Throughout the presidential election campaign, we endured endless ads from two unusual sources. One was the endless loop of “Pickens Plan” ads and other other was the heavy rotation of nonsensical “We” ads.
If you’ve been near a TV at all during the last few months, you’ve seen both of these ads. In some ways the similarities are more telling than the differences with these ads. Both are focused on sustainability in their own way, both claim to be demanding renewable energy and both at least seem to be aimed at moving opinion leaders toward their approach.
But what are these plans and organizations all about? You certainly can’t tell from these 30 second ads. I decided to take a look.
The We campaign is being run by the WeCanSolveIt.org group, founded by Al Gore (full disclosure: big Al Gore fan here and I joined the group when it was first organized). The We group’s goal is to get the U.S. to 100% clean electricity in 10 years. The goal is so aggressive that you could be forgiven for assuming that their position is nothing more than a clever use of the Overton window. I, however, think it is an attainable goal. And, like Al Gore would probably say, it’s a goal that we can’t afford to miss. Sadly it is an expensive goal as well; although we could certainly use some infrastructure spending in America to kick-start our economy.
I’m excited about We because it puts our focus where it should be: moving to electricity for energy wherever possible and creating that energy with clean, renewable sources. And for those of you who are regular readers will note, that means you’re not burning anything. The technology is here today, but it’s not the cheapest energy in most cases. For example, let’s say you wanted to move your house to solar. You would probably pay something above $20,000 on panels and an inverter. Plus you’ll likely need a new furnace if you live in a colder part of the country. With an electric bill of, say, $100ish per month, you’re looking an incredibly long payback. There’s no way to move massive numbers of people to these solutions with those economics. This is why RE<C is such an important concept. In fact it’s the entire basis of this Web site.
Which brings us to the Pickens Plan.
Now I’m doing my best to give the plan an honest look, but readers should note that I’ll never forgive this sleazeball for financing the Swiftboat ads against John Kerry in 2004. Simply disgusting and immoral.
So with that bad taste in my mouth ignored, let’s look at Pickens. T. Boone PIckens rightly highlights the fact that our foreign oil consumption has risen for decades now under both political parties. He doesn’t mention how much money he made off that oil importation, however. His plan calls for a bold move to renewable energy, such as wind. But, as you’ve seen in his commercials, he notes the “technology isn’t there yet. We need a bridge.”
His bridge? Natural gas, or as he calls it, CNG. CNG stands for compressed natural gas (don’t kind yourself into thinking the C stands for clean. It doesn’t. Now natural gas does work in cars. Governments and taxis have used it for years. Now, what you may not know is that Pickens is the largest shareholder in Clean Energy Inc., a natural gas distribution company. Stations are already popping up around the country.
So is this “bridge” really just a bridge from your wallet to Pickens’ bank account? Hard to say, but it’s clear Pickens stands to make a fortune. Not that I mind someone making money from their ideas. I’m a proud capitalist and nothing would make me happier than making money by driving greater sustainability. But is there something else going on here? This Business Week article seems to show that there is. It seems Pickens is snatching up midwest land and driving toward a pipeline pointed toward Texas. For oil? No, this time water. Could Pickens be getting ready to step on the drinking water hose? Yikes! Could the plan to build a massive wind farm in the midwest actually be a water rights grab? I’m sure I’m not qualified to say, but the speed at which Pickens’ wind power plans were shelved puts quite a bit of weight on the wrong side of the scale.
From a marketing perspective, kudos to Pickens for a very clear, powerful marketing campaign. I’m a member of We, have seen dozens of their ads and still can’t figure out what their core message is. Do they want volunteers? Investors? Donations? I can’t tell! Weak! Pickens also shows how shooting some video of yourself in front of spinning windmills can’t help but make you look like an environmental hero. It’s a lesson John McCain used quite a bit during the campaign.
So the bottom line? Pretty simple, really. They just have different goals. Al Gore’s We group is 100% about climate change issues. He wants us to drop the carbon output of this country and fast. And rebuild our economy in the process. Pickens, if taken at face value, is focused on escaping the clutches of middle eastern dictators. An admirable goal, but one that is also solved with the We approach. Unfortunately, if Pickens’ plan were to work, it would actually extend the climate change challenges by extending the timeframe that our economy is based on burning a natural resource. Add in the worries over water issues and with Pickens you have the exact opposite of sustainability. Just more short-term corporate thinking from a billionaire.