14 Feb 2013: Interview

A Conservative Who Believes
That Climate Change Is Real

Republican Bob Inglis’ statement that he believed in human-caused climate change helped cost him his seat in Congress. In a Yale Environment 360 interview, Inglis explains why he is now trying to persuade his fellow conservatives that their principles can help save the planet.

by roger cohn

Heresy may have cost Bob Inglis his seat in the U.S. Congress. As a six-term Republican congressman from one of South Carolina’s most conservative districts, Inglis told an audience at a 2010 campaign event that he believed in human-caused climate change. The fallout from that comment helped ensure his defeat by a Tea Party-backed candidate.

Bob Inglis
Bob Inglis
After leaving Congress, Inglis established the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. The organization has taken on a daunting mission – to convince American conservatives that climate change is real and that free enterprise principles hold the keys for dealing with it. Inglis favors removing all fuel subsidies – from solar and wind to fossil fuels – and imposing a carbon tax as the fairest way to make polluters pay for the greenhouse gas emissions they cause.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 editor Roger Cohn, Inglis talked about his own evolution from being a climate change denier; why he opposes cap-and-trade schemes; why conservatives have been so reluctant to acknowledge that climate change is real: and why his group is focusing its efforts on college Republicans. “We’re trying to convince conservatives that they are more important to this than they ever imagined,” he said, “because they have the answer, which is free enterprise. And it’s a better answer than a regulatory regime.”

Yale Environment 360: What is the goal of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative?

Bob Inglis: The goal is to see a true cost competition between all fuels, and the result of that, we believe, is that free enterprise will solve our energy and climate challenge. It’s just a matter of getting a true cost comparison between the fuels, and that will only happen
Conservatives see the worldview of people concerned about climate change as antithetical to their own.
if we eliminate all subsidies for all fuels, because subsidies distort the marketplace. And we need to attach all costs to all fuels, which is the other distortion of the marketplace. The first one is something that conservatives are familiar with – that tune is playing on conservative radio right now, of eliminating all subsidies for all fuels. Now it’s been focused on Solyndra [the bankrupt solar company] and the excesses of the Obama administration, but we believe that conservatives will recognize pretty quickly that this should include other fuels. That means eliminating fossil fuel subsidies as well. That part isn’t playing on the radio now, but that’s a tune we have to introduce to conservative ears and see if we can make people recognize that that it’s bedrock conservatism:  I shouldn’t be able to do on my property something that harms you and your property.

e360: And are producers of fossil fuels doing that?

Inglis: Yes. Coal-fired electricity causes 23,600 premature deaths each year in the United States. There are over 3 million lost workdays. Those are real and quantifiable costs that aren’t attributed to the cost of electricity at my meter. And so I’m blissfully unaware of the true cost of my electricity. And since it appears so cheap, I don’t innovate because there’s no reason to innovate. I live in South Carolina – I could have a solar hot water heater for example, but I don’t have one. Anyone altruistic would put one on their roof. I would like to be altruistic, but I’ve got two kids in college, and I can’t afford to be altruistic. But if the meter started reflecting the real cost of electricity, I would look at things differently.

e360: So the true cost would be put in through a carbon tax?

Inglis: Yes, it’s a way of approximating that cost. I was at Harvard recently and Bill Hogan, an economist there, pointed out to me that the best way to do this is by attaching the actual cost to each emitter. Then you have the truest of true cost comparisons. I think that’s exactly the right answer.

e360: The work of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative is aimed at convincing conservatives to come on board with this?

Inglis: Right. What we’re trying to do is convince conservatives that they are more important to this discussion than they ever imagined because they have the answer, which is free enterprise, and it’s a better answer than a regulatory regime. And better than what some Republicans in the past might have gone along with, which is sort of fickle tax incentives that expire and have qualifications to them…
We believe that conservatives will ultimately come to embrace the power of their own ideas, which is, ‘Gee, a price signal works, and it’s powerful.’

e360: Why do you think it’s been so difficult for most of your fellow conservatives to accept the science and the idea of human-caused climate change and that it’s happening?

