What My Departure From Conservatism Can Teach Us About Getting Conservative Support For Climate Policy (Part 2: Energy Insecurity Leads To Support for Alternative Fuels, I Look For The Exit)

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In part 1, I shared a little about what my childhood was like, and then shared what it was like to see 9/11 from where we were sitting. Now, I’m going to talk about how that shaped our views of energy policy, and share a bit about why I ended up leaving fundamentalist Christianity.

Energy Insecurity

That frightening feeling is what led to years of a feeling of energy insecurity in the United States. The war in Afghanistan started just under a month later, and it didn’t seem to be long later that the Iraq War started. Gas prices fluctuated, and politicians would talk about a need for the US to achieve energy independence from the Middle East to be secure.

That’s when alternative fuels started to be an important thing for conservatives. Switching away from gasoline wasn’t something you did to be a hippy or because gasoline was bad for the environment. The world was probably going to end in a few years anyway once these wars got out of hand, so it didn’t matter that much. The real reason to switch to something like ethanol, propane, natural gas, or electric was to stick it to those terrorists who hated us for our freedom.

Using less gas was patriotic — assuming you didn’t accomplish that by doing something a lefty would do, like buy a Prius (we flipped those pretentious jerks off from time to time) or become a cyclist — something that’s far worse than being in a Prius or a doofy Honda hybrid. Plus, with the distances involved, bikes were for fun on the flood control berms, not for serious transportation.

I was the odd one out in the family who had a small car, but it was somewhat cool and sporty instead of being a doofy hybrid, so that was OK. I still got a lot of questions from people at church asking me why I didn’t just get a real car with a V8 instead of a “little” V6 Fiero. “You should switch to something with a real sports car persona, like a Firebird.” one man said.

To help achieve American energy independence, it was acceptable to switch to other fuels (but only as long as you continue conspicuous consumption).

Common Ground In The 2000s

In 2008, we had a new topic to discuss at the dinner table on Sundays: The Pickens Plan. Unlike many other alternative fuel proposals, this one had the backing of a significant conservative figure.

Today, Republicans openly tell lies about wind power to rile their base up against renewables. For example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott blamed energy shortfalls on frozen wind turbines, when plants of all kinds were freezing up due to a lack of winterization (something they should have figured out in 2011). Idiots like Donald Trump have even gone as far as to try to say that wind turbines cause cancer.

That wasn’t the tone Republicans were taking 13 years ago, though. The Pickens Plan (which gained a lot of bipartisan support, but didn’t end up going anywhere) called for a truly massive burst of wind turbine construction. The idea was to divert electricity generation away from natural gas, and then convert vehicles (especially medium and heavy duty trucks) to burn natural gas instead of gasoline. That plan (assuming none of its hangups were a problem) would have supposedly cut US oil imports significantly.

Keep in mind that the current EV tax credit system was set up under Republican President George W. Bush, as well as a prior tax credit for hybrids (which expired in 2010), with a lot of Republican support.

The motivations for supporting alternative fuels, renewables, and other reforms got conservative support for very different reasons (energy security, less dependence on oil from Southwest Asia) than it got support from liberals (environmental concerns, etc), but the support was there, and now it is not.

So, the real question we need to answer is, why? Why are most conservatives so hostile to renewables today, when they were supporters not too long ago?

My Departure From Conservatism Happened About This Time

Before I can get to answering that, I do want to point out to readers that I’m no longer a conservative, and haven’t been one since 2007. I don’t hate conservatives, and I still have a great relationship with my conservative family (who really are good people), but I no longer share most of those beliefs.

I want to briefly share the story of my exit from that ideology to help readers better understand that there really are paths out of that kind of thinking, and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In fact, respecting the other beliefs and practices of conservatives who choose to embrace renewables (or choose to evolve for the better in any other way) is a big key to that even happening.

It’s difficult to leave a belief system, and it often requires that something drastic happens. In my case, it was gradual at first, and then happened all at once.

A meme showing the hypocrisy of conservative views on small government, something that libertarianism doesn’t tend to share (but sometimes does). (fair use, commentary/satire)

One big catalyst for change in my life was learning about libertarians, especially Ron Paul. I know many liberals think libertarianism is like conservatism on steroids, but it differs from conservatism in many key ways. I can’t explore them all here (it’s both too big of a topic and not relevant to CleanTechnica), but the big thing is that some libertarian stances match what conservatives claim to believe in, but don’t really apply in practice. For example, conservatives tell us that they believe in small government, but have no problem with big government when it comes to doing things they want it to do (as the meme I put in this section illustrates).

Libertarians, on the other hand, actually believe in small government a lot more often (but still not always). Because I was raised to believe in small government (it was literally a tenet of the Mormon religion I grew up in), it was a natural fit to actually try to truly follow those beliefs and not abandon them whenever it seemed politically expedient. Moving toward libertarianism was the first big crack in the wall of my conservative belief system.

A bigger crisis of faith happened in 2008, when Mormons (along with other religious and conservative groups) backed Prop 8 and similar proposals in other states. I remember hearing family make a big deal of their support for it, and even heard that Mormon leaders had called on wealthier members of their congregations to make specific contributions to efforts to get Arizona’s version of Prop 8 passed.

From a Mormon belief perspective, it was in direct contradiction to a Mormon scripture that says, “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.” Seeing that really got me open to the idea that religious and conservative leaders just might be wrong (which is a hard thing to get a believer to accept).

In Part 3, I’m going to share some more personal things that led to me leaving the conservative scene completely, and then start taking a look at what we can learn from my bad experiences.

Featured image: An F-14 flies over burning lakes of oil during the Gulf War. Military photo, public domain.

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Jennifer Sensiba

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 get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1774 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba