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The Republican pushing Trump on climate change

Michael Knigge
September 12, 2017

Former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis tells DW why it's "asinine" to not talk about climate change amid an approaching hurricane. He calls for a new approach to appeal to the right on fighting global warming.

USA Hurricane "Harvey"
Image: Reuters/N. Oxford

DW: The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt said just as hurricane Irma was approaching Florida that now was not the time to talk about climate change. Do you agree with him?

Bob Inglis: I don't know why it would be insensitive, in Pruitt's words, to discuss the long-term solution to a problem while people are facing its immediate consequences. It is certain that we want people to be focused on rescues and recoveries, but a great nation should be able to do more than just that. It should be able to figure out how to head this off for the future. I think it should bring some comfort to the people that are dealing with the effects, like my family is, and know that somebody is thinking how to avoid this in the future.

In fact, I think it is a really asinine thing for Scott Pruitt to say. My family evacuated from the low country of South Carolina. It is asinine to say that nobody should focus on the long-term, particularly the administrator of the EPA. That is the most asinine thing I can think of.

Republican Party leaders along with President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax and decided to have the US exit the Paris climate accord, doubt that climate change is real. Do you think hurricanes Irma and Harvey will have any impact on how your fellow Republicans view climate change?

USA | Bob Inglis
Bob Englis is a former Republican congressman from South CarolinaImage: Energy and Enterprise Initiative

I have got to believe that it will begin to impact people. I have seen pictures of the dock and the house that I grew up and water is about a foot deep on top of the dock. It's never been that way. You can say, well that is storm surge, but that storm surge is on top of a higher sea level. So at some point we get taught by what nature is saying to us over and over.

There is an old saying that [former Democratic South Carolina] Senator Fritz Hollings used to say: There is no education in the second kick of a mule. And we have been kicked by this mule over and over and maybe at some point we are going to take it as a teachable moment. 

You were a member of Congress from South Carolina, but lost against a Republican primary challenger from the right, due in part to your stance against climate change denial. Do you really think your views on climate change are less toxic for a Republican politician now than they were when you were forced out of office six years ago?

Definitely, because when I was facing that scenario it was in the midst of the darkest days of the great recession. That recession is over and so it is a different scenario now. And also we have had more opportunities to learn from the messages we are getting from the natural world around us.

So, I think we all know that we are all experiencing climate change. Just for some of us, pride keeps us from admitting that it is human caused. Because the other team got identified with saying it, we Republicans are slow to admit it because of the pride of not wanting to say that those who were acknowledging it sooner were right to do so. We have to overcome that.

Trump announcesthe US will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement
Trump announced in June the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreementImage: Reuters/K. Lamarque

But of course it's also true that Republicans haven't heard a solution that they like to get behind. They heard cap-and-trade and they realized that was very complicated and they heard clean power plants and that was a regulatory answer. They haven't heard yet a free enterprise answer that we're offering at republicEn.org. We think when they hear that they will be able to say of course we've got a problem with climate change, it's just we haven't liked the solution yet. But now that you are showing us the solution in which free enterprise can solve climate change, we can be ready to act.

How would you try to convince people who doubt climate change?

It is really difficult. Having to say, "OK, you're right," is just a real difficult thing for humans to do. You have to give them space to make that turn. Space and an awful lot of grace. And maybe indicate where I have been wrong on other things to let them know that we all can be wrong and correct ourselves, which is part of learning. Space and grace.

Bob Inglis served as a congressman from South Carolina from 1993 to 1999 and again from 2005 to 2011. In an effort to advocate for climate change solutions that appeal to Republicans, he founded the Energy and Enterprise Initiative in 2012, a campaign promoting free enterprise-based responses to deal with the issue.   

The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge.