If you've been watching television lately, chances are you've seen a white-haired Texas oil man promising he can save America from foreign oil by using wind power, solar energy and domestic natural gas. He's T. Boone Pickens, and he's playing the role of pioneer and provocateur, in a massive national campaign warning of an energy crisis as dire as the current financial one.
As 60 Minutes contributor Charlie Rose reports, Pickens says he has a solution - a plan that might sound unrealistic in the current economic climate - but one he hopes will be good for the country and good for Boone Pickens.
At 80 years old, T. Boone Pickens acts like a man in the prime of his life, and there's no better place to see that than at Oklahoma State University. He has given his alma mater about $350 million, turned around the school's football team and rebuilt its stadium.
And that has made him a very big man on campus.
But can this billionaire, who has helped his alma mater so much, help break America's addiction to foreign oil?
"It seems to me that Boone Pickens is a guy that needs an idea and a challenge. He almost needs to be at war all the time," Rose comments.
"I know it. They call 'em crusades. I mean, I've been accused, 'You're a crusader, Pickens,'" he says. "I said, 'I don't start out that way.' But I'll have to admit that sometimes it ends up kinda like a crusade."
Pickens is spending $58 million of his own money to promote his biggest crusade yet, and probably the biggest of its kind. He calls it the "Pickens Plan."
The essence of his plan is to reduce oil imports by 30 percent in ten years, and save the country hundreds of billions of dollars. Pickens is an oil man who believes the era of oil is over, and that there's enough natural gas in this country to take its place in millions of cars and trucks.
"We own it. And it's abundant and it's cheap. It's cheaper than the oil. And whatever we spend here for energy at home creates jobs, taxes and the economy goes…," Pickens says.
He believes this would stimulate the economy. "We can do so much here at home with the money here, instead of letting it go out of the country."
The Pickens Plan, which could be overly ambitious in this financial crisis, calls for a conversion from oil products to natural gas in vehicles, first by phasing in two million new heavy trucks - roughly the entire fleet of big rigs that move goods around the country. Trucks account for about a quarter of the amount of oil we import every year.
"If you don't buy into natural gas, you're not buying into the Pickens Plan as a bridge to the future?" Rose asks.
"That's right," Pickens agrees.
"Anybody, whether it's Sarah Palin or George Bush or John McCain, who thinks you can drill your way out of the problem, is?" Rose asks.
"You don't have a chance. There's no way. We're importing 12 million barrels of oil a day. Okay, let's just say that we were gonna replace 12 million barrels by drilling in America. We would be bigger than Saudi Arabia. We are stretched for everything. I mean, we are a marginal producer," Pickens says.
Asked if he thinks his plan is the last, best hope for America to get off its addiction to foreign oil, Pickens tells Rose, "It's the only plan."
Pickens says his father told him, "A fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan."
In order for his plan to work, Pickens proposes replacing the natural gas that's now used to generate 22 percent of the nation's electricity with a new source of power: wind power, created by thousands of wind farms that would need to be built.
"How do you know the utilities are gonna take wind power as a substitute for natural gas?" Pickens asks. "That may be a mandate."
"So that's a critical point. You may have to have the government demand this happen," Rose says. "Speak to that. Suppose it doesn't work? Suppose the Pickens Plan doesn't happen? What happens to the country?"
"Well, the plan then is foreign oil. You're totally at the mercy of foreign oil. There's no option one, two, three," Pickens says.