Subject: Viridian Note 00196: Fredericksburg Speech

Key concepts
Renewable Energy Roundup, energy industry, Fredericksburg, Texas

Attention Conservation Notice: A conference speech, and a rare example of the "Regional Viridian" idiom. Over 6,000 words.

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Renewable Energy Roundup Fredericksburg, Texas October 1, 02000

"The Powerful Future of Texas"

Hi, glad to be here. My name's Bruce Sterling, I'm from Austin, I'm a science fiction writer.

You folks are probably wondering what a science fiction writer is doing here in Fredericksburg, Texas. Unless I miss my guess, nobody here asked to see a science fiction writer. Generally speaking, being a science fiction writer, I'm never in a place where people expect to see me.

Let me show you a nice solid for-instance here, so you can see that I'm not just pulling all of this out of my cowboy hat. See this book of mine? This is HACKER CRACKDOWN, a nonfiction book that I wrote about computer hackers. I wrote this book ten years ago. When I wrote this, my publishers considered this computer-hacker stuff to be a seriously futuristic topic. My publishers like to think that I'm ahead of my time, because that's why they pay me. So, sure, this book was pretty weird and wacky, because it was all about guys who did amazing, incredible stuff, like using computer networks to send each other email.

This was back in 1990, so I had to explain to the public what a modem was, and all that. You may remember those ancient days, if you're old enough. "Information Superhighway," and all that. That was some mighty far- fetched stuff, am I right? Of course, nowadays, ten years later, people read this book and they consider it a historical text.

So today, ten years later, you can't swing a cat in my home town without whacking an Internet millionaire. Society has definitely moved in that direction, and a place that was once the future has become where it's at.

But it's not 1990, it's 2000. So here I am in some tent with weirdos who like windmills.

But why the town of Fredericksburg, you may well ask? After all, if you're an author and journalist like I am, and you want to hang out with green energy people, with renewable energy people, a common destination is Denmark. These Danish guys are getting a lot of press with their wind-power thing. These Danes are international wind- patch roughnecks. Some of them are even working in Texas. If you happen to be a Danish wind-power guy out there in the audience today, hey, I'm a major fan of you Danes. Welcome to Texas. You guys rock. Great furniture. A cheese Danish, that's a delicious pastry.

But I'm not in Denmark, I'm in Fredericksburg. Now, in order to explain to you why I am so passionately devoted to the cause of this little festival, I have to unburden myself of some Texas history. On my dad's side, I'm a third-generation Texan. And on my mother's side == she was Valley people, from south of San Antonio == I'm a seventh-generation Texan. I am one small, singular example of two huge Texan clans, with very traditional Texan lineages in cattle-ranching and oil. Even though I happen to be Mr Chrome-Plated Robots and Rocketships here, I'm also an extremely native Texan. I am related by blood and marriage to probably half of this state.

I also happen to live in your state's capital. I went to the University there, got married there, had two children there, and I built a house there. I'm a very ardent and patriotic Austinite. Even to the point of being slightly cranky about it, frankly.

Now ladies and gentlemen, the big news in my home town of Austin, your state's capital, is that the summer of the year 2000 is finally over. That was much bigger news than the end of summer has ever been before. A lot of my fellow Austinites are already trying very hard to forget what happened to us in the evil summer of the year 2000. Far be it from me to claim that us Austinites, swilling our Starbucks coffee and kicking around in our beatnik sandals, suffered any worse this summer than Dallas, or Houston, or even glamorous Dime Box and Muleshoe. But I do need to share with you a kind of executive summary of that summer, so that you can see what propels a futurist into your little rodeo here.

This summer, Austin recorded the highest temperatures ever seen in the history of the town. It was 110 degrees Fahrenheit on Labor Day. That was a brand-new weather record. It has literally never been that hot in the city of Austin, ever. But that was by no means all, because next day it was 112 degrees. Last summer, Austin lived through over forty days with temperatures over a hundred degrees. Our lakes are forty feet below normal. Rivers, wells and streams have dried up all over the area. Plus, a drought all across Texas has cost us about a billion dollars in agricultural losses, so far.

