During Bob Inglis’ time as a U.S. representative from South Carolina, he denied that climate change was real.
All he knew was that Al Gore cared deeply about it.
But in 2004, when Inglis was about to run for his second term, his eldest son, who was now eligible to vote, gave him an ultimatum.
“He said to me, ‘Dad, I’m going to vote for you, but you’re going to clean up your act on the environment,’” Inglis said at a Boise Rotary Club meeting Thursday afternoon. “His four sisters agreed. His mother agreed.”
Since that time, Inglis visited Antarctica and looked at ice cores, educating himself about excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere generated by humans. And he met a passionate Australian scientist advocating for protection of the Great Barrier Reef who lived by the philosophy of “making conservation changes in his life to love God and love people,” Inglis said.
Inglis grew inspired to do the same. He wanted to build a conservative coalition to counter climate change.
But his first tactic was not well-received. During the Great Recession, he proposed a carbon tax. During the next election, he lost his seat, receiving just 29% of the vote to his opponent’s 71%, he said.
“That’s a spectacular faceplant in politics,” Inglis said.
But Inglis still believed he could rally conservatives around tangible efforts to halt climate change. His efforts led to the formation of RepublicEn.org, a site calling for members of the “EcoRight” — conservatives who care about climate change — to advocate for free enterprise climate change solutions.
“We just want you to be made visible and active, if you want to be active, in supporting members of Congress in the House and Senate who want to act on climate change,” which requires building a new constituency, Inglis said.
Inglis said he is currently concentrating efforts in Idaho, eastern Washington, Utah, and Indiana — areas with leaders who are receptive to using a business approach to environment and climate change solutions. He pointed to Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson’s work on salmon recovery as one example. Simpson had representatives at the Thursday rotary meeting.
The left has a large environmental constituency, Inglis said, and political discussions about the environment use language that many conservatives are not comfortable with, Inglis said.
“It’s about dealing with less,” he said. “It’s about basically criticizing, or even repenting, the capitalistic system.”
That’s why Inglis is focused on a business approach to climate change: policy changes that promote innovation and solutions at a fast pace.
The main tool Inglis suggests for this is a carbon tax. This method would allow people to see the “true cost” of what they are consuming, he said. However, that would make the cost of many things go up. This would be fine if the public received the funds back in some way, such as dividends, he said. In the meantime, seeing the energy costs of what it takes to make a product would encourage people to purchase products that use less energy — and encourage companies to innovate to use less, he said.
“It’s all about accountability,” Inglis said. “We think that’s rock-solid conservatism. Because we think that blessings flow from accountability. Havoc results from a lack of accountability. Climate change is that havoc.”
“So you bring accountability, good things happen,” he continued. “And you do it in the free enterprise system, and we can innovate faster than government regulations or mandates ever could imagine.”
One audience member at the talk questioned who will be setting the true cost of emissions, calling that “subjective.” Inglis admitted that that will be challenging, and would involve “a working out through the political process.”
Erin Banks Rusby is a reporter with the Idaho Press. She covers Canyon County, including agriculture, education, and government.