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How Some Republicans Are Getting On Board With Climate Change Solutions

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: President Trump has become the American face for those who disagree that man-made climate change is real and one of the greatest challenges the planet is up against, and a significant percentage of GOP office holders have at least publicly supported the president's point of view. Although, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski wrote in a recent Washington Post op ed that it's time for lawmakers to come together on pragmatic solutions to climate change. And one former Republican Congressman, Bob Inglis of South Carolina, is pushing back in a formal way through the organization Republicen.org, a nonprofit that wants conservatives to find free enterprise solutions to climate change. Inglis was in Scottsdale earlier this week and I caught up with him. I started by asking whether the debate on the issue is actually changing or if it's still primarily left versus right.

BOB INGLIS: I think it's changing. We're seeing some really exciting movement here lately. You know, it has been the case since the Great Recession that it got marked as, well, it's a liberal cause. But now, with so many more experiences of climate change and the reality that is here now, it's not far away, many conservatives are starting to enter the competition of ideas and saying, okay, I hear at the Green New Deal, we've got some ideas, too, about how to solve this.

GOLDSTEIN: Well it's hard to talk about any topic in the news without asking about President Trump. So, how do his comments, how do his actions affect whether Republicans, whether conservatives feel comfortable stepping into this?

INGLIS: I think President Trump may become the face of climate disputation, and as a result, when he leaves the stage, I think he's going to take it with him and it's going to look very retro. And so, in a strange sort of way, his disputation to science may actually help us because it will signal the end of that. Once he leaves office, he's going to take that climate disputation with him, and conservatives among us are really going to come back to say, sure, we've got a challenge here, and yes, free enterprise can solve it, and let's get going.

GOLDSTEIN: Has it been economy versus environment? And now maybe we're starting to see some incremental movement on both sides saying, well, these can work together as opposed to against each other.

INGLIS: Yeah it's really been economy versus environment. It's also just, really been us versus them, you know. It's sort of a cultural identity that, in the Great Recession, what happened is, if you were concerned about climate change, you were basically saying that you were a liberal, but now we're realizing, no, that doesn't make you a liberal. It makes you somebody who believes in the reality of thermometers and yardsticks and measurements, and that this is just data, and that we need to respond to the data and come up with solutions that actually work. And the great news is that there's solutions that both progressives and conservatives can agree on.

GOLDSTEIN: Well, let's talk about some of those. What are some that come to mind for you, where there is fairly ready agreement to some extent, even if not on the exact details?

INGLIS: I guess the best example would be the fact that Al Gore and Art Laffer, Ronald Reagan's economic adviser, are neighbors in Nashville, Tennessee, and they actually agree on the solution, which is to price carbon dioxide, to simply put a price on emissions, sort of like the price of a tipping fee at the city dump. And then watch the free enterprise system innovate rapidly. And so, I believe that ultimately what we'll do is bring America together. If Al Gore and Art Laffer can come together, surely we can bring America together around a simple carbon tax that is paired with a dollar for dollar reduction in other taxes or a dividend of all of that carbon tax money back to the people, and it's applied at the borders so that we get the whole world in on this thing. And the result will be, then, 7 billion people around the world demanding innovation, and the free enterprise system will supply that innovation, once we see the true cost of energy at the meter and at the pump.

GOLDSTEIN: Now despite having served 12 years in the House, or maybe because of that, you know how the world of politics works and you know there are powerful interests who are not as excited about, sort of, fixing this problem. Do you think we're evolving past that, to the point you've been talking about more conservatives interested in this process? Is this something where those powerful interests are going to be, sort of, outshouted by others who are pushing more together in this movement?

INGLIS: Well there's an adage in Washington that says, you know, don't try to kill an industry because he'll fight like heck to stay alive. And of course, that's going to happen here. There are some industries that will be done in by a transparent pricing of all of their negative effects. And so they're going to fight like heck, but that's what we've just got to overcome. Particularly as a conservative, it used to be that conservatives would say, I can't help you if you're a buggy whip manufacturer when Henry Ford is bringing in the car, you know, I can't stand for buggy whips. I got to be for the innovation of the car, and that's what's going to happen here, is that, yeah, we've got to be prepared to say to those vested industries that don't see a way to reduce their carbon footprint, that, yeah, take the time you've got right now. Figure out a way to transition to a different business. You've got capital, you've got customers. Figure out how to transition. Sort of like the railroads that could have become airlines. They were in the people-moving business, they had capital, they had customers. They could've made the switch. "People won't fly." Well they were wrong, and the people that think that they can keep on polluting for free and socializing their soot? Well, they're going to find out that, no, the world is going to say to them, "Enough of your stinky stuff, and how about give us the good stuff? And if you can't, we'll buy it from somebody else."

GOLDSTEIN: That is former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis. He is executive director of Republicen.org. Bob, thanks for the time today.

INGLIS: Great to be with you, Steve.

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Steve Goldstein was a host at KJZZ from 1997 to 2022.