By Bob Inglis
Bob Inglis, a Republican, represented Greenville-Spartanburg, SC in Congress for 12 years. Once a climate change denier, he reversed his position, took a bold stance on climate change policies, and paid the price when he lost his seat to a Tea Party opponent in 2011. He now directs republicEn, a growing group of conservatives who care about climate change. C-Change is pleased he accepted our invitation to share his views here.
Conservatives widely believe that blessings flow from accountability and that havoc results from lack of accountability. We’re people who believe in individual effort and reward and in meritocracies. A remnant of actual conservatives within the GOP still believes in thrift and balanced budgets, free markets, and free enterprise.
Climate change is the havoc that results from lack of accountability for emissions. When we allow folks to socialize their soot and their CO2, we get more of those things. If we make us all accountable for those impacts and put a price on them, we’ll have less of those “negative externalities.” When all of these social costs are accounted for by a firm’s product, a competing firm that doesn’t impose those costs on society will gain market share while the polluting firm loses customers.
These are bedrock, conservative principles. We conservatives need only to believe them, to venture on them. For a decade (2008-2018) we were duped into disputing the obvious science of climate change. The merchants of doubt snookered us. They got us to say that it was a left wing, utopian dream that we could have cleaner air. They picked up on the natural impulse of the left to regulate and spun that into, “See, they want to regulate your very breath.”
But those merchants of doubt have come to the end of their times. We’ve all had more experiences with climate change, and it’s now anachronistic to deny that it’s real and human-caused. Moreover, it’s become politically untenable to deny those realities. A retro position on climate change is a losing position in suburban districts. In 2018 when Republicans lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives, it fully dawned on people like House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy that “Republicans need to change on climate change.”
Certainly, there’s a block in the White House at the moment where the occupant seems to persist in thinking that climate change is a Chinese hoax and conspiracy. President Trump’s time horizon is short - the next four years. Not so with House and Senate members and leaders. They’re focused on winning majorities for many years to come. They see the demographic changes coming; they know that young conservatives, like young progressives, are focused on climate change as a value rather than as an issue position.
But we don’t have time for demographic change to bring about climate action. We’re seeing the whites of its eyes. It’s time to take a shot before the worst effects become inevitable.
Taking action means winning the hearts and minds of fellow conservatives at the grassroots. It’s also important to have businesses advocating and think tanks writing in DC. We have compatriots in the climate cause that fulfill those roles very well. My organization, RepublicEn, is educating and building a concerted constituency back home in the districts where members can feel the support of fellow conservatives.
As to the policy that most fits conservative values, I believe there are three options before us:
(1) Attempt to regulate emissions (but good luck getting China to implement the same regulations);
(2) Incentivize clean energy with American tax breaks (but those domestic tax breaks won’t drive innovation in other countries unless innovation here causes cost-crashes significant enough to make the technology affordable in the developing world); or
(3) Create worldwide, economy-wide accountability for emissions—accountability that brings the blessing of innovation through the free enterprise system—by imposing a carbon tax similar to the tipping fee charged trash haulers at city dumps. That carbon tax for dumping in the air needs to be one that doesn’t grow government, and it wouldn’t if it’s paired with a dollar-for-dollar reduction in existing taxes or a dividend of all the carbon tax revenue back to the citizenry. The carbon tax also needs to be imposed on imports from countries lacking the same price on carbon pollution in the country of origin. China would likely object in the World Trade Organization, but we think they’d lose based on precedents in the chemical industry which permit a “content” tax. Access to the American market would become the lever by which we would lead the world to accountability and to the blessings that would flow from free enterprise energy innovation.
If you’re a conservative and you care about climate change, you’re among the most important people in the world. We can’t solve climate change without you.