T. Boone Pickens can’t read his lines. Squinting at his teleprompter, he is posing in front of a mile-long ribbon of wind turbines, churning against an endless Texas sky. Pickens is in Sweetwater, a town of 12,000 that bills itself as the nation’s wind-energy capital, to shoot a commercial urging Americans to put themselves on a new energy diet: cutting out imported oil—which costs $700 billion a year—in favor of domestically produced sources such as wind and natural gas. “Our dependence on foreign oil means that we are buying from our enemies,” he drawls into the camera, veering from the script. At this, the director walks onto the set, frowning his disapproval. “Don’t want me to say ‘enemies’, huh?” Pickens deadpans as he drops his head in mock shame and scuffs his cowboy boot in the dirt. “How ’bout ‘Some friends and a few a––holes?’ That better?”
With that kind of blunt talk—and an estimated $3 billion fortune to back it up with action—Pickens, who last made headlines for funding the Swift Boat attack ads against John Kerry in 2004, has put himself back in the spotlight in time for the 2008 presidential election. It’s an audacious act of rebranding: the flamboyant 80-year-old oilman and onetime corporate raider reborn as green wildcatter and the Web’s first senior blog star. Since it was launched a month ago, http://www.pickensplan.com has cracked the top-1,000 list of most heavily trafficked sites worldwide, according to the Internet marketing firm Quantcast.
If you haven’t yet heard of the Pickens Plan, then you’ve no doubt been on vacation: he has flooded TV and radio with thousands of ads urging viewers to log on to his Web site and demand that Washington overhaul the country’s energy infrastructure. “The American people know something is wrong as far as energy is concerned,” he tells NEWSWEEK. “They don’t think they are being told the truth.”
Just don’t mistake Pickens for a tree-hugger…
[Speaking of Green places, I’ve received requests from Flickr viewers for more information about solar power in Israel after they saw this picture.]