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Bob Inglis offers Republican approach to fighting climate change

Bob Inglis talks with Uof I student Matt Dunkle on a Snake River trip in 2017

How do you convince a Trump voter that climate change deserves his attention? I have been going back and forth with one of my friends from college on this issue and I must acknowledge I'm not getting anywhere. "Climate change is a religious issue and I don't argue religion," he said.

To counter my evidence; historic warm weather, extensive worldwide wildfires, increased storms and rising water levels threatening places like Bangladesh and Mozambique, he brings out old, tired articles by scientists using old, outdated arguments and lines right out of Rush Limbaugh's program in the mid-1990s.

Former South Carolina Republican Rep. Bob Inglis is an evangelical Christian country lawyer, who represented one of the reddest districts in the nation in Congress twice in the 1990s and the 2000s, He used to share my friend's skepticism on climate change. Today Bob is one of the leading voices for a Republican approach to resolving our climate crisis. Inglis, with the zeal of the converted, has become one of the leading Republican voices for taking action on climate change with his group .

I first met Inglis in 2017 when he came to Idaho to speak to students at the University of Idaho. We have met and talked many times since as he seeks to convince Republicans there is a different path than government regulation to tackle this existential crisis.

Isn’t climate change about control? my friend suggests. Aren’t those climate scientists just corrupt people chasing government money. Isn’t Al Gore full of it with his movies full of doom?

That’s what Inglis used to think. But his kids and his wife urged him to look into the issue deeper.

He went on several trips with scientists to Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef as a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. They showed him ice cores that showed the uptick in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere coinciding the Industrial Revolution.

By drilling up fossil fuels created over millions of years and burning them over the course of the last 200 years, we’ve changed the chemistry of the atmosphere, he said. That’s not controversial, it’s measurable.

But what brought him around came on a more human level. A conversation over lunch shifted to the scientist and Inglis’ Christian faith. Their shared values showed Inglis the scientist was studying climate change as a way to practice his faith in God and his responsibility to protect His creation.

But it didn’t change his mind about the role of government. He continues to want government to get out of the way and let free enterprise solve the problem.

He points to Milton Friedman, libertarian economist and advisor to President Ronald Reagan. The carbon industry is putting pollution into the atmosphere, Inglis said, and Friedman said making people who didn’t voluntarily accept that pollution is forcing its costs on them.

Some go as far as calling it theft. Friedman’s answer, place a tax on that pollution and create an incentive for industry to reduce it.

As Democrats were pushing for a mix of subsidies and a “cap and trade,” system that would be more regulatory, Inglis introduced a carbon tax alternative to combat climate change. Coming in the heart of the recession it did not go well in his district. Despite a 93 score from the American Conservative Union and a 100 percent rating by the Christian Coalition of America and an A from the National Rifle Association he was defeated handily by Trey Gowdy. That’s why you don’t see many Republican politicians joining him on the climate change band wagon yet.

They also resist the gloom and doom and resent the tone many scientists and climate advocates take.

“It’s important to approach (skeptics) with humility and not be condescending,” he said.

Unfortunately, my college friend is way behind the industrial view of climate issues at this point. Here in Idaho business leaders and even our Republican Gov. Brad Little can't ignore the earlier snow pack, the longer, fiercer fires seasons, how he shifting energy markets affect farmers, the timber industry and companies that serve them like J.R. Simplot, Monsanto and Idaho Power.

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the report said. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

Scientists from across government and academia, in a report peer-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences, says the average annual temperature has risen 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900 and will continue to rise unless greenhouse gases are dramatically reduced.

There is a lot to fear in recent scientific assessments, more extreme heat, more flooding, rising sea levels even more wild fires. But climate change already has brought economic opportunity as people develop new technologies to reduce greenhouse gases and help us adapt to the changing conditions.

Here in Idaho, we expect to suffer far less than places like Arizona and California. I have said that we are Noah's Ark for climate change and like it or not, many people will come here to get away from its effects elsewhere.

I hope more skeptics talk to their kids and grandchildren about the climate crisis so we can all come together to make life better in the future for them.

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