Inglis: Well, there are lots of reasons, but one is that conservatives see the worldview of people concerned about climate change as antithetical to their own worldview. It’s a cultural clash, because scientists are seen as godless deniers of the truth, particularly faith truths, and they seem to be in league with big-government types that want to regulate your life.

e360: You yourself were skeptical of climate change when you were in Congress in the 90s, as you’ve said. Can you describe your own evolution from being a denier of climate change to someone who is deeply concerned about it?

Inglis: My first time in Congress [1993-1999], I was very dismissive of climate change and said, “Oh, well, this is imagination.” I had a very successful press conference pillorying the vice president [Al Gore].
A question comes to me, ‘Congressman Inglis, do you believe, yes or no, in human causation of climate change’?”
And I was in Congress for six years, and then I was out for six years and in those six years, my children started to grow up. My son, my oldest of five kids, was voting for the first time in 2004 when I was running again, and he said, “You know, dad, I’ll vote for you, but you have to clean up your act on the environment.” I had this new constituency, an important constituency, because they could change the locks on the doors. My son and his four sisters all felt the same, and his mother did too.

So, that was one cause. The other cause was, I got on the science committee [House Committee on Science and Technology] soon after my second period in Congress started. And I got to go to Antarctica to visit there – you know, the U.S. spends about $300 million per year on the polar programs.

e360: When was this?

Inglis: It was in 2006. Amazingly, I got to go to Antarctica twice. I went to Antarctica and saw the evidence. And one thing that was compelling to me was, you know, the South Pole is a desert and gets a quarter of an inch of precipitation a year, and it’s 10,000 feet above sea level. It’s 5,000 feet of dirt, and then 5,000 feet of ice on top of that, and just a little teeny bit of powder on top. So we’ve drilled down through the ice, and we have a record of the earth’s atmosphere and its CO2 levels. And this gives a pretty clear indication of stability followed by an uptick that coincides with the Industrial Revolution.

e360: You’ve talked about a key moment in your [2010] campaign that occurred, I think, in Spartanburg at a big tent meeting. Can you describe that?

Inglis: Yes, at the Landrum airport. It’s a small landing strip, which is a great place to have events. There’s a big tent out there…  So a question comes to me from the Christian talk radio host who is moderating the forum, and he says, “This question starts with Bob Inglis. Congressman Inglis, do you believe, yes or no, in human causation of climate change?” And you know, I have a terrible habit of answering questions, so I said, “Yes.” And boo, hiss, comes the crowd. It’s audible hissing and booing…

The same question was then asked of the guy who ultimately beat me. He’s a trial lawyer, a prosecutor guy, and so he had what I thought – I had to give it to him – was a fabulous answer. He said, “Inasmuch as it hasn’t been proven to the satisfaction of the people that I represent, the answer is no, there is no human causation in climate change.”

e360: A very lawyerly answer.

Inglis: Do you think that’s how we should handle all scientific questions – put them up for people to decide? “What do you think? Gravity, yes or no?” Well, let’s let the people decide! It was a particularly good answer at the moment, for him. It won him the applause of the crowd.

e360: What do you believe the U.S. can do to really address climate change?

Inglis: I think we should send a price signal. That means fixing the economics so all costs are in on all the fuels and there are no subsidies. A bill I had in Congress is one way to do it.
You've got to give me a corresponding tax cut if you're going to price carbon.
There are other ways, but the bill that I had was a $15 a ton tax on carbon rising to $100 a ton over 30 years. And I was always open to whether that trajectory should be changed. The reason I had such flexibility is because of what I would say next: You then offset that [carbon tax] with a reduction in payroll taxes, dollar for dollar. And that’s why I was so flexible. It’s a tax swap, that’s what I was talking about. It wouldn’t grow the government, and it would approximate the attachment of these negative externalities to combustion fossil fuels.

