How the Oil Industry Used the Tea Party in Cancun How the Oil Industry Used the Tea Party in Cancun
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How the Oil Industry Used the Tea Party in Cancun

by Ben Jervey

January 6, 2011
A front page Washington Post article from Friday searches for the soul—and future—of the Tea Party as corporate and Beltway-insider interests pick up the brand. While telling the story of two-year Tea Party veteran organizer Gena Bell's trip to the Cancun climate talks, it shows how blatantly the movement's brand has been hijacked by fossil fuel industry plutocrats. Bell was invited to Cancun by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Industry-backed Tea Party underwriter that regularly denies climate science and publicly ridicules environmental ethics.

Bell had hoped to learn from the experience in Cancun, but, after being dressed up and shuttled around and posed in front of a camera, "felt like a prop for Americans for Prosperity."

That the Tea Party is becoming a puppet for rich oil barons isn't exactly a new revelation, but the article also highlights a fascinating—and not often enough discussed—paradox between the self-sufficiency ideals of the Tea Party and its knee-jerk contempt for conservation and environmentalism. Check out this exchange:

Bell's pique grew when Phillips shot another video belittling an exhibit that showed what an energy-efficient home might look like in the future: a small refrigerator, a low-flow shower heads and a clothes-washing basin that directed used water into a garden.

Phillips made fun of the model home's five-gallon water heater. "Good luck with that - I've got three teenagers!" he said to the camera.

"I'm not on board with this," Bell told Thomas. "Ed and I looked into that when we were looking at moving to Colorado."

In fact, Bell and her husband had a fantasy to move to Colorado, "live off the land—and off the grid," with solar panels on the roof and a tankless water heater. These are the same sensible, conservation-minded ideals that rich fossil fuel magnates like to belittle as being hippie or fringe or "un-American."

I've always said that distributed generation of solar energy should be any libertarian's dream. What's more Tea Party than disconnecting from the big utilities and producing your own power?

It's worth remembering that the fossil fuel interests that have wrapped themselves in Tea Party clothing don't really believe in liberty or self-sufficiency. They just want the right to pollute and sell you the dirty energy. True libertarians would get behind renewable, distributed energy.

You can also watch a video of Gena Bell's trip to Cancun here. Above image (which itself is worth a good, thorough examination) courtesy of AlterNet.

Ben Jervey More Info

Ben is a writer and editor covering climate change, energy, and environment, and is currently the Climate and Energy Media Fellow at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor at GOOD Magazine and his work has appeared regularly in National Geographic News, Grist, DeSmogBlog, and OnEarth. He recently worked with the non-profit Focus the Nation to publish an Energy 101 primer. When living in New York City, he wrote a book, The Big Green Apple, on how to live a lower impact life in the city. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.
Some recent articles by Ben Jervey:
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How the Oil Industry Used the Tea Party in Cancun