Ladies and gentlemen, I didn't make any of this up. It's amazing and astonishing, but this is not science fiction. Look at this, I took the trouble to bring you some hard evidence. This is the front page of our newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, for September 6, 2000, twenty-five days ago. "One hundred twelve degrees == a new extreme," this says. "Power outages, wildfires leave thousands in lurch." This is not science fiction about some possible Greenhouse Effect in Texas. This is the actual, no-kidding Greenhouse Effect in Texas.

Let me demonstrate to you the vital difference here between predicting the future and living in it. Because I'm a science fiction writer, I actually have some science fiction about the Greenhouse Effect in Texas. You see this book? This is a science fiction novel called HEAVY WEATHER. I wrote this book back in 1993. Then it was science fiction about the Greenhouse Effect in Texas. You didn't see much in the way of this newspaper when I was writing this-here science fiction book. But we're sure seeing it now. And like they say up in Aggieland, wait till next year.

Nowadays, it's quite hard to find any issue of any daily newspaper that doesn't have some kind of extreme weather event mentioned in it. Not necessarily in Texas, of course. Sometimes there is extreme weather in Mexico, or Honduras, or Indonesia, or India, or Bangladesh. Or the North Pole, or the South Pole, or Switzerland, or subsaharan Africa. Pretty much all over, really. I read about bad weather, I've been interested in the science of meteorology for quite a while, but I don't break into a big sweat about every single newspaper report. But I surely do break into a big sweat when it's a hundred and twelve degrees in my own front yard in Austin, Texas. Because if you don't sweat when you're in a hundred and twelve degree heat, you die real fast. Besides, that is my home.

There's no big-deal surprise about this Greenhouse Effect thing. This is not a sudden, shocking event. This has been a very slow, methodical trend which is easy to follow if you're paying any attention. The first time a serious scientist wrote about the Greenhouse Effect, it was back in the 1890s. That was over a hundred years ago. Climate experts were talking very seriously about this stuff back in 1970, back in 1980. It's not any big surprise. The only possible way to get all surprised about this situation is to ignore it on purpose.

You can ignore it, and you always try to explain away any particular episode of bad weather. You can always say it's just "freak weather," for instance. Folks, this is the secret, okay? In a Greenhouse Effect, the freak weather is the normal weather.

I can understand why people would want to deny this, and really go out on a limb to avoid facing the truth. It's an unpleasant, scary thing to admit that the weather is seriously acting up. It's a very hard thing to have to tell to your kids, for instance -- your kids are the future, they're the ones who have to live there.

So unless I'm totally preaching to the converted here, there's probably somebody out there who would like to argue with me. Maybe we can talk later. I've got a table here, I'm hanging out at this jamboree right over there, next to the designer-gizmo collection, kinda doing my Greenhouse Activist thing.

But let's not try to argue me out of it. Instead, I want you to imagine arguing yourself out of it. Just imagine yourself taking this newspaper from the year 2000 AD, back to the year 1980. Just imagine showing this newspaper to people walking around in the year 1980, you know, guys with green hair and women in torn fishnet stockings, and telling them, "See? Look, here's a newspaper from your future! What do you think about that?"

What do you think people from 1980 they would say if they read this newspaper? I'll tell you what they would say. "A hundred and twelve degrees!" they would say. "Good Lord, the Greenhouse Effect is kicking us from hell to breakfast!"

Of course, once you're actually in the middle of a Greenhouse Effect, it's a lot harder to say things like that. Because now that you're actually getting cooked in your own home, you have to feel that it's like, somehow, your own fault. All of a sudden you find yourself saying things like, "Uh, maybe all this climate change thing is just alarmism," and "Gee, don't let those people from Kyoto tax us," and "Oh my gosh, I sure am paying a lot for this gasoline."

These are perfectly natural things to want to say, so a lot of people are saying them. The only problem is that you're also forced to say other things, much uglier and scarier things, like "Man, I sure do wish it would rain," and "Hey, all the peach trees in my lawn just died," and "Wow, my Grandma just had a heat stroke on the way from her house to her car."

