Bob Inglis wants climate change deniers to be more realistic. But can his ‘free-market’ environmentalism win GOP converts?
Ask Americans about “global warming”, and a new study suggests that 13% more of them will think it’s a bad thing compared to “climate change”. That, it turns out, was Republicans’ point: way back in 2002, a Republican pollster warned candidates and then-President George W Bush to avoid using the term “global warming” because people found it “frightening”.
Since then, the debate about “climate change” has become a cultural battle and, out in the field, Republican midterm candidates are engaged in a contest to become its most strident deniers. Even on Twitter, Pat Sajak thinks you’re an “unpatriotic racist” if you think climate change is a real problem.
But one Republican is trying to hold back the tide of his colleagues who continue to fall at the feet of the (largely) oil and coal industry-sponsored climate denial movement. Former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis, a Republican, is the movement’s best advertisement – a real live conservative convert. His story has the arc of a religious experience, in part because it includes one.
Inglis says he was first asked to consider the possibility that climate change is real because of his son and the rest of his family – “and they’re the ones who could change the locks,” he told me last week – so he decided to listen. Then, as a member of the House Science committee, he went to Antarctica and saw the ice-core samples that tell the story of human’s impact on the environment.
Lastly, he had a conversation with a Australian climatologist at the Great Barrier Reef, and it became clear to Inglis that there was a spiritual component to environmentalism that aligned with his conservative Christian faith and not the fuzzy “earth mother” New Age environmental stereotype. “I could see he worshipped the God of creation, and not the creation itself,” he told me here, where we’re both fellows at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics – and where I’ve seen him coast in wearing khakis and a helmet, looking for all the world like tofu-eating Obama voter.
Whether you think it’s the Creator or the creation that matters, mere mortals are not doing a great job with protecting the environment – which translates not just into sad pictures of displaced animals, but into whole populations of humans displaced and dying. Unforunately, to Americans, that suffering seems distant and abstractly related to climate change, and the only aspect of Inglis’s own conversion he could possibly replicate for another non-believer is to show them those ice-core samples. And even that’s the same kind of physical evidence that keeps failing to convince people.