As I left the Greater Columbus Convention Center after attending the T. Boone Pickens town-hall event, I caught part of a conversation of two people outside the building, talking as they smoked. One of them was speaking rapidly and with agitation. I listened as I stopped to tie one of my shoes.

“Be green! Kill yourself and lay dead in the street. That’s being green. Be dead, then you’re green…”

I didn’t ask him what he meant by that. But as I walked away, I associated his remark with people thinking that environmentalists are so rigid and extreme in our positions that, if we had the chance, we would make it impossible for anyone, including ourselves, to enjoy life.

If we had the chance, we environmentalists would destroy individual liberties! We’d destroy the economy, national security, and sovereignty of the United States, along with Western Civilization ! And with our big, totalitarian, green world government we’d have a green-clad and jack-booted guard at every light switch in every home!

Sure, most of the people turned off by environmentalists aren’t that extreme in their opposition. Also, the guy ranting outside the convention center of course doesn’t represent all of the approximately 900 people who attended the Pickens town-hall event.

But my hunch is that T. Boone Pickens is bringing renewable energy to the attention of people who may not otherwise be concerned. There is a segment in our society who, like the guy ranting outside the convention center, generally are more interested in what an energy tycoon has to say than in what an environmental activist or liberal politician has to say about energy security and the environment, or about anything else for that matter.

To this segment of society, T. Boone Pickens, and even Michael Morris of AEP who joined Mr. Pickens for the event at the convention center, seem to have more credibility than Al Gore, or, say, Robert Kennedy Jr.

The guy ranting outside the convention center after the Pickens town-hall event said to the person next to him “It’s amazing we need an 80-year-old man to talk some sense to us.”

I am not a mind-reader, so I don’t actually know what the person standing outside the convention center meant, but I will take a guess. He may have meant that Pickens is offering America a way to address its energy issues without having to go down the path that the ‘nut-job environmentalists’ propose.

The Pickens Plan calls for using wind and solar power to produce about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity while using compressed natural gas to fuel a portion of our nation’s heavy commercial vehicles.

Since announcing the Pickens Plan in July of 2008, he has been using the mainstream corporate media to communicate to Americans about the need to invest heavily into wind and solar power.

Many people have been saying that investing in renewable energy is good for the economy and national security of the United States, but a segment of our society hasn’t listened because they have written such people off as liberal academic types or as liberal figures such as Al Gore pushing some sort of hidden agenda.

But now Pickens is traveling the country with a message about the importance of renewable energy. His message is not the same as that of many environmentalists, but it is similar enough to perhaps significantly increase public support for renewable energy.

In one of his television ads, the oil and natural gas industry tycoon says, as he looks into the camera “this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.” This contrasts with the “Drill, baby, drill” catchphrase used during the Republican National Convention 7 months ago. Pickens also acknowledges publicly that world oil production peaked in 2005.

But Pickens is not an environmentalist. He is, for the most part, not talking about the melting of glaciers, the spreading of deserts or the drawdown of aquifers. He is, to my knowledge, not talking about the merits of local and organic food or of being a vegan.

His talk about wind and solar seems genuine, but its part of his advocacy of the ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to energy security we heard about during the McCain-Obama debates. That approach involves building more nuclear power plants in the United States.

Having said all of this and despite the fact that , on some occasions , he has seemed to try to set himself apart from some environmentalists, here is perhaps something to think about. If people who don’t like environmentalism are paying attention to his talk about “getting America off of foreign oil” they may develop, perhaps unintentionally, sentiments and civic commitments compatible with those of environmentalists.

Support for wind and solar could perhaps be an area of common ground for progressives and conservatives. Whether or not the people Pickens may draw into this cause call themselves environmentalists may be beside the point. There is a time and place for pragmatism. This may be one of them.

Though Pickens isn’t an environmentalist as the term is currently understood, he is working with those who are, such as Al Gore and Carl Pope of the Sierra Club. Romanticizing Pickens is not the objective here. But the fact that he has a conservative track record is significant. The people who have tuned out, dismissed, and disparaged Al Gore and other environmentalists may be less prone to attacking the messenger in this case.

Having Pickens traveling the country and the mainstream media circles means that someone who is not a liberal is actually talking seriously about wind and solar power. Having said this though, it remains to be seen how many conservative Americans will digest his alternative and renewable energy message or at least consider it.

Some conservative Americans may dismiss Pickens’ message about energy, in light of his association with targets for conservative ire. On February 23, 2009, Pickens joined former President Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore and environmental and labor leaders for a forum on clean energy that the Center for American Progress sponsored.

My guess is that even as people such as Pickens advocate on behalf of renewable energy, there still will be, at least to some extent, a receptive audience for people such as Christopher Horner who claimed in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming (and environmentalism) that environmentalism is just a cover for communism. According to Horner, environmentalists are like water-melons: “green on the outside, red to the core.”

Despite Pickens’ prominent championing of energy security, people such as Alan Caruba of the National Anxiety Center may still have an audience. Caruba claimed in a 2007 article that “Global warming is the mask, the charade, the Big Lie by which the destruction of the United States of America is being advanced.”

And there may continue to be avid listeners to the radio personality, Mark Levin, who said during one of his shows that environmentalism amounts to “the West slitting its own throat (economically and politically).”

But because Pickens is not Al Gore or Robert Kennedy Jr, but is instead, an energy tycoon with a history of ties to conservatives, his publicity campaign for the Pickens Plan may help to take away some of the credibility of the opponents of environmentalism, in addition to creating areas for common ground for progressives and conservatives.

Sure, I venture that there are likely to be some people whose concern about US dependence on imported oil never leads them to being concerned about Climate Change, water security, top-soil depletion, the loss of biodiversity, or other ecological concerns.

But my guess is that some of the people who are now starting to pay attention to energy security because Pickens’ publicity campaign, will at some point, by force of reason, take a broader interest in how our society and the world uses its natural resources.

Pickens’ conservative track record shouldn’t prevent progressives from working with him on energy security and environmental issues. Speaking of my own life, I am willing to, for example, work with someone on the goal of promoting local food, while she or he may disagree with me on issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem-cell research.