I know this seems kinda scary, but this part is not the scary part. This is the early part of the 21st century. All of the big stuff lies ahead of us. The scary part comes when we imagine a guy from the year 2020 showing up here with his newspaper. Because if he's breaking this year's heat records, if he's breaking this year's drought records, then Texas is in a very different and very unpleasant world.

Ladies and gentlemen, Texas is my home. This place is where I take my stand. That was my homeland and my front yard baking in September 2000 at a hundred and twelve degrees. That is not something I am prepared to passively accept.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, let me take a moment to talk about this global climate problem from a strictly Texan perspective. Never mind El Nino, and emissions rates, and the Kyoto Treaty, and the ozone layer, and isobars, and all that. Instead, I would like to talk a little bit about our regional character as a people, about who we Texans are. I know this isn't strictly a politically correct thing to do in a sophisticated era of high-speed globalism, but this is Fredericksburg, so I think maybe I can get away with it, if I thicken my drawl and visit a spell with my own neighbors.

Well, it's no use judging us by imaginary standards of absolute perfection. Let's face it, even Denmark looks pretty bad in those circumstances. What kind of people are we? What should we properly expect of ourselves? We're not New York, we're not California. But that's not our problem; that only looks like our problem if you hail from one of those other places.

We Texans need to be properly seen in our own context. In order to be understood as a people, we Texans need to be compared to the people who are closest to us, our nearest and dearest neighbors, the people of our own world locale, the people who share some of our own history and our own values and our heritage. In other words, Louisiana and Mexico. Louisiana and Mexico: two places I cherish, ladies and gentlemen. Looking at them never fails to cheer me right the heck up.

Those are our two true peers as societies. They are the proper scale of comparison: how do us Texans make out, compared to Louisiana and Mexico? Well, if you go to New Orleans or Mexico City, and talk to those fine people about Texans, and what their neighbors the Texans are really like, you get a remarkable portrait.

You get the firm impression that Texans are incredibly rich, smart, energetic people. Texans have wads of money and keen business sense. People in New Orleans are convinced that Texans have bought up pretty much everything in New Orleans worth buying. In fact, there's a haze of Texan imperialism that stretches way out to Colorado, where there are guys who dress like John Denver wandering around in their mountains wondering why Texans get to use all their snow.

So ladies and gentlemen, while I regret my native state's various political and cultural shortcomings, such as our widely-noted illiteracy, poverty and prison rates, you're not going to see me leaving Texas and writing my books somewhere else. Expecially when our congenial Governor may become President and his charming wife is a librarian.

Now let me invite you to take a closer look at this

very alarming Texan newspaper. Let's forget this terrifying headline up here, because that's only the obvious part. Instead, let's look down at this lower front-page headline. It's in smaller print, so I'll have to read it aloud to you. It says: "Tech Trio from Austin Among '40 Richest Under 40.'"

What is this article about? Well, this would be Fortune magazine's list of the richest people in America. Who have we got here? Since this is Texas-rich, I'd be guessing these must be semi-literate cattle barons, or maybe country folk-singers of some kind... But no, this would appear to be Mr. Michael Dell of Dell Computer, Mr. Joe Liemandt of Trilogy Software, and Mr. Navdeep Sooch, the co-founder and chief executive of Silicon Laboratories Incorporated.

This is an interesting newspaper page, because if you put these two articles together, it strongly implies that Texans are in a position to do something useful and creative about our situation. We're not at death's door here. We're not selling apples and begging for nickels. Texas is rich! We're in the midst of a massive economic boom. The United States has been in a bull market since 1982 that has a fifteen percent a year rate of return.

Major industries are reinventing themselves all around us. Cities are reinventing themselves all around us. Your capital city is a vast mess of cranes and trench diggers, with Help Wanted signs in every window and people pouring in around the clock.

We're rich, we're high tech, we're fast and smart, and yet we're roasting ourselves and our children in our own exhaust fumes. Ladies and gentlemen, those two situations just don't add up.

