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Featured image: President George W. Bush speaks to a joint session of Congress after the 9/11 attacks. White House photo (public domain)

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What My Departure From Conservatism Can Teach Us About Getting Conservative Support For Climate Policy (Part 1: Growing Up In A Rural Conservative Family, Disaster Strikes)

In this series of articles, I’m going to try to put readers in some of the most conservative shoes to walk a mile, so they can understand what motivates conservative beliefs on clean technology. These shoes may be uncomfortable for some readers, and I totally get that, because I don’t wear them anymore, myself (and I’m going to share some very personal things about taking those shoes off). But, knowing more about conservatives and clean energy can help us better communicate and cooperate with them as we tackle climate change.

Growing Up In A Rural Conservative Family

Let’s start by talking about what it was like growing up.

When I was in high school, I was one of the few super-commuters under the age of 18. Most teenagers going to high school only go a handful of miles, but I drove about 40 miles to school every morning and 40 miles back in the afternoon. There was a closer school that offered bus service, but the buses went 40 minutes away (in a different direction) to a school most parents didn’t want to send their kids to. To avoid this, my parents got permission to send us to a different school district, and once I got my license and a bit of experience, I made the drive every day.

This whole thing may sound very unusual to most readers, even in the States, but rural life can be quite different from what most of us are used to. Today, it’s estimated that over 80% of US residents live in a city, but if you’re part of that other 20%, it’s often a whole different way of life. I grew up with more coyotes and rattlesnakes for neighbors than humans. We were all outnumbered by cows and rabbits.

This is the area I grew up in, and as a kid I’d often take long walks out in the desert, often armed with a paintball gun. Image from Google Maps.

Toward the end of high school, I started a job, and met the official definition of a super-commuter — I lived in one area and drove out to a completely different area to work. To me, going that far every day was completely normal, and in college, I’d often drive 100 miles just to go hang out with old friends after we moved because a long drive just wasn’t a big deal.

Sometimes my parents would get nervous about the distances when I was in high school. If we didn’t answer the old Motorola flip-phone after school, there’d be not only hell to pay later, but a long story about how they were afraid we were dead in a ditch, they were thinking of calling the Sheriff, and all of that. So, my sister and I had to keep in the habit of keeping the phone’s sound on whenever we were driving to school or coming back (and turning it off when we arrived for school in the small city we drove to).

Keeping the car fueled up was another challenge at times. My dad preferred large trucks and SUVs, but when it came time to get us a car for commuting, he got something efficient so he wouldn’t be buying 8 gallons of fuel a day at $3 a gallon. Cutting that fuel bill more than in half with a small sedan, and telling me to keep it under 70 MPH because there wasn’t an overdrive gear, was the solution. If I had listened to him about that last part more, we would have used less fuel and I wouldn’t have had to put my own money into the tank to hide the fact that I tended to spend a lot of time above 70.

We didn’t want to save fuel for the environment, but we sure didn’t want to spend more money on it than we had to, but within reason. My dad could have bought me a 3-cylinder Geo Metro, but fortunately, he did not (mostly because I didn’t know how to drive a manual back then).

The End Of The World

Every morning, our road to school went through a desert canyon, with mountains on either side.  There was bad radio propagation for every kind of service down in there. Radio stations? Nope. Cellphone? Also, nope, but for longer. It was only for a couple of miles, but going through the dead zone was a normal part of every day. When we got to the top of the canyon one September morning, we heard the music we were used to get interrupted, and the DJ of our favorite pop station said there was a special news announcement just before the signal went to static. For those couple of miles, we talked about how it was unusual, but probably nothing.

When we came out the other side, the whole station’s audio had been switched to some news station, talking about an airliner that had hit a building in New York, a crashed plane somewhere in Pennsylvania, rumors of car bombs everywhere, evacuations, and more. That’s when the phone rang, with my frantic mom on the other end telling us to turn around and come home, but only after she was done freaking out about us not answering the phone for the last several minutes. She forgave us, of course, because she knew the canyon kills cell signals (and does to this day).

When we got back, my dad had me help him load as many safe fuel containers (we had a number of them on hand for different types of construction and yard equipment) as we could find in the back of his van, and we ran to the gas station to fill them all, plus the van. We got in, buckled our belts, and my dad popped the cylinder on his revolver open to make sure it had six good shots in it, before putting it back away, and away we went. The gas station had changed their typical music out for a news station, too, telling the horror stories coming out of New York, DC, and Pennsylvania. It turned out to be good for business, because we took two more trips to the station to fill every vehicle in the household up, including mine.

Of course, many people felt silly later for running on the gas stations, and we didn’t need the revolver for anything that day, but most people had no idea what to expect after a big emergency in those days. We didn’t live in a place that got earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or anything else, and it seemed like the end of the world was upon us. Was this just the first wave in a greater attack? Was a war starting? Would this turn into a nuclear engagement and Armageddon? We just didn’t know, and had no way to know. It sure as hell wasn’t silly to us.

I also grew up in a religion that was often concerned with “The Last Days.” Sure, the big bad things happening at the end are frightening, but it’s something you might be able to survive through and then see Jesus come back and set everything right. But for now, we were scared about the part between then and everything getting better, and thought we were up against those endtimes.

In part 2, I’m going to share how this experience, combined with other things in our background, shaped our views on energy policy for the next decade.

Featured image: President George W. Bush speaks to a joint session of Congress after the 9/11 attacks. White House photo (public domain)

 
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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba

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