Another key element, I think, of what needs to be part of the package is that it should be a border-adjustable tax, so it would be removed on export and imposed on import – unless the trading partner has a similar pricing mechanism, in which case their goods would come in without an adjustment. But it’s very important, I think, that we not decimate American manufacturing by simply pricing carbon in our own economy with the effect of exporting productive capacity to countries that have greater energy intensity and therefore larger CO2 emissions.

e360: This was something that you offered in Congress as an alternative to the cap-and-trade bill that was out there at the time?

Inglis: Right. I voted against cap-and-trade.

e360: Why?

Inglis: It was hopelessly complicated, and it was embarrassing in the free allocation [of allowances to specific pollution sources or industries] that undermined the whole schema. It was dangerous to American manufacturing. I know they had a border-adjustable element, but I was never convinced that it worked. And it was a significant tax increase without any corresponding tax reduction. And I’m not into growing government. I’m a conservative. So I’m into getting the economics right, but not growing government in the process. And so you’ve got to give me a corresponding tax cut if you’re going to price carbon.

What I introduced is called the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon bill, and if you Google that, I think you can find it. It’s fifteen pages as opposed to the 1,200-page cap-and-trade.

e360: You’re taking your message now to conservative audiences and business audiences? Who are you aiming your initiative at, and how are you going about reaching them?

Inglis: We’re spending a lot of time on college campuses speaking to college Republicans, Federalist societies, and young evangelicals. The reason is that they’re open to it, because they’re taking economics and chemistry and physics.
When the left is talking to the right about these issues, it comes across as, ‘We know better than you do.’”
They’re really a little bit embarrassed by what’s on the [conservative] radio, because they know it doesn’t match up with what they are learning in economics, physics, and chemistry. And so we want to help them to see there’s a way that you can be conservative, not want to grow government, and actually be for social-issue accountability, which is a key component of what social-issue conservatives believe. You’ve got to be accountable. Behavior has consequences, so attach the cost to something so that the market can judge it.

These students are open to that message, and we hope these students will be ambassadors to their parents and grandparents. Those are the harder demographics for us. Their parents and grandparents are harder – especially the grandparents, who feel an attack on their way of life.

e360: Do you think environmentalists are in some ways to blame for this because the approach has sometimes been to hector people about their lifestyle and their responsibility for these things?

Inglis: I think so, because it’s like my ad guy on my campaign says to me. He says, “We all like change, just we don’t like to be changed.” We want to be the change agent, but we surely don’t want to be the one who gets changed by somebody else. We want to be in the driver’s seat on that.

And so what happens often when the left is talking to the right about these issues, it seems like it’s coming across as, “We know better than you do. You’re a bunch of hicks from the sticks. We’re so much smarter than you are. We’ve got scientists who tell us this and that. We’ll design a regulatory system that will fix things, because we can’t trust you to make good decisions.” That’s one way it comes across – and it’s offensive to conservatives.



POSTED ON 14 Feb 2013 IN Biodiversity Business & Innovation Climate Climate Oceans Policy & Politics Antarctica and the Arctic North America North America 

COMMENTS


This reasoning applies as well to water. If the true cost of using water for agriculture were charged, we likely would be irrigating less hay in the desert.

I tried getting the Washington Center for Real Estate Research to adjust their housing cost index to incorporate more of the costs of sprawl into their figures. They stuck with consideration only of mortgage costs, since their funding came from Realtors. I feel this, too, was a distortion of the market and wished the conservatives would have been purer in their faith. I never sold many R's in the Legislature that Growth Management truly is a conservative policy. Sigh...

Posted by Steve Wells on 14 Feb 2013


It's nice to hear a South Carolinian speak rationally. I can't follow his argument against cap and trade but i don't doubt he has good reasons. too bad he can't compete with our Sandlapper tea-bags.

Posted by pete saussy on 14 Feb 2013


Mr. Inglis' campaign seems more motivated by cupidity for carbon tax revenues than by any desire to moderate (nonexistent) human-caused global warming.

