Of all the issues that divide Americans, climate change might be the most difficult on which to build consensus.
Former South Carolina Republican Congressman Bob Inglis learned that the hard way. In 2010, he lost his U.S. House seat after expressing his opinion that climate change is real and human-caused.
Eight years later, Inglis is still trying to convince conservatives it’s ok to admit the climate is changing.
Inglis spoke recently at Gonzaga University, one of two western stops in a 14-city speaking tour.
Bob Inglis admits that during his first six years in Congress, in the 1990s, he thought the notion of climate change was nonsense. It wasn’t until after he left office and thought about running again that he changed his mind. A series of events was behind the metamorphosis. That included a trip to Antarctica, where he says the physical evidence convinced him that not only was the planet warming, but man was responsible for it. When he came home, he vowed to do something about it.
“In 2009, I introduced a bill, a 15-page alternative to the 1,500 pages of cap and trade. It’s a very simple carbon tax that puts a price on carbon dioxide and pairs that tax with a dollar-for-dollar reduction in payroll taxes," Inglis said.
He thought it was a good, revenue-neutral, free market method for making fossil fuels less attractive and so-called “green” energy sources more attractive. His timing, though, wasn’t right. The U.S. was still deep in a recession and his proposal never gained much traction. And it turns out the people at whom he aimed his proposal, his fellow Republicans, weren’t ready to hear it.
“The problem is not in the head, the problem is in the heart. It’s an identity issue," Inglis said. "It’s whether saying climate change is real is somehow going to make you into a liberal or make it so you’re no longer welcome in the tribe and that you’re a Benedict Arnold as to your tribe. That’s the problem.”
Because of his views on climate change, and, he says, a few other transgressions that angered conservatives, Inglis was bounced out of Congress in 2010. But he vowed to continue pushing the climate change message. He formed an organization known as RepublicEn.org, which advocates for the revenue neutral carbon tax proposal. It’s different than the carbon emissions tax initiative 1631 that Washington voters will decide next week.
“The key difference between what we see as optimal and what the state situation is is the ability of a federal law to make an effective border adjustment so that you can collect a carbon tax on, say, Chinese imports. That makes it much more muscular,” he said.
He says the federal government is the only entity that can impose that kind of tariff on products from overseas. Inglis says the debate Washington is having over the initiative is a good thing.
“We’re hopeful that the state conversations will lead to a national conversation and then the national conversation will supply this really-needed muscle of the border adjustment that causes the whole world to get in on this deal, because the thing we’ve got to remember is carbon emissions anywhere are climate damages everywhere,” he said.
But, Inglis says, as long as the president is providing resistance, the chances of his proposal, or any others that try to address climate change, face long odds.