What My Leaving Conservatism Can Tell Us About Getting Conservative Support For Climate Policy (Part 4: Reaching Out To The Conservatives)


In the first part, I shared a bit of what it was like to grow up in a rural conservative family and what it was like to experience the 9/11 attacks from that perspective. In Part 2, I started to share how this 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 Three, I finished this story and then explained how conservative energy policy evolved into what it is today. Now it’s time to look for ways to bring America’s conservatives back to the alternative fuels table.

How to bring the American conservatives back to the table

One of the great things to keep in mind is that you won’t have much luck selling clean tech to this crowd from an environmental perspective. Some of the young people who are not fully entrenched in fundamentalism may be receptive (and this is a good sign for the future), but anyone over the age of 25 who has been simmering in this belief system is simply not not at all likely to move on this point unless something big comes along and hits them in the head.

In other words, you’re not going to convince a lot of people that climate change is real, bad, and not a sign of Jesus’ return. Don’t waste your time trying to get them to change their minds if that’s what they believe.

One thing you can do is politely remind them that alternative fuels were once cool. Like the book Verbal judo points out, telling people “I told you!” Makes them fight you to save face. Instead, take a gentle approach. Something like, “Hey, honest question. I remember the Conservatives liked alternative energy a few years ago. George Bush even signed the tax credits for electric vehicles. What happened?”

If they can answer this question honestly, you give them the opportunity to explore their belief system on their own terms and explain it to a curious and friendly stranger (you). Take any explanation they politely give you and see if there is anything else as a friend that you can do to help them find the way forward, but just on that one issue.

And that’s a big key: don’t expect a complete ideological overthrow from a committed conservative. It is neither fair nor fair to expect this from a person. Many, many Tesla owners are conservatives, but they have kept the rest of their belief system and will continue to do so no matter what you tell them. You cannot try to impose ideological purity on everyone who agrees with you on anything. Treating people like this could lead to them being driven out. Let people feel like they can safely change positions on a thing or two without feeling like they’re invited down a slippery slope.

As far as I’ve moved on most things, longtime and frequent readers probably know that I’m still a big gun lover, even though I’ve left most of the conservatism behind. I’m not the only one CleanTechnica reader who is like that either. We need all hands on the bridge (even cold and dead like mine) if we are to tackle climate change and accelerate the transition to sustainable energy.

For the next point, we have to go back to 2004-2006. If you were one of those who drove a Prius back then, I’m so sorry because maybe I confused you. It’s nothing personal, and I don’t feel it anymore, but your car was 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 and have me drive a nasty “penalty box”.

Instead of trying to get people to make a sacrifice for the common good, do what Tesla did. Make renewable energies cool. Make electric cars status symbols and a sign that the driver is cool, instead of making it a sign that you are a proud member of the proletariat, happy to drive a humble and ugly vehicle that contributes to the greater good. Make having solar panels on the roof a symbol of pride in your home and caring for your family instead of a symbol of ideology. At the very least, make these technologies something a normal person would, something that fits like a Tesla solar roof or the upcoming Electric F-150 Lightning.

Also, don’t be afraid to appeal to selfishness. Even the wildest fundamentalist who wants to see the world burn down doesn’t want his family in flames. They want to see their families survive Armageddon, and may even be the stereotypical “doomsday plaster” (I’m still guilty of that one too). Having solar panels on your roof, a large battery bank, 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. lights and air conditioning and heat for the wife and children, even if the rest of the world is losing electricity. In other words, if someone likes to pay attention to the “numero uno” (him and theirs), personalize the argument and appeal to that instead of berating him for his selfishness.

You can be completely ideologically opposed to things like cool cars, the preparation for the apocalypse, and conservatism in general, but it doesn’t matter what someone’s motivations are. Every roof that receives solar power, every car that switches to electricity, and every battery bank storing liquid sunlight for the night is always a victory. The planet won’t make an apocalyptic prepper’s carbon cuts matter less than yours, so don’t worry. (and, if you have a Tesla referral code, donate the $ 100 referral check to the climate activist organization of your choice if that’s reassured)

Most importantly, be nice. You have no idea who will change their mind later and what people go through living with this belief system between themselves and the world. When you fight them for what they believe in, you are actually teaching them that their ideological opponents are the bad guys their pastor or president says you are. When you are kind to them, you help prove them wrong.

I remember talking to a lady when I was in college who was a stereotypical “libtard,” with two Priuses in the aisle, each covered in stickers on politics, wars, and the environment. 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 up politics (as it wouldn’t have been professional), but I noticed she had black and white negatives on one of her desks, and I was taking a photography class at the time. We talked about photography for almost an hour and she ended up giving me an extra camera that she no longer needed.

I learned that day that the people in the Prius weren’t bad people. Yes, I probably should have known by now, but living in an island ideological system can prevent people from knowing things they should know.

Just be a human, and, even if it doesn’t start today, they’ll eventually understand that they’ll treat you like a human and get to where you can talk to them about this stuff.

Featured Image: John Trumbull’s 1819 painting, Declaration of Independence, shows the five men on the Editorial Board of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Second Continental Congress. Public domain.

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