There's a new business model due. And I'm thinking Texas may be just the place for it. When it comes to energy, we Texans have an often overlooked, but rather important advantage. Because when it comes to the energy business, we Texans actually know what we are talking about. Unlike people who theorize about energy, we have lived there. Texas is not the kind of state where you just write an indignant letter to the editor and some energy mysteriously appears. Around here, you roll up your sleeves and you dig down into the dirt.

Folks, a serious energy business is a tough, complicated, hands-on enterprise. Houston has a lot of rich people. You may have noticed that Houstonians dress much better than us Austinites. They have a lot of lovely things like theaters, museums and designer gowns. Do you think those rich people in Houston want to live in the most polluted city in the USA? They're not breathing that smog because they enjoy it. They're doing it because Houston is a huge refinery metropolis. Houstonians didn't build all those gas flares and catalytic cracking units just to gratify themselves. Those aren't ornamental structures. Those are huge industrial enterprises run by some of the biggest megacorporations on earth.

The Spindletop oil field came in in 1901. It has taken us Texans one hundred long years to create the vast energy infrastructure in Texas. People didn't do this by accident. It took hard work and even genius to do this to ourselves. It took Thomas Edison to do this, to turn day into night with electricity. It took Henry Ford to give people mass mobility. And it took John D. Rockefeller to create the financial and distribution infrastructure of what is still the mightiest industrial enterprise in the world.

If all those refineries in Houston shut down tomorrow, all the people in Houston will breathe a lot easier, and some people in Houston will lose a whole lot of money. But if those refineries in Houston shut down, people in New England will freeze in the dark.

I know our friends in New England have got some energy. They've got some nuclear plants that they're really afraid of, and they've got some nice little renewable hydroelectric dams that must be 300 years old. It's not their fault that the energy business is not a core regional enterprise. We've got a serious maple-syrup shortage here in Texas. I'm sure the two of us can find some way to do business. My point is that it is no easy thing to build a professional, reliable, national-scale energy infrastructure. Energy is a serious matter of physics and engineering, energy isn't made from wishful thinking, crystal balls and pixie dust. It's hard work, it's serious, it takes real skill and investment. And, for all of the twentieth century, the energy business has been really dirty and actively dangerous.

I happen to be a major enthusiast for clean renewable energy. But I like to approach this matter Texas-style. That's why I am an energy industry booster. I'm not under any illusion that renewable energy is gonna happen merely because I stand here yakking about it. Renewable energy is going to happen because there is going to be a huge, powerful, renewable energy industry. That new system has to rip up the old fossil system root and branch, and replace that vast dirty machine with a vast new clean machine, around the entire world. There is no other way to succeed.

This must be made to happen in real life on a titanic scale. Energy is not imaginary. Energy is what physically happens whenever you reach out and turn Henry Ford's ignition key. It's what physically happens whenever you reach out and flick Thomas Edison's light switch. They called John Rockefeller a "Titan" because his enterprise was titanic. Energy is billions of real people doing common things billions of time every day.

Today, whenever most folks use energy, there is a puff

of smoke somewhere. In a car, that smoke pours out right behind you. With a light bulb, the smoke puffs up a smokestack somewhere miles away. We Texans did it ourselves. Since 1901, we dug up millions of barrels from the soil of Texas and sold it and burned it. That is why the hot summer sky frowned upon us in the year 2000. That is why the stars at night are no longer bright deep in the heart of Texas.

Renewable energy isn't magic. It's energy. If it were

easy, we would have done it during the first oil shock in the 1970s, instead of hanging around waiting for the latest one. We Texans are taking a beating from oil prices just like everybody else. Texas used to get rich off oil. Some Texans still get rich off oil. But Texas is losing big money, because in the year 2000, Texans import more oil than we export. We crossed over in the early 1990s. We subsidize our own renewables a little bit, but we're real, real busy subsidizing OPEC. We've become a net energy importing state, just like our fellow Americans in the states of New England. At the prospect of a shortfall in oil or a price spike in natural gas, we Texans have to get that same panicky look as everyone else. That's a very strange look for Texans to have. I don't like that look very much. I don't think that look belongs on our faces.

