January 24th, 2017


Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Former President, Shell Oil Company; Founder and Chief Executive, Citizens for Affordable Energy

Former Republican U.S. Representative, South Carolina


Much has been made of the partisan divide when it comes to climate change. But are there Republicans out there who accept the science and believe in climate change? Believe it or not, there are –Bob Inglis, former South Carolina representative, is one of them.

During his six years in Congress, Inglis says, he dismissed climate change as “hooey.” It was the conviction of his 18-year-old son, followed by trips to the Arctic and Australia to see the effects of global warming for himself that convinced him of the urgency.

“[I] came home and introduced Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act of 2009,” Inglis remembers, adding that it was “probably not a good idea to introduce a carbon tax in the midst of the great recession in the reddest district in the reddest state in the nation!” The bill died, and Inglis lost his next bid for congress to a tea party candidate.

But the seed was planted. Inglis went on to start RepublicEn.org, a non-profit coalition of conservative “energy optimists and climate realists.” The solutions, he believes, are based not in government subsidies and regulations, but in free enterprise, corporate accountability and stewardship.

John Hofmeister, a former Shell Oil executive, is another unlikely supporter of the climate change movement. During his tenure at the company he was instrumental in convincing the president of Shell to get out of the Global Climate Coalition, a big-oil conglomerate which Hofmeister calls “a fishy organization that seemed to promote one thing, but actually did another.”

“They seemed to be interested superficially in effects on climate,” says Hofmeister. “But in fact they were working to defeat any legislative effort to do anything that might amend how businesses practiced and how industry operates.”

Inglis, who admits that he is now more “Republican in name only,” believes that conservatism and populism are on a collision course – which will make it difficult to make progress. He describes the populist movement as a fire. “And if you think you can direct fire, you're wrong…it’s pitchforks and torches. You can burn down some houses. But you can't build anything because there's nothing to build with. All you’ve got is anger and pitchforks and torches. And those aren’t good tools for building.”

The new administration has, to no one’s surprise, not been kind to the climate change movement so far. With a president focused more on the art of the deal than the state of the planet, can both sides of the aisle come together on a solution? Conservative economists have argued for a carbon tax, even evoking free-market icon Milton Friedman in support of their cause.

“I think one has to distinguish the theory from the practice,” warns Jeremy Carl of the Hoover Institute. “And in theory, there could be a lot to be said for it, particularly if you're cutting it with offsetting taxes elsewhere. So it's not about growing government or creating a physical drag, having carbon tax. But the practical details I think frankly are still a huge hold up.”

Conservatives, he says, are skeptical of “where this would go, why it might get hijacked, what other things would go along with it. If we’re doing this, is it on top of a bunch of other rules and regulations that we've already got or are we getting rid of a bunch of subsidies?”

That view, Inglis says, is more cynical than skeptical. “The reality is, America is waiting for somebody to bring us together. Somebody to lead and say, you know what, conservatives, do you have anything to offer?”

Both sides need to admit there’s a problem, and to reach a compromise, continues Inglis. “The left has to say ‘listen, environmental justice later.’ The right has to say, ‘really, we can trust our fellow citizens to come up with a solution that works.’

“If we can't, the experiment in self-government has failed, and we need to call up the Queen and ask her back.”


Related Links:


Global Climate Coalition

The Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax (Huffington Post)

What would Milton Friedman do about climate change? (Forbes)

Donald Trump and the triumph of climate change denial (Atlantic)