By Jim Whitt
There are over 600 million passenger cars in the world not to mention a few million planes, trains, buses and trucks. 99% of these modes of transportation are propelled by internal combustion engines which are fueled by our most abundant natural resource – fossil fuel.
Yes, there are alternative sources of energy and I’m all for them. In my book, Riding for the Brand: The Power of Purposeful Leadership, I paint a picture of a future where hydrogen powered vehicles are the norm. And I look forward to the day when that happens. But I’m a practical kind of guy. Even though I help my clients look 30 years into the future I have to help them build a bridge back to today. The future is meaningless if you can’t survive to see it.
So, here’s my formula for fueling our path to the future while fueling our economy today. Pick the low hanging fruit while planting the seeds of tomorrow’s energy sources. In the process we’ll rebuild our shattered economy.
I grew up in what is known today as the Tallgrass Prairie in Oklahoma. If you wanted a home where the buffalo roam this is where you’d build it. What most people don’t know is that this pristine piece of real estate was home to the oilfields that built two of the world’s biggest and best known companies which have since merged to become ConocoPhillips. Big oil and big agriculture coexisted there very nicely. Now, I want you think about that for a minute. What would your life be like without oil and agriculture?
Most of what I read in the popular press today condemns both of these industries. And all they do is feed and fuel the world every day. In the process of feeding and fueling the world they feed and fuel the economy. I’ll leave the topic of agriculture for another day but here’s how we can create millions of jobs and pump billions of dollars into the economy of the United States without outsourcing jobs. Consider this statement from an article by Clifford Krauss in the New York Times entitled Shale Boom in Texas Could Increase U.S. Oil Output: “The companies estimate that the boom will create more than two million new jobs, directly or indirectly, and bring tens of billions of dollars to the states where the fields are located, which include traditional oil sites like Texas and Oklahoma, industrial stalwarts like Ohio and Michigan and even farm states like Kansas.”
Here’s the local impact: “The oil rush is already transforming this impoverished area of Texas near the Mexican border, doubling real estate values in the last year and filling restaurants and hotels.” While other parts of the country would like a little of that action all of the country will benefit: “‘It’s the one thing we have seen in our adult lives that could take us away from imported oil,’” said Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy, one of the most aggressive drillers. “‘What if we have found three of the world’s biggest oil fields in the last three years right here in the U.S.? How transformative could that be for the U.S. economy?’”
Now, I know what you’re thinking – what about the environment? Drive through the Tallgrass Prairie today and you’ll find little if any evidence that it is worse off than before the energy industry arrived. And today’s exploration and production methods are many times less invasive than when those fields were developed in the early 20th century. The few people who still live in that part of the country would love to have the economy that accompanied those boom years. It’s been slim pickings in the years since.
Now, back to the future – let’s develop alternative energy sources as fast as we can. But in the meantime it’s insane to saddle ourselves with an economy that is destroying lives and businesses while enslaving ourselves to the whims of oil producing dictatorships.
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