Former GOP congressman Bob Inglis spreading gospel on climate change along Treasure Coast (2024)

Some people spend their days preaching to the converted, sharing their views with like-minded friends in comfortable echo chambers where true differences of opinion are rare. Bob Inglis is not one of those people.

Inglis became a political conservative early in life, growing up with the teachings of economist Milton Friedman. He's listened to the late President Ronald Reagan's farewell speech repeatedly ― and will even admit to shedding tears when Reagan gets to the part about a "shining city on a hill."

Inglis served 12 years in Congress ― from 1993 to 1999 and then from 2005 to 2011 ― representing constituents in his reliably red South Carolina district.

He still firmly believes in the principles the Republican Party stands for, including American exceptionalism and the merits of free enterprise.

However, more than a decade ago, Inglis had an epiphany about the political hot-button issue of climate change. After years of dismissing the topic as mostly scare talk from former Vice President Al Gore and his minions, Inglis began thinking he and his fellow conservatives might be following the wrong path.

Now Inglis is on a mission to convince conservatives they can ― and, indeed, must ― work to stop climate change, which they can do without abandoning their principles. On July 9, he will bring his message to the Rotary Club of Port St. Lucie and the Treasure Coast Young Republicans during separate speaking engagements.

Climate change talk in 'language of free enterprise'

Former GOP congressman Bob Inglis spreading gospel on climate change along Treasure Coast (1)

Inglis has already met with members of other local groups, including the Kiwanis Club of Stuart and the Guardians of Martin County.

"The message is, it's inherently conservative to care about climate change," Inglis told me during a telephone interview.

Too often, Inglis said people speak about climate change using "the language of the left." Instead, he believes his political colleagues are more likely to be persuaded by "the language of free enterprise."

"The capitalistic system is going to fix this," Inglis said. "Fix the economics, and the environment will take care of itself."

In a 2021 speech, Inglis described climate change as "a silent and slow-moving Sputnik moment," requiring American innovators to rise to the challenge as they did during the 1960s space race with the Soviet Union.

An epiphany, in three parts

Former GOP congressman Bob Inglis spreading gospel on climate change along Treasure Coast (2)

Inglis didn't change his thinking overnight.

First, there was a tough conversation he had with his son, Robert, who was turning 18. Robert said he wanted to cast his first vote for his father, but only if Inglis would "clean up his act" on environmental issues. Inglis' wife and daughters sided with Robert, leaving the congressman thoroughly outnumbered in his own household.

Later, Inglis took congressional trips to Antarctica and Australia, where he saw firsthand the dramatic effects climate change was having on different parts of the world. He was particularly inspired by one scientist dedicated to saving the Great Barrier Reef from destruction.

In 2009, Inglis introduced the Raise Wages Cut Carbon Act, a tax on fossil fuels. The measure didn't gain political traction, but sponsoring that bill, along with a couple of other departures from traditional Republican thinking, eventually cost Inglis his seat in a primary election to Trey Gowdy.

Following that setback, Inglis founded republicEn, (the "En" being for "energy") a nonprofit devoted to persuading conservatives to come to grips with climate change.

Time to stop 'arguing with thermometers'

Former GOP congressman Bob Inglis spreading gospel on climate change along Treasure Coast (3)

Inglis' message seems timely, particularly in a place where the Republican-controlled Legislature recently deleted most references to climate change in state law. In Inglis' mind, the debate is moving past the question of whether climate change is real.

He believes most people understand dramatically higher summertime temperatures and weather phenomena like the rapid strengthening of Hurricane Beryl are clear evidence a problem exists.

"Most people have decided to stop arguing with thermometers," Inglis said.

The next question is, what can be done? Too often, Inglis believes, the suggested solutions involve lifestyle changes many people don't want to make.

In his mind, that's focusing on the wrong end of the problem. The federal government should be taxing private businesses based on the amounts of carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere.

If businesses are charged "tipping fees" based on the amount of pollutants they release, Inglis said that will spur private sector innovation that will lead to long-term solutions.

Conservatives sometimes scoff at subsidies offered to providers of clean energy, such as wind and solar power. However, Inglis contends those clean-energy businesses could compete on equal footing with fossil fuel-energy providers if the latter weren't allowed to pollute, free of charge.

"Cleaner and greener is cheaper than dirty and accountable," Inglis said. "Make them all accountable, and the innovation will follow."

Inglis has estimated a $25 surcharge per ton of carbon dioxide emissions would add about 21 cents to a gallon of gas and $11 per month to an average home's electric bill. Inglis said his proposed reforms could be made "revenue neutral" by making corresponding tax cuts, particularly to payroll taxes.

There's always an argument that pollution taxes would make the United States less competitive with China and other foreign rivals. Inglis said the answer to that would be to impose tariffs on goods coming from countries that have lower or no pollution taxes of their own.

Bridging the gap from impossible to inevitable

Former GOP congressman Bob Inglis spreading gospel on climate change along Treasure Coast (4)

Kasey Ingram Mullen, a local radio talk show host, has been encouraging Treasure Coast organizations to spend some time listening to what Inglis has to say.

"Regardless of one's stance on climate change, prioritizing our planet's environmental stewardship is crucial," Mullen wrote to me in a Facebook message. "I hope everyone would at least be open to hearing Bob Inglis' message. Good ideas and solutions start with a conversation. Bob made a strong impression as a guest on my radio show, so I'm dedicated to helping him reach a broader audience."

Mullen, a conservative herself, believes that audience will be receptive.

"The approach aligns with my conservative values because it promotes free market principles in environmental stewardship," Mullen wrote. "Instead of penalizing companies, it fosters innovation through fairness to develop better products for our environment."

Inglis said his group has concentrated on producing numerous podcasts and he's made speaking appearances in Florida and seven other "target states" most directly affected by climate change.

He's scheduled to speak to the Rotary Club of Port St. Lucie at 12:15 p.m. July 9 at the Buffalo Chop House, 918 Gatlin Blvd., in Port St. Lucie. At 6:30 p.m. that day, he's scheduled to speak to the Treasure Coast Young Republicans at Circa 69 American Gastropub, 3750 NE Indian River Drive in Jensen Beach.

What Inglis is attempting to do seems like an uphill battle, but he sounds confident about his chances of success.

In 2018, republicEn had a staff of six and an annual budget of about $1 million. Inglis said the organization's size hasn't grown much over the past six years, but its audience has. Online followers now number around 10,000, he said.

For Inglis, that's the start of a groundswell.

"While it (climate change reform) appears impossible politically, I'm convinced it's going to become inevitable," he said.

This column reflects the opinion ofBlake Fontenay.Contact him via email atbfontenay@gannett.comor at 772-232-5424.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: GOP climate change advocate says: 'Hard to argue with thermometers'

Former GOP congressman Bob Inglis spreading gospel on climate change along Treasure Coast (2024)
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