What My Departure From Conservatism Can Teach Us About Getting Conservative Support For Climate Policy (Part 3: Leaving Conservatism, How Conservative Energy Policy Became What It Is Today)

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In part 1, I shared a bit of what it was like growing up in a rural conservative family, and what it was like experiencing the 9/11 attacks from that perspective. In part 2, I started to share how that impacted our views on energy policy for the next decade. Then, I started to share how my belief system started to crack and fall apart.

Now, I’m going to share the rest of that story and some things we can learn from it, followed by how conservative energy policy changed into what it is today.

On top of the religious contradictions I discussed at the end of the last article, I was increasingly struggling with living in the closet — the same closet that the Mormons were firing blindly into with Prop 8. Not only was I grappling with being bisexual, but I was also hiding that I am intersex. Seeing people express such hatred for people like me really hurt, and learning that I had been brought up in a belief system and politics that were full of liars and hypocrites, was devastating to me. People and institutions that I had trusted for as long as I remember frequently brought me to tears. It was a big betrayal I had experienced, and one time when I was on a camping trip and driving on a mountain road, it all came down at once when the second verse of Apologize by One Republic played on my Chevy’s stereo.

I’d take another chance, take a fall, take a shot for you.
I need you like a heart needs a beat, but it’s nothing new.
I loved you with a fire red, now it’s turning blue, and you say,
“Sorry.” like an angel heaven let me think it was you.
But I’m afraid — It’s too late to apologize. It’s too late!
I said, it’s too late to apologize. It’s too late!

Leaving my childhood religion and belief system was one of the hardest things I ever did. Part of that was coming out of the closet, leaving a “straight” marriage that just wasn’t a good fit for me, and rebuilding my life on my own terms. As I grew to be more of an individual and less of a follower, I became more of a political independent and not a libertarian.

Going through all of these changes was so hard it almost killed me, but having grown up in the conservative ideological environment helps me to understand it better today, and I hope that sharing these perspectives can help do some good in the world.

The big point of sharing all this is to show how hard it can be to leave a belief system that spans religion, politics, family, and one’s earliest memories. As I’ll point out in the next section, it’s not an uncommon thing.

Drill, Baby, Drill! Energy Independence Achieved, No Need For Alternative Fuels

I departed conservatism right when they had the most in common with environmentalists on clean energy. At that time, alternative fuels (including wind and solar electricity) had bipartisan support, but for wildly different reasons. Liberals tended to support alternative fuels for environmental reasons, while conservatives tended to support them for national security reasons, or, in some cases, because they wanted to stick it to the “rag heads” who “hate us because we’re free.”

Things changed in the following years, though. Instead of doing something like the Pickens Plan to reduce the use of foreign oil, the US took a very different direction: increasing production massively, while also reducing consumption. US oil imports peaked in 2006, and then exports were even allowed. This led to negative net imports by 2017.

Graph of US oil imports, exports, and net imports from 1975 to 2017. Graph by ergzay CC-BY-SA 4.0.

This is where the conservative and liberal goals for alternative fuels led to disagreement cropping up again. For conservatives, the mission is accomplished. It’s widely known that the US is no longer reliant on foreign producers for energy, and is even a net exporter. There’s no need to curtain fossil fuel consumption now, so they’ve abandoned support for alternative fuels, and even work against them to support fossil fuel companies.

It’s now even OK to increase consumption (something US oil companies would really like to see, as consumption dropped massively last year after tapering off for two years before that). They’re pushing for more and more production, and want more pipelines with Canada, a country that’s stable and mostly white.

Now that they’re not needed, it’s perfectly cool to tell lies about alternative fuels to get rid of them (or, it’s cool to believe those lies). Wind turbines got the blame for people freezing to death in Texas, and they cause cancer, too. Electric vehicles are toys for the rich, and aren’t good for the environment anyway. Not only is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere not harmful, but it’s good for plants!

Who Cares? We’re All Gonna Die Anyway.

Underlying most of this is a general feeling that God wouldn’t have provided us with fossil fuels if they were bad for us, or that the end of the world is coming, so it really doesn’t matter that much. There’s also some who believe that making things worse is actually a good idea, because it will make Jesus come back faster, so climate change is actually good.

This isn’t really a fringe belief in the United States, either. As Knowing Better points out, there are over 100,000,000 Americans who want to see the world end in their lifetime because they think the survivors that believe as they do will end up winning in some way. 49% of Americans (150,000,000 people) believe that climate change is what the Bible describes as “the end times”.

The embedded video below is set to start at the relevant part, but the whole thing is interesting to watch, as is his video about Mormonism (which was very fair and truthful about the faith).

Getting these deeply religious and apocalyptic conservatives to change their minds on these positions will leave them feeling like they’re risking missing out on something they’ve been waiting on their whole lives. If they feel like they’re betraying their beliefs, they may even feel like they’re risking eternal hell fire and damnation, which can lead to mental health struggles. You can read a lot more about that here.

Now that we know the various reasons why they stopped being cool with alternative fuels (and may even want to see the world burn), we can start to come up with ideas on how to get them to come back to it. Continue to Part 4 to see some of my suggestions on how to better reach conservatives on this.

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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 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba