A Conservative Discussion on Climate Change – My Interview with Bob Inglis

I had the pleasure of recently sitting down with Bob Inglis to discuss his views of life, liberty and the state of the GOP.  Some may be familiar with Bob and his work since he left Congress, but others probably aren’t.  Bob is a former six term Congressman from South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District (1993-1999 and 2005-2011) who was defeated in the 2010 GOP Primary by the feisty Republican, Trey Gowdy.

I had never met Bob, but was intrigued by his story and his mission within the GOP, warning others about the dangers of climate change.  It was that mission, however, that ultimately BobInglis-Print-RGBled to his political undoing in 2010 when he told a radio host that he believed humans were contributing to climate change.

We met one morning in a Starbucks in Arlington Virginia, along with our mutual friend, Jim Presswood, President of Earth Stewardship Alliance.  Amidst the hustle and bustle of the baristas and the myriads of Northern Virginians darting in and out on their way to work that morning, the three of us talked about a lot of things, our mutual Christian faith, our shared disappointment in the GOP establishment on numerous fronts, the uncharted waters of the upcoming election, and the topic of climate change.

Those who know me know I’ve been a vocal critic of the “sky is falling, we’re all going to die” brand of environmental advocacy.  I have little doubt that this type of scare-mongering and hysterics has set us back in terms of engaging the public and having a serious discussion about a serious topic.  So, I was curious how this very charismatic, incredibly articulate former Congressman was dealing with the issue since leaving Congress.  But more importantly, I was interested in his thoughts on how we conservatives begin to change the dialogue within our own political tribe, moving from “climate change is all a hoax” to a more thoughtful, deliberative discussion on the topic.

Congressman, in addition to a conservative, you call yourself an energy optimist and climate realists, tell me a little bit about what you are looking to achieve through RepublicEN.  What’s this “EN” thing all about?

We’re looking for more energy, more mobility, more freedom through cleaner, better, cheaper sources. That’s why we’re energy optimists. The key to that new energy is free enterprise. (By now, maybe you notice the repetition of the “En” in “Energy” and “Enterprise.”

As you know well, climate change has become such a divisive political wedge issue.  I’ve long lamented the fact that the public feels compelled to take sides, that is, they are lead to believe they must believe either Rush Limbaugh, who says this stuff is nothing but a “hoax,” or Al Gore who believes we humans are presented with an existential threat unless immediate action is taken.  Is this a false construct? 

Those of us on the right sometimes feel that the environmental left sees humans as an invasive species. At republicEn.org, we’re part of the ecoRight. We believe in human flourishing. We believe in stewardship and conservation. We think we can have both through the fuels of the future that will light up the world. The key is to put all costs in on all the fuels, making them all responsible for any costs that are currently socialized by the free dumping into the trash dump of the sky.  We also believe that all subsidies should be eliminated for all fuels. When all cost are in (or “en”!), the free enterprise system will deliver innovation to willing customers. Consumer-driven demand will lead the way to clean energy.

Dan Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale, once said that what people believe about global warming doesn’t reflect what they know, it expresses who they are.  Do you agree?

Dan Kahan is right. One’s views on climate change speak to affinity and identity. At republicEn.org we’re rediscovering the conservationist heritage of conservatism, joyfully tending this part of Eden that’s left. We’re also stepping forward in rock solid belief in the power of free enterprise to solve climate change through the bedrock principles of accountability and transparent markets where all costs are “in” and all subsidies removed.

Is there a better way to communicate or talk about climate change that doesn’t alienate the public?

Yes, we need to add “opportunity” to “danger.” Sure there are enormous dangers in climate change. But there are also amazing opportunities to clean up the air and to create wealth through an energy revolution that rivals the innovation that we’ve seen in communications and computing.

In listening to recent conversations, I’m starting to think there are many who are beginning to believe that maybe something is happening with our climate and maybe we are contributing to these changes, but for political reasons or sheer confusion on the topic are simply unable or unwilling to support action.  What do you think?

