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. In Part 3, I finished that story and then explained how conservative energy policy morphed into what it is today. Now, it’s time to look at ways to bring US conservatives back to the alternative fuels table.
How To Get US Conservatives Back To The Table
One of the big things to keep in mind is that you’re not going to have much luck selling clean technologies to this crowd from an environmental angle. Some of the younger people who aren’t completely solidified in the fundamentalism might be receptive (and that’s a good sign for the future), but anybody older than about 25 who’s been stewing in that belief system just isn’t very likely at all to budge on this point unless something big comes along and whacks them in the head.
In other words, you’re not going to convince many people that climate change is real, bad, and not a sign that Jesus is coming back. Don’t waste your time trying to change their minds on that if that’s what they believe.
One thing you can do is politely remind them that alternative fuels were once cool. As the book Verbal Judo points out, telling people “I told you so!” makes them fight you to save face. Instead, take a gentle approach. Something like, “Hey, honest question. I remember that conservatives used to like alternative energy a few years ago. George Bush even signed the EV tax credits. What happened?”
If they can honestly answer that question, you’re giving them an opportunity to explore their belief system on their own terms and explain it to a curious and friendly outsider (you). Take whatever explanation they give you politely, and see if there’s anything else as a friend you can do to help them find the path out, but only on this one issue.
And that’s a big key: don’t expect a full ideological reversal out of a committed conservative. It’s not right or fair to expect that out of a person. Many, many Tesla owners are conservatives, but they kept the rest of their belief system, and will continue to do that no matter what you tell them. You can’t try to enforce ideological purity on everyone who agrees with you on anything. To treat people like that could lead to chasing people away. Let people feel like it’s safe to switch stances on one or two things without feeling like they’re being invited onto a slippery slope.
As far “left” as I’ve moved on most things, long-time and frequent readers probably know that I’m still big on guns, despite leaving most of conservatism behind. I’m not the only CleanTechnica reader who’s like that, either. We need every hand on deck (even cold, dead ones like mine) if we’re going to tackle climate change and accelerate the transition to sustainable energy.
For the next point, you have to go back to 2004-2006. If you’re one of the people who was driving a Prius in those days, I’m truly sorry because I might have flipped you off. It’s nothing personal, and I don’t feel that way anymore, but your car represented something dangerous trying to creep into my life. The watermelon commies (green on the outside, red on the inside) wanted to take my Chevy Trailblazer away and make me drive an ugly “penalty box.”
Instead of trying to get people to make a sacrifice for the common good, do what Tesla did. Make renewable energy cool. Make electric cars status symbols, and a sign that the driver is cool, instead of making them a sign that you’re a proud member of the proletariat, happy to drive a humble and ugly vehicle that helps with the greater good. Make having solar panels on the roof a symbol of pride in one’s home and care for their family instead of a symbol of ideology. At the very least, make these technologies something a normal person would do, something that blends in like a Tesla solar roof or the upcoming Electric F-150 Lightning.
Also, don’t be afraid to appeal to selfishness. Even the most wild of fundamentalists who wants to see the world burn doesn’t want their family to be in the flames. They want to see their family survive Armageddon, and may even be the stereotypical “doomsday prepper” (I’m still guilty of that one, too). Having solar panels on your roof, a big bank of batteries, and an electric car (or, better yet, something that looks like an effing tank — the Cybertruck) is a great way to help the prepper’s family keep the lights on and the AC and heat going for the wife and kids, even if the rest of the world loses power. In other words, if someone likes to watch out for “numero uno” (them and theirs), personalize the argument and appeal to that instead of chastising them for being selfish.
You may be completely ideologically opposed to things like cool cars, doomsday prepping, and conservatism in general, but it doesn’t matter what someone’s motivations were. Every roof that gets solar, every car that goes electric, and every bank of batteries storing liquid sunlight for the night is still a win. The planet isn’t going to make a doomsday prepper’s carbon reductions count for less than yours did, so don’t worry about it. (and, if you have a Tesla referral code, go donate the $100 referral check to the climate activist organization of your choice if that makes you feel better)
Most importantly, be nice. You have no idea who will change their minds later, and what people are going through living with that belief system between them and the world. When you fight them for what they believe in, you’re actually teaching them that their ideological opponents are the baddies their pastor or president says you are. When you’re nice to them, you’re helping to prove them wrong.
I remember talking to a lady when I was in college who was a stereotypical “libtard,” with two Prius’ in the driveway, each covered in bumper stickers about politics, wars, and environmentalism. I was at her house to help her with a computer problem (one of my jobs in college). I didn’t do anything to bring politics up (because that would have been unprofessional), but I noticed that she had some black and white negatives on one of her desks, and I was taking a photography class at the time. We got to talking about photography for almost an hour, and she ended up giving me an extra piece of camera gear she no longer needed.
I learned that day that the people in the Prius weren’t bad people. Yeah, I probably should have already known that, but living in an insular ideological system can keep people from knowing things that they should know.
Just be a human, and, even if it doesn’t start today, they’ll eventually figure out to treat you like a human back and get to where you can talk to them about these kinds of things.
Featured image: John Trumbull’s 1819 painting, Declaration of Independence, depicts the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Second Continental Congress. Public Domain.
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