Posted by Miner49er on 15 Feb 2013


Why not have the United Nations create 'The Global 50/50 Lottery', the world's first, fully global lottery, to raise the massive funds needed to buy the vast wind, solar, ocean and water clean electricity generating systems needed to replace the electricity from coal burning electric power plants, which are emitting the carbon dioxide that is causing global warming? Remember, human greed is like a force of nature. If we can exploit it to fight global warming, it will make a serious difference towards our long term survival.

Posted by Robert G. Schreib Jr. on 16 Feb 2013


I am quite happy to see a conservative fighting to protect the environment & acknowledge climate change BUT the last line about conservatives being offended by leftists/environmentalists is funny because conservatives have brought that offensive attitude upon themselves with their intransigent attitude. That stubborn attitude was "if it is believed by the left, we must be against it." Human caused global warming has been dismissed by conservatives for political reasons, and by evangelicals because of their social agendas. We could have been 20 years ahead of this if not for those attitudes. That said, welcome to the fight - the earth needs all the soldiers she can get.

Posted by Margaret on 18 Feb 2013


Margaret,

‘BUT the last line about conservatives being offended by leftists/environmentalists is funny because conservatives have brought that offensive attitude upon themselves with their intransigent attitude. That stubborn attitude was "if it is believed by the left, we must be against it."’

Unfortunately as an evangelical Christian I would have to agree with Bob Inglis. Those on the Left do come across as arrogant, particularly on climate change. It makes it very difficult to speak to evangelical Christians when the message is framed in childish “I’m right you’re wrong” language. Hopefully we can get beyond this.

“Human caused global warming has been dismissed by conservatives for political reasons, and by evangelicals because of their social agendas.”

I don’t think social agendas have anything to do with it. What social agendas are you referring to exactly?

Posted by Matthew Rosenbaum on 27 Feb 2013


Robert G. Schreib Jr.,

“Why not have the United Nations create 'The Global 50/50 Lottery', the world's first, fully global lottery, to raise the massive funds needed to buy the vast wind, solar, ocean and water clean electricity generating systems needed to replace the electricity from coal burning electric power plants,”

This is one of the best ideas for action on climate change that I’ve heard.

Non-scientists like myself often feel frustrated with both the lack of action on global warming and our own inability to get actively involved in the debate. However such a Lottery could not only raise much needed money but also the publicity that is needed even more. Climate scientists in Australia (no doubt because of the hate mail and death threats they were receiving) have stated that they are no longer willing to get involved in public debates and have retreated to their labs. Unfortunately this has left a wide-open field for climate change deniers to take over the public discourse virtually unchallenged.

A Lottery whether national or global would help raise the profile of climate change again. I will quote this on a blog I’m currently working on. If you have any other ideas pls let us know.

PS I assume the winner would receive a share of the winnings and the rest would go to climate change action?

Posted by Matthew Rosenbaum on 28 Feb 2013


It is wonderful to see someone arguing to eliminate the subsidies on all fuel sources to level the playing field, but adding a carbon tax does not make sense. What exactly would you do with that money? Unfortunately, history says the government will squander it and just become larger. Better to look at what Bjorn Lomborg proposes assess the cost and benefit. This will likely lead us to tackle the real issues water and air quality, over-fishing, etc.

Posted by dan houck on 01 Mar 2013


Casting CAGW debate as a political, moral ethical or quasi-religious issue is false, mis-leading and anti-scientific. An excellent example is the title of this article.

Climate change, as any grade schooler would tell you is real. The issue really is:

To what extent is climate change man-made vs. natural? We all know that nature can and has swung the climate from snowball earth to planet Hell with no input from man whatsoever, so is there anything out of the ordinary going on.

Clearly, this issue remains unresolved, as the determination of this question depends exclusively on the time series selected for examination. On a few decade scale, CAGW looks apparent. On a centuries long time scale, not at all. This article begins and ends with the assumption that man is responsible, and only his political blinders keep him from seeing "some version of the truth" as Jack Nicholson once famously said.