When the facts overtake us, it’s better to be overtaken than to persist in willful disregard of the facts. We haven’t liked the big government solutions of cap-and-trade and the Clean Power Plan, but we could get behind revenue-neutral, border-adjustable carbon tax. Yes, it’s a tax, but it could be paired dollar-for-dollar with a cut in existing taxes on income. That’s the revenue-neutral part. And we could make it border-adjustable so that the same tax is imposed on imports, making it in our trading partner’s interest to bring the same accountability to their own countries. When everyone is paying a tipping fee to dump into the trash dump of the sky, less will be dumped there, and the clean fuels will be able to compete without props. You can see Art Laffer, President Reagan’s economics advisor, discussing this tax swap in this two-minute video  here.

For conservatives, the idea of more government regulation and control over the economy and our lives is terrifying.  How much do you think the public’s growing distrust of government affect action?

If conservatives fail to enter the competition of ideas on climate change, the only solutions proffered will be the big-government solutions. The country will take something over nothing when it decides it has a need. By being absent from the debate over solutions to climate change, conservatives are taking an enormous risk.

Many claim that the science behind anthropogenic climate change is settled, yet the climate models haven’t been all that accurate, including predictions about the rate of warming and sea level rise.  Do you think climate scientists have overplayed their hand and skewed the science to fit their own narrative?

The science of climate change isn’t settled because science is almost never settled. Science is constantly being improved and our understanding advances because of it. But the science clearly indicates risk. Why would we proceed pell-mell in the face of the risk? We knew enough in 1960 to know that smoking correlated with cancer. But some merchants of doubt were paid by the tobacco companies to fuzz up the science. The same thing is happening right now on climate change. Some people with vested interests have been paying people to fuzz up the science. Merchants of Doubt is a film that drops a dime on the deceivers. Check it out; it’s available for on-demand viewing.

What do you think the conservative response to climate change should be?  Is there a policy response that conservatives can support that won’t destroy the economy or create more bloated and unresponsive big government programs? 

Yes, as Art Laffer and I describe in a two-minute video here, there’s a tax swap that would actually improve economic performance while cleaning up the air.

What do you say about those families in Appalachia and elsewhere in the U.S. whose livelihoods depend upon coal mining?  Doesn’t this issue also have a human face and shouldn’t we care do more to help those communities hit hardest by a national decision to move beyond fossil fuels, particularly in terms of helping to provide more jobs and reeducation?

Yes, we should care about those coal communities. In the district that I represented we saw something similar happen to textile communities. There were job retraining programs and other forms of assistance, but the best assistance was BMW investing $6 Billion in Greer, South Carolina. BMW and it’s suppliers essentially replaced the lost textile jobs.

Coal companies have lost 95% of their stock value since 2011. Many have gone bankrupt. The fear of the Clean Power Plan is responsible for some of that, but most of it is because fracking made cleaner natural gas cheaper. Just like the textile companies struggled to be heard over the rushing feet of consumers to cheaper foreign imports, the coal companies are struggling to be heard over the rushing of the natural gas pipelines.

Energy poverty is a serious issue in the developing world.  The reality is countries like India and China need cheap and reliable energy for their people and improve the quality of life.  Can alternative energy provide the requisite energy and quality of life that the developed world has experienced?

Yes! The developing world leapfrogged telephone wires and went straight to cell phones. Solar and wind on micro grids will leapfrog central power plants and massive power grids. These distributed energy systems will light up the world with more energy, more mobility and more freedom. If we play it right in the West, we can sell them those systems and make money. As always, the key to accountable free enterprise is serving one’s customers–doing well by doing good things for them.

Today’s conservatives often forget that Teddy Roosevelt was an ardent conservationist who established the National Wildlife Refuge system during his Presidency.  Are you hopeful that the GOP can return to its conservative or conservation roots?

That’s our ambition at republicEn.org. “Stand with us at republicEn.org,” we like to say. “Make Teddy proud of you!”

Thank you, Congressman.