Former Republican Congressman emphasizes free enterprise approach toward climate change

Bob Inglis speaks on his metamorphosis toward climate change in Student Union

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Former U.S. Representative Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) cares about “climate realism,” and he’s going around the country to spread his message.

Inglis spoke to over 30 UB community members in Student Union 210 on Thursday evening. Inglis talked about free enterprise, “high octane conservatism” and his justification for carbon taxes. UB Sustainability and UB’s Young Americans for Liberty chapter, a group which embraces libertarian political values, co-sponsored the speech. Inglis also attended the UB Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter event in O’Brien Hall 112 after his speech in SU.

Inglis served as a U.S. representative in South Carolina from 1993-1999 and again from 2005-2011. The former Republican congressman lost a re-election bid in 2010 during the South Carolina Republican primary. 

Since his loss, the congressman won the  2015 with the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s Profile in Courage Award for his actions on climate change. Currently, Inglis is the executive director of republicEn, an initiative promoting free enterprise solutions for climate change. 

Inglis, currently on a nationwide speaking tour, began the event by polling his audience on their political ideologies and views on climate change. Inglis then started to explain his three “metamorphoses” on climate change, beginning before the 2004 election at the dawn of his second congressional term.

“My son came to me, and he had just turned 18, and said ‘Dad, I will vote for you, but you’re going to clean up your act on the environment,’” Inglis said.“His mother agreed, and his four sisters agreed, too, so could you imagine facing that constituency?”

But their opinions weighed on Inglis, who later took a trip to Antarctica in 2006. He began his second “metamorphoses” to examine the climate research on the southern continent, and he said scientific studies there showed rising carbon dioxide levels starting with the Industrial Revolution. 

Inglis then examined the science behind carbon dioxide releases, and predictions of storms like Hurricane Irma. Inglis said his third “metamorphoses” began with Australian climate scientist Scott Heron, who showed him coral reef bleaching while snorkeling.

“The very tragic thing is by 2050, 90 percent of the earth’s corals [are expected to die] because of this impact with climate change,” Inglis said. “What I saw in Scott, though, was something not just in science but I could tell that he and I shared a view, something like a spiritual awakening. I could see that Scott was worshipping God in what he was showing me, no words spoken.”

After hearing about Heron’s conservation changes he made in his life, Inglis said he was inspired and proposed the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009. The bill proposed lowering payroll taxes and increasing carbon tax starting at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide.

But he said the move did not go well for him and he lost his re-election bid in 2010.

Now, his group republicEn describes itself as “energy optimists” and “climate realists.”

“We’re different from the environmental left. They generally talk about doing less but we talk about more energy, more mobility, more freedom,” Inglis said.

He described his views to “high octane conservatism.” He offered examples of his views through a hypothetical business model that didn’t pay for emissions and recognized higher energy prices “doesn’t sound too good.” Whereas prices do go up, Inglis said carbon taxes would ideally be returned back to the people.

Inglis then asked the audience “what’s missing” around the discussion on climate change. For about 15 minutes, students talked about climate change’s relationship to more “immediate” concerns in life and “apathy” toward the issue. Inglis responded to questions and explained he wants people to pay “the true costs” for their carbon emissions.

Ryan McPherson, chief sustainability officer for UB Sustainability, said Inglis’ speech will help faculty, staff and students from different political backgrounds engage in an important critical dialogue.

“Part of the university’s mission is to think inclusive, and with the word ‘inclusive’ we think of many different ways that word personifies itself,” McPherson said.

“But it’s about being inclusive of solutions and different approaches to what we believe is one of the biggest challenges that this planet, this nation and this university will face with which is climate change. It’s through that exchange of ideas that will get us to the commonality of addressing the problem.”

Nicholas Boulton, a sophomore civil engineering major, is the UB YAF chapter’s secretary. Boulton said when some people talk about climate change, they ask government entities to find solutions.

“What I really like about Inglis’ views, especially being a conservative myself, it’s free enterprise,” Boulton said “It’s up to me, not the government, so they’re not forcibly taking my taxpayer dollars and saying ‘we’re going to do it, we’re going to fix climate change’ but it’s putting the solution in my hands.”

“That’s where I feel like a lot of right-leaning people get a bad rap because they don’t care about, but I think it’s everyone’s individual responsibility. So anytime you can pick up a piece of trash, or turn off a light switch, do it, because that puts things in your hands and after all, it’s our planet.”

Benjamin Blanchet is a senior features editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com and @BenjaminUBSpec.