Furthermore, real scientific investigation does not tolerate a PR campaign. The facts, such as they are will speak for themselves. Putting time and energy into a PR campaign to raise awareness exhibits and campaign politically on a matter of science exhibits a profound and pathetic ignorance of the scientific method and serves as an insult and a red-flag warning to any objective scientist.

Posted by Shoshin on 01 Mar 2013


Inglis's last paragraph is the only aspect I agree with. In Australia we have a leftist government who come across exactly as described- "We know better than you do. You are a bunch of hicks from the sticks. We're so much better than you are. We've got scientists who tell us this and that. We've designed a regulatory system that will fix things,because we cant trust you to make good decisions".

And now our scientists depend on these regulators for their continued employment, either through grant funding or through employment in our Department of Climate Change,or our Clean Energy Regulator, or in our Climate Change Authority, or our Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator, the CSIRO and the BOM. The sprawling bureaucracy is centered in Canberra in A luxurious office block with a 15 year lease. 1094 staff members also work from offices in Melbourne, Sydney, and Samoa! The costs of the overseas trips and other perks are astronomical.

After the next election, in September, this waste of space and taxpayers dollars will be abolished, as our new government attempts to reduce the debt this leftist government has engendered. Did Inglis ever think that it may just have been in those Antarctic scientists interests to convince him that their jobs and expense were worthwhile.Perhaps it was his voters perception of his naivety that cost him his seat.

Posted by ian hilliar on 01 Mar 2013


Shoshin,

“Casting CAGW debate as a political, moral ethical or quasi-religious issue is false, mis-leading and anti-scientific.”

Yes, that’s why climate scientists are trying to get it back to physics ie that a molecule of CO2 traps more heat in the atmosphere than O2. Do you dispute this?

“To what extent is climate change man-made vs. natural? We all know that nature can and has swung the climate from snowball earth to planet Hell with no input from man whatsoever, so is there anything out of the ordinary going on.”

Well that’s not true. Where do you get this info? You need to provide a link to provide evidence of such a controversial claim.

“Clearly, this issue remains unresolved”

Not as far as the experts are concerned ie the climate scientists. What evidence can you provide to show that they are wrong?

“Furthermore, real scientific investigation does not tolerate a PR campaign”

What PR campaign? Do you mean the climate change deniers continual misrepresentation of the truth?

“profound and pathetic ignorance”

Any reason that you are so antagonistic?

Posted by Matthew Rosenbaum on 07 Mar 2013


ian hilliar,

“And now our scientists depend on these regulators for their continued employment, either through grant funding or through employment in our Department of Climate Change,or our Clean Energy Regulator, or in our Climate Change Authority, or our Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator, the CSIRO and the BOM. The sprawling bureaucracy is centered in Canberra in A luxurious office block with a 15 year lease. 1094 staff members also work from offices in Melbourne, Sydney, and Samoa! The costs of the overseas trips and other perks are astronomical.”

This is quite a rant. You provide no evidence. Just a lot of bile. As an Australian I’m proud of our scientific bodies. They do a great job and are internationally acclaimed. You'll need to provide some evidence if you want to be taken seriously rather than someone with a chip on their shoulder.

“After the next election, in September, this waste of space and taxpayers dollars will be abolished, as our new government attempts to reduce the debt this leftist government has engendered.”

After complaining about the arrogance of those on the Left you destroy your own credibility with your anger and aggression. A week is a long time in politics and 14 September will show you wrong. Yesterday’s fall of the Victorian Premier is the beginning of the rot setting in for the Coalition.

We heard the same confident crowing from Republicans before the last US election, claiming victory before Election Day. Mitt Romney did not even have a speech prepared in case of defeat. So arrogance is not reserved for the Left. How sweet it was to see them eating humble pie and beginning to self-destruct as they tore each other apart in reprisals. The real reason the Republicans fell is because they denied man-made climate change. Tony “The Mad Monk” Abbott will suffer the same fate. Man-made climate change is real whether you like it or not.

Posted by Matthew Rosenbaum on 07 Mar 2013


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