Renewable energy cannot be judged by imaginary standards of absolute perfection. Renewable energy has to be compared to its own neighbors, the industries that share its heritage: coal, oil, and nuclear. Big, hard, tough enterprises. You're not doing energy people any favors when you pretend that sustainable energy is simple and easy. This is wrongheaded, because you are telling them that they have no skills and no understanding, that the modern energy situation is just an accident. The people of Texas spent a hundred years, five generations, arranging this accident. It was a very big job.

One of the things outsiders tend to notice about Texas is that we have pipelines all over the place. Commonly they blow up and fry people. Those pipelines didn't grow there by themselves like poison ivy. They exist to move energy from place to place, and for no other reason. Energy is a patchy resource. All energy is always patchy. If it's liquid, like oil, you've got to move it in a pipe. If it's voltage, like wind, you have to build transmission towers. If it's nuclear, you have to dig it up somewhere, and then you have to really, really wonder where to put the garbage when you're done.

Big wind is big. We've never seen wind as big as wind has got to get if wind power takes a serious bite out of oil and nuclear. The blades of a windmill get more efficient when they sweep out a big radius, a big windmill gets more energy out of the breeze that way. That is a law of physics, you can't change that by holding your breath.

We're talking wind derricks here. We're talking industrial installations on the scale of offshore oil rigs. We're talking a forest of whirring, moaning steel the like of which the world has never seen. We're talking major capital investments with large cadres of welders, and pipefitters, and expert managers.

If you put all that hardware in downtown Boston, people would get all stuffy about it. But I think we can put it in Texas and deal with it. Why? Because it's a hundred times cleaner and safer than the energy infrastructure that we already built! It's no use trying to scare us about windmills, because we live next door to giant reservoirs of liquefied petroleum gas!

Solar is patchy, too. I happen to have some solar on my house. I've got solar photovoltaic, a bunch of big panels the size of movie posters. I've had them up on my roof for about six months now, and in that time, I've produced about 3 megawatt-hours of whoop-te-do clean green renewable energy. Solar photovoltaic is a technology that I live with intimately now. I can literally see it in my own back yard. I'm so proud of those silicon gizmos that my friends snicker about it behind my back.

"Imagine a world where energy is so clean it causes zero pollution and so simple you hardly know it's there." It sounds really good, doesn't it? But I didn't say that. An oil company said that. You can read it on their website.

But folks, that's still technology, that's not magic. When the sun sets in Austin Texas, God makes it set burnt orange, but the sun still sets every day. There's no such thing as lunar energy.

Solar can get cheaper than it is, solar can get more efficient, and it wouldn't kill us if a solar panel was a much sexier and more attractive consumer item, either. But the earth is not gonna stop turning on its axis just because us clean energy enthusiasts might find that convenient. The sun over Austin is not gonna stop setting just because == a fine, upstanding outfit == got me some nice, quiet, clean solar panels that can turn Texas sunlight into voltage.

My profound hope is that the people of Texas, who have suffered and struggled with an energy business for 100 years, can deal with facts of life like this. That Texans can lead the way into a new energy industry by finding the will, the courage, the persistence and the skill to carry out the necessary actions to free ourselves from a dead technology. And I don't want us to do this out of the goodness of our hearts, either. I want us to do this for the same reason we always did it: because it pays.

Where else are the American people going to look for energy solutions? California is a likely candidate. We Texans have a lot in common with Californians. We're both nice big states, we both have politicians who really hanker to be President, and when it comes to high-tech ingenuity, the great state of California is truly second to none. Both Texas and California, I might add, underwent extensive reform of their energy utilities. California in 1996, Texas lagging along in 1999.

