In my last post, The Prius Effect, I said that "Pundits up and down the political spectrum doubt society’s capacity to change. The left wing expresses disappointment in our general attachment to selfish interests. The right wing resists change when it threatens its traditional way of seeing the world. The Prius Effect suggests that consumers, in general, are more flexible and inventive than most pundits imagine."
But average consumers are not the only innovative forces creating environmental change in the marketplace. T. Boone Pickens is the very embodiment of the Texas oil tycoon. Worth about $3 billion, according to Forbes magazine, he’s a militantly conservative Republican with a big house in Dallas’ prestigious Preston Hollow neighborhood and an enormous ranch in the Texas panhandle, to which he commutes on the weekends in a private jet. He’s also, arguably, the world’s leading advocate for wind energy.
In 2008, just a couple of months after his 80th birthday, Pickens published The Pickens Plan and budgeted $58 million of his own money to promote it.  The plan proposes the rapid development of giant wind farms across the central plains of North America, specifically to replace the electricity we are currently generating with natural gas. The natural gas could then be used, instead, to fuel clean, efficient transportation. The 80-year-old Texan billionaire made dozens of public appearances all over the country and was interviewed by every major news medium. His website for the plan, www.pickensplan.com, is a masterful demonstration of the power of the digital media with a cute little animated Boone preaching about our dependence on foreign oil, with cute little animated wind turbines turning in the background. The blog is called The Daily Pickens. The site distributes widgets that help users reduce their own energy consumption and influence their own lawmakers.
With a click, visitors can join local Pickens Plan groups, take a pledge supporting the plan, join a virtual march in support of the plan, contact lawmakers through e-mail and social networks and – wow – chart their own progress as plan supporters by establishing a push.pickensplan.com account, effectively grading their own level of commitment.
The Boone Cam has recorded hundreds of cinema verite encounters between Pickens and his famous supporters, from Sarah Palin to Arnold Schwarzenegger. He shows himself traveling to an appearance on the women’s talk show, The View, with Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg. “I think we reach every audience. And the reason we do is because, one, that they see me as a guy whose sincere about what he’s doing… They have confidence in what I’m talking about. If I’m seen as an honest, sincere guy and I’m pushing something that’s good for America, then I’m going to get those women with me.”
To push his plan, Pickens is conspicuously reaching out to all kinds of people who didn’t previously appear on his dance card. The revolving earth-friendly quotes at the top of the Pickens Plan homepage are from people like President Barack Obama and Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat who had previously called Pickens his “mortal enemy” when Pickens played an instrumental role in defeating Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
In Bloomberg Markets magazine’s coverage of the National Clean Energy Summit in October of 2009, Reid says, “I started taking missionary lessons from the group supporting T. Boone Pickens… I now belong to the Pickens church. He’s been a good friend and a real visionary…” 
Why are Harry Reid and Whoopi Goldberg publicly giving their love to a swaggering, swashbuckling energy tycoon? Pickens is, after all, only protecting his own investments in wind power. His new role as an environmental visionary is an outgrowth of his new business as a wind-farm developer. The governmental support he is drumming up will eventually provide tax dollars to build the energy grids that are critical to his success.
The Pickens Plan is a self-serving marketing effort to support the Pickens Businesses. But in the process of building his PR machine T. Boone Pickens has given new legitimacy to wind power. By giving renewable energy a Texas drawl and a patriotic tattoo, Pickens has managed to bring wind energy’s practical benefits to light in front of tens of millions of skeptical Americans.
Like the Toyota Prius, T. Boone Pickens is pragmatic and technologically adept. He describes environmental benefits in practical terms that the average person can understand. Most remarkably, he’s voided the tribal politics that separated “tree-hugging environmentalists” from the citizens of the “conservative heartland.”
In the Pickens Plan, wind power is good for the Earth, promotes national security and enhances the U.S. economy. Millions of acres of prairie could be converted from marginally profitable farmland to highly productive power generators. Farmers and ranchers can still operate around the bases of the turbine towers. We haven’t finished measuring every environmental impact of large-scale wind power (there’s some concern about the effects on bird and bat populations), but so far it looks like an environmental and economic winner. Worldwide we doubled our windpower capacity to about 121,000 megawatts between 2005 and 2008, and about 1.5 percent of electricity consumed worldwide is generated by wind power, including 19 percent of Denmark’s power, 11 percent of Spain and Portugal’s and 7 percent of Germany’s.  Texas, all by itself, has more wind-power capacity than all but five countries worldwide. If we had electric transportation, its conceivable that the Great Plains could supply all North America’s energy through giant wind-power plantations.
“This is a global game-changer,” as Boone has said , “It’s a no-brainer.”
Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on Google+.
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