Recognizing the problem of climate change and resolving to do something about it shouldn't be partisan decisions. Neither should settling on a strategy to mitigate the damage already being done.
Bob Inglis, a Southern conservative who served as a Republican member of Congress for 12 years, thinks he understands why some on the right struggle with accepting the validity of climate change, let alone the necessity for drastic action to address the problem. Conservatives, he said, instinctively resent the way the issue has been characterized by progressives.
Inglis calls the situation “solution aversion – rejecting the idea that something is a problem because you are more alarmed by the solutions being proposed. “What they've heard is, we're all going to die within 10 years,” Inglis said. “And ohmigosh, everybody's hair should be on fire, and we've got to attack the capitalistic system.”
The reaction becomes particularly intense if religion and other core values get brought into the mix. “The solution doesn't fit with our values,” he said. “So, we don't have a problem.”
A growing number of Republicans, though, are awakening to the need for action on climate change. Inglis, who lost his seat to a primary challenger in 2010, believes others on the right will follow if the issue is properly framed.
Saturday, he will make that case as keynoter for the 12th annual Greening of the Statehouse meeting in Westfield, Indiana. Sponsored by the Hoosier Environmental Council and a coalition of other state groups, the day-long event will focus on solutions to the climate crisis.
Inglis, who began as a climate skeptic, offended many in his party when he introduced a carbon tax proposal in 2010. Challenged and defeated in his South Carolina district by the now-well-known U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, Inglis received the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award in 2015 for his stands on the environment and now works full-time to raise conservatives' awareness.
There are thinkers across the spectrum who agree with Inglis that free enterprise, so often branded as part of the problem, can actually be the key to solving it. Taxing the use of carbon at the source of production, he says, means “bringing accountability to energy, so we pay as we go for the full impact ... in a way that doesn't grow the government and in a way which gets our trading partners in on the deal.”
To align with conservative principles, Inglis said, the carbon tax must be revenue-neutral. Rather than going to new government programs, the money must be directly refunded to taxpayers or used to cut other taxes. His congressional bill proposed plowing the revenue back into massive cuts in payroll taxes.
And to be globally effective, Inglis maintained, the U.S. carbon assessment must be “border-adjustable.” That means that goods the U.S. imports would be taxed for their carbon impact here. But if our trading partner is also assessing its exports for carbon impact, the revenue it receives could remain in that country.
For example, Inglis said, if a shipment of flat steel from China arrived at a U.S. port, the shipment would be assessed here for the carbon pollution emitted when it was manufactured, and that revenue would remain in the United States.
“But if they had collected the tax in China, the tax money would go to Beijing,” and the steel shipment could enter the U.S. free and clear.
“Without any international agreement, then, you're just using the power of the American marketplace ... to get the other countries of the world to follow our lead,” Inglis said.
But America won't be able to lead if we can't transcend our own partisanship. It can start in places such as Indiana, with help from former partisans such as Bob Inglis.
If you go
Greening of the Statehouse is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the IMMI Center, 18880 N. East St., Westfield, Indiana. Admission is $35, or $20 for students, and includes breakfast and lunch. To register, go to hecweb.org/gts.