Unfortunately for my good friends in Silicon Valley, however, California's energy policy is a dreadful mess. They had a massive heat wave in the summer of 2000 just like we did, but while they were running those air conditioners, they somehow forgot to build enough new capacity. So California has been pestered by rolling brownouts and tremendous cost spikes. In fact, California was so petrified by the awful summer of 2000 that they have launched one of their famous consumer revolts. Pacific Gas and Electric has lost 2.2 billion dollars since June. Utility bills tripled in San Diego. Other people, their neighbors in Nevada for instance, are looking over their border at the shining example of California, and saying: oh well, there's just no way.

This is not merely an American problem. Consider the grand examples of France and Britain this summer. Britain, which pumps a lot of oil out of the North Sea, nevertheless has a very progressive fuel tax. France and Britain had a lot of high-minded attempts to politically impose some stern energy discipline from on high. France buckled under in a big hurry. A little later, two thousand angry truck drivers were able to bring Britain to its knees. Britain and France just had a good old fashioned, cars-round-the-block energy crisis, 1970s style. Hospitals shutting down, mail not getting delivered, oh brother. Germany had big problems, too.

Then there's Texas. We also had utility reform. We had some price hikes. However, you may have noticed that the people of Texas have not taken to the streets. We had our share of summer brownout scares, but nowhere near as bad as California's. We also have the most ambitious renewable energy program in the nation. We were supposed to have 2000 megawatts of clean power on line by 2009. We're probably gonna have that done by 2002.

How did this happen? Well, it's about two things, basically: a well-crafted renewable energy requirement, and non-discriminatory electricity transmission rules. Those two things sound pretty obscure. You're not gonna see anybody running around with protest signs demanding those things. They don't get a lot of spin from political commentators on television.

Nevertheless, that is what it takes in the real world. In other words, somebody has to tell utilities to do clean energy, and then, somebody has to see that utilities actually pay for the juice that they get. This doesn't sound all that complicated. However, we Texans seem to be the only people in America who are really pulling it off.

We're not going broke doing this. This is not some free-market interference thing. There is no free market in energy: OPEC is a cartel. That's a non-issue. The people of Texas have scarcely noticed the change, even though it's a big success. This renewables thing isn't a big stinking partisan issue here. Our Republican Governor signed that bill. He's an oil man, so I guess that is supposed to make any act of energy reform completely impossible, but people, this is Texas. We're all oil people here.

Oil was our state's industrial base for 100 years. There's scarcely a single native Texan who didn't have friends, relatives, loved ones in some aspect of the oil business. When we can also say that about the wind business, and the solar business, and the biomass business, then we will have won. That is the Texan victory condition. It doesn't require a panic, and a crisis, and the politics of personal destruction. It just needs good sense and a steady hand.

I'm from Austin. In Austin we have something called

the Austin Green Choice program. When I pay for electricity, I don't pay for any coal, oil or even nuclear. I only buy wind, solar and biomass. I used to pay a five dollar premium a month for this. Five whopping dollars for renewable energy, ladies and gentlemen. Of course, that was before OPEC started getting antsy this season. Now there's been a big price spike in natural gas. That means I am currently spending $1.37 a month for all-green power. A dollar thirty-seven, folks. I would scorn to leave that kind of money as a tip.

This isn't some amazing run-around here. Nobody had to bend over like a pretzel to make this happen in Austin. We have the cheapest green energy in the United States, and people in the rest of Texas, and America, don't even know that's possible. It's plenty possible. I'm doing it right now. So are IBM and Apple in Austin. You can sign up for it on-line. It's the way forward.

I don't think oil companies are inherently evil. I think oil was a necessary technical step. My own father worked for an oil company. I am a child of the Texan oil industry. Oil put food on my table. Oil bought me my shoes, and put a roof over my head. Oil got me a first- class college education at a first-class oil-supported university. I know what oil looks like. I grew up on the Gulf Coast in the 1950s, when the smog used to rot screens off windows and peel paint off the cars. Oil also gave me a life of education and privilege that made possible the life I enjoy today.

