Free Enterprise Lens Opens Climate Change Conversation For Conservatives
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
World leaders at the climate conference in Paris have agreed on a draft deal aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Terms of that deal will be finalized over the next week. President Obama has urged such a deal. But if that pact is a treaty, it's highly improbable the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate would approve it. Republican Bob Inglis served six terms in the House, representing 4th district of the state of South Carolina. He's now the executive director at republicen - that's E-N, for energy - .org. Mr. Inglis, thanks for being with us.
BOB INGLIS: Thanks, Scott. Great to be with you.
SIMON: During your second term in the House, you became passionate about climate change, I think it's safe to say. What convinced you this was a pressing issue?
INGLIS: Well, it was really the love of my son that started it. You know, I was my first six years in Congress saying that climate change was hooey, Al Gore's imagination. I hadn't looked into it at all. All I knew was he was for it, and therefore, I was against it. But I was out of Congress for six years and then ran again in '04. My son was voting for the first time. And so he came to me and said, dad, I'll vote for you. But you're going to clean up your act on the environment. So that was the first of three steps. Second step was going to Antarctica and seeing the evidence in the ice core drillings. Third step was really a spiritual awakening, another science community trip, Great Barrier Reef, snorkeling with an Aussie climate scientist. And I found it rather inspiring. So I came home and introduced the Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009 - probably not the best idea in the midst of the Great Recession, in perhaps the reddest district in the reddest state in the nation.
SIMON: What arguments do you make to Republican conservatives about climate that you think might be most resonant?
INGLIS: What we talk about is being climate realists and energy optimists. We should be realistic about the science. And then let's also be energy optimists, realize the power of free enterprise to fix this problem. If we would just put the cost on the fuels, then the free enterprise system would sort this out. And also, at the same time, we should eliminate all subsidies for all fuels. Then the innovation that would come from the free enterprise system would be exciting.
SIMON: I think a lot of Americans would say, well, of course we know the price of energy. It's the price we pay for a tank of gas.
INGLIS: No, there are hidden costs, of course. It's - basically what economists say is what you need to do is internalize the negative externalities, reveal those hidden costs. Make it so that at the meter, at the pump, we see the true cost.
SIMON: Wouldn't the established energy companies go nuts?
INGLIS: It depends on who they are, of course. If it's a natural gas company or a company that has significant natural gas assets, they'd be excited about this if they thought it was going to be - really going to happen. That's our challenge at republicen.org, is convincing particularly some natural gas folks that really, this could happen, that the fossil fuels could become accountable. And, of course, when that happens, coal would fall much faster to the competitive pressure of natural gas. And the natural gas companies would make a lot more money off of their product. Is it the end-all? No, it isn't. Natural gas still has CO2 emissions. But it's 50 percent less emissions than coal. So that's an example of how fixing the economics would then fix the environmental consequence.
SIMON: Mr. Inglis, as you survey this field of Republican candidates for president, do you see and hear any who express your viewpoint on the climate change?
INGLIS: It's been helpful to hear what John Kasich has said on the topic. Jeb Bush has had some fairly positive things to say. I think even the exchange between Marco Rubio and Chris Christie in one of the debates was helpful in that they were trying to move away from the label of the denier. And so what we think would be effective is helping them to change the question. Currently, if a Republican is asked in front of a very conservative crowd, do you believe in climate change or, is it a fact, an affirmative answer ostracizes them from the audience. But if we can phrase that question differently - can free enterprise solve climate change? - then they can answer that question in the affirmative in front of the reddist-meat crowd because of course we conservatives believe that free enterprise can solve problems you don't even have.
SIMON: Bob Inglis is executive director at republicen.org. Thanks so much for being with us.
INGLIS: Great to be with you, Scott. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.