether or not this guy's judgment is impaired, whether or not he's an energy/transportation leader we can trust, well we may have just received the verdict...

    Finally, let's not forget that by November, this will no longer be just a "transportation" crisis. When millions of Americans have to pay out the wazoo to heat their homes, well, people may use that money to transport themselves closer to the equator...

  • Harl Delos

    It's not really an energy crisis. It's a transportation crisis. Most petroleum goes to transportation and nothing else. Most transportation energy comes from petroleum and nothing else.

    It's VERY wasteful to transport electricity; that's why we ship heavy trains of coal to power plants near where we need electricity, instead of building power plants near the mines and running wires to where we need the electricity.

    If Boone wants to build wind farms with his own money, and sell it to electric companies at competitive rates, fine - but if he doesn't want to tap my wallet, why is he spending money on advertising? If it's a sensible thing to do, then it will pay off for investors, and god bless them. If it's not profitable for the private sector to do, it's not something the government should do, either.