If it hadn't been for my father's Texan oil industry, I probably would have worked in my grandfather's industry instead: ranching and farming. I am a rancher's grandson and an oil man's son. Folks, I know what ranching looks like. I'm up here shaking books and newspapers at you, but I've dug postholes. I've branded cattle. I've strung barbed wire and cut back cedar and croton weed and stinging nettle. I've seen ranchers struggle and suffer with Texas weather, which has always been harsh and punitive, but never like it is today. I fully understand why my Dad spent his youth doing ranch work, and why he left as soon as he could to go to college and work in oil.

But my father is gone now, and both my grandfathers are gone, but Texas is still here. The land of this great state was here before we dug up any oil, and it's gonna be here long, long after we stop. The question is badly do we mistreat it, how badly do we abuse it, how badly do we sell out our kids and betray our heritage in a false loyalty to a dying industry. I'm an oil company kid through and through, but I know what's coming to us if we try to stretch the 20th century into the middle of the 21st. It is unconscionable. I just refuse to do it. No more! I won't cooperate! I won't collaborate!

And most directly to the point: I won't pay.

When my dad went from the farm to the factory, that was part of a huge industrial change that Texas was undergoing. He didn't have to be chased there by force of arms. When we move out of the old smokestacks and into the new sustainable networks, with any kind of luck, nobody much will notice. I've got every kind of grudge against the use of coal and oil. I think it's foul, it's backwards, and it's poisonous. But I got nothing at all against energy companies. On the contrary, I think they're kind of cute. I'm a big fan. I'm here waving pompoms.

My Dad used to work for Amoco Oil. They were good to him, he was a loyal employee. There is no Amoco now. There's a successor company that bought Amoco. It's a global company that's run by a British guy, called "BP." It used to be British Petroleum. There is no more British Petroleum, either. It's just "BP" now. Or, as they like to call themselves, "Beyond Petroleum."

Sometimes I hear from environmental activists who think

these BP guys are kidding when they say that they plan to go "beyond petroleum." When they say that they're the biggest solar company in the world. Because after all, they're oil people. Which can only mean oil then, oil now, oil forever. These critics are wrong. These are guys so used to defeat, so blinkered, that they've forgotten how to recognize a victory. They're fanatical and stodgy, they don't get it. BP is the biggest solar company in the world. BP's gas stations alone are one of the biggest solar markets in the world. BP can be a huge renewables outfit just selling solar to itself.

When you tell certain people this fact of life, they get that stunned look on their face. "But isn't there something incredibly ironic about a gas station running on solar energy?" Who cares? Irony isn't the problem. I'm a novelist: I can give you irony by the truckload, all the irony you can eat. The sky is full of greenhouse gases, it's not full of irony.

I'm not a Greenhouse activist because I despise and fear oil companies. I'm a Greenhouse activist because I'm the adult survivor of a dead oil company. I like the idea of Texan energy companies. I think that people around Fredericksburg ought to be wealthy wind moguls. A guy gets kind of tired of looking at rich oil sheiks for thirty years, it just gets monotonous. They got plenty of sun and sand in the Mideast. Let 'em build solar cells, like we do.

I got one more thing to show you before I leave.

Look at this shirt. See this cool black T-shirt I'm wearing? Like a lot of Austinites, I take my fashion cues from the West Coast. That is why I'm wearing an environmentalist T-shirt from San Francisco. It's from "PlaNetwork," the conference for "Planetary Ecology and Digital Technology." I wish I could stop and explain to you how incredibly hip and with-it this PlaNetwork thing was, but there's just no time. Suffice it to say that Julia Butterfly was there, and Butterfly was knocking 'em dead.

Now look at this other, cool black T-shirt. This is the new BP t-shirt. It goes along with their new ad campaign, the one with the fantastic new green computer logo.

Now, I'm going to change the handsome black T-shirt I'm wearing, for this energy company black T-shirt. I want you to watch me as literally pull the shirt right off my back here, and put on this other one. I want you to tell me if you see any real, substantive difference in the way I look or behave after this experience. I want you folks to tell me if the sudden contradiction is somehow just too much for you. Let me know if your head explodes or anything, okay? (((Speaker changes shirts.)))

Nice shirt, huh?

That's all I have to say, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your kind indulgence.

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