Q&A with former S.C. Congressman Bob Inglis

Republican is one of few conservatives who believes in climate change

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Former congressman Bob Inglis travels the country trying to convince other conservative lawmakers to believe in climate change. Inglis is the executive director of republicEn, a grassroots community of over 5,800 Americans educating the country about free-enterprise solutions to climate change.

Ahead of his town hall meeting in the Student Union on Thursday evening, he sat down with The Spectrum to answer some questions about his political career and republicEn’s mission. 

Q: How did your journey to activism start? Were you always a climate change believer, or did you start out as a skeptic?

A: During my first six years in congress, I said climate change was nonsense. I didn’t know anything about it except Al Gore was for it. I represented a very red district in South Carolina, but I admit now that I was very ignorant to take that point of view. For six years that’s how it was, then I was out doing commercial real estate law for six years, and then I ran for congress again in ’04. My son came to me, he had just turned 18 and said ‘Dad, I’ll vote for you, but you’re going to clean up your act on the environment.’ That was the first step of a three-step metamorphous for me. The second step was going to Antarctica with the Science Committee and seeing the evidence and ice core drillings [in person]. The third step was another Science Committee trip and something of a spiritual awakening with an Aussie climate scientists showing me coral bleaching … He taught me about conservation changes he was making in his life. You know, he loved God, loved people, rides his bike to work, tries to do without the electric dryer, tries to do without air conditioning in Townsville, Australia, which is a pretty hot place. 

Q: Has publicizing your belief in climate change hurt your political career?

A: [My time in Australia] inspired me to be like [the scientist] I spoke with, so I came home and introduced the Raise Wages Cut Carbon Act of 2009, which is an alternative to cap and trade –– a market-based approach to controlling pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants. It’s a revenue neutral, border adjustable carbon tax and it got me in a fair bit of trouble. So I got tossed out in a Republican primary for that and some other heresies, but my most enduring heresy was saying that climate change is real and we need to do something about it. I was a little bit of a zoo animal, an actual conservative who says climate change is real. [In 2011, I started republicEn] and have been speaking for the cause ever since. 

Q: Tell me a little bit about rebulicEn, what are you trying to accomplish on this year’s tour?

A: We’re conservatives trying to convince conservatives to step up on climate change. To engage, to stop shrinking in science denial. We think that conservatives have an undeserved inferiority complex when it comes to climate change. Apparently, we think we’re no good. And so we live to convince [other Republicans] that they know the answer and the answer is to put all the cost in on all the fuels, eliminate all the subsides, make it so the free enterprise system can then deliver innovation. The problem right now is that fossil fuels aren’t accountable. [A company] can belch and burn and into the trash dump of the sky without paying any tipping fee for the space I’m taking up in the dump of the sky. In the city dump, if you’re a trash hauler, you have to pay for the space you take up. Each time you dump you have to pay for the space. For this trash dump of the sky, not so. There’s no price on that, there’s no accountability. What we live to say at republicEn.org is that if you just simply brought that accountability, then the free enterprise system could deliver innovation because coal, fire and electricity for example, would be brought into account for all the damages they cause from burning fossil fuels. Then you wouldn’t need wind subsidies or solar subsidies, they’d all be on a level playing field and they’d all be competing. Innovation would come fast … energy will become revolutionized if free enterprise can start delivering distributed energy systems. Most likely, collecting solar power on our roofs, storing it in batteries in our garages, running our cars off of it and, selling those systems around the world so that dark places right now could be lit up at night and dark places that fester with terrorism right now turn into places of hope and opportunity because they have energy. 

Q: Many people think conservative lawmakers don’t believe in climate change or global warming. What do you say in response?

A: That would be true that not a lot of conservative members of congress are willing to talk about climate change. What we think we’ve got to do in order to make it so they can talk about it is prepare the ground at the county party convention, because the reality is that a member of congress will typically lead only if they have support of a continuance. Right now, they don’t feel support. They go to the county convention and climate change is a laugh line. So at republicEn.org we live to change that, so that when they go to the county convention, they hear some people saying ‘Hey, let’s do something about this, we can rise to the occasion and find a solution.’ That’s what it takes, we figure, you have to build support and then politicians will lead. 

Q: Hurricane Florence is creeping closer to your home state of South Carolina. Some reports say climate change has made it worse. Do you think climate change has made it worse?

A: You can’t attribute any particular storm to climate change, although it is pretty clear that warmer oceans contribute to the strength and intensity of hurricanes. It’s pretty hard to argue with the fact that much warmer ocean water is out there fueling stronger storms. 

Q: What message do you have for college students about climate change? 

A: You all missed the signing of the Constitution and you missed the Selma March because you were too young. But you can be there when we solve climate change. It’s an incredible opportunity for your generation to be the ones who take part in something truly historic. Really, the existence of the planet is what’s at stake … It’s all about convincing, especially, your generation’s parents and grandparents to change. I have to believe that students are the best ambassadors to their parents and grandparents, not someone they see on TV. 

Max Kalnitz is the senior news editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.com

@Max_Kalnitz