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Op-Ed: He’s on a rescue mission for climate change—and the Conservative Party 

Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), the 2015 JFK Profile in Courage Award Winner who was ousted from Congress for believing in climate change, was brought to Rollins by the Political Science Department to host a talk. The former Congressman freely posed his questions to a cluster of Rollins students in the Crummer Business school’s intimate auditorium:  

 “Do you think climate change is real? Do you think it’s human-caused?  

And do you think we can solve it?”  

By the time he asked for a show of hands to the third question, their arms — already wiggling with uncertainty — dipped off at full tilt. 

Inglis has switched up his style since he was a representative, and not in the fashion sense. After representing the Greenville-Spartanburg district from 1993-1999, and returning from 2005-2011, the South Carolina politician lost his bid for re-election in 2010 by a landslide when he told a radio host that he believed in climate change—and that humans were a part of the problem.  

“This current style, this ‘Trump style’ in my party, I’ve got to believe it’s replaced with something else,” Inglis resolved the next morning, as he spoke with The Sandspur in a decorated meeting room of the Political Science Department. 

“Bill Clinton wore baggy suits, Barack Obama wore tight-fitting suits–we change clothes styles, we change political styles.” 

Inglis credits Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for hatching the model of disunity that right-wing figures like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Donald Trump piggyback on today: acting as “free agents outside of the party structure” to rake in tremendous profits.  

In his 2017 Ted Talk, he urges the U.S. to “Call lunacy what it is: lunacy.” 

Inglis’ other cardinal “sins”? Being one of 7 House Republicans who voted to disapprove Joe Wilson for his lack of decorum during Barack Obama’s address, his later support of same-sex marriage, and signing an anti-Trump letter in October of 2016 with thirty other former GOP members of Congress.  

The biggest kicker of all: Inglis used to not believe in climate change, a fact that he wears on his sleeve with admirable candor and conscious regret. It took trips to Antarctica and Greenland as part of the House Science Committee, long talks with climate experts, and prioritizing the opinions of his wife and children for him to acknowledge the undeniable scientific proof.  

“It was just willful disregard,” Inglis admits with sincerity. “I think that that’s really the state of a lot of Republicans in Congress now. It’s a willful disregard of the facts. They know it’s real, their children know it’s real, and their grandchildren know it’s real.” 

Despite any detriment to his political career and harm to his social life, Inglis bears little regret. “I was choosing between the temporary affection of the political class and the hopefully lasting affection of my children, my grandchildren, my wife, and friends that I love—I know I chose the better,” he mused.  

“And the poor politician, who is so deluded, they actually think that the crowd loves them. Well, you’ve gotta be a really sick narcissist in order to believe that” he said. 

Inglis has little interest in running for president. At least, that’s what the former Congressman seems to remind himself intermittently, despite the need for more moderate conservatives on capitol hill.  

Inglis just might fit the bill.  

One thing is for certain: there is no EcoRight movement without the likes of Inglis, who founded and directs the nonprofit,, an organization of 20,000 promoting market-oriented solutions to climate change, with the conservative principle of free enterprise at its core. 

His team denounces policies of regulating emissions and incentivizing clean energy, instead proposing a carbon tax to put a price on fossil fuel emissions.  

Yikes, a tax?” jests the site. No matter. RepublicEN credits the conservative economist, Milton Friedman’s idea of taxes as the “solution to pollution,” while reassuring all that a simultaneous dollar-for-dollar reduction in current taxes or a return of the carbon tax revenue to citizens would enable Americans to save money while making eco-minded choices.  

“Raise your hand” 

The night before, when he had asked for a voluntary show of hands from those self-identifying as right-of-center, only one hand shot up. It wavered when he asked whether climate change was human-caused, and dropped down for whether it could be solved.  

“That’s who we are after, all right! We’re after you,” he said to chuckles in the audience.  

Inglis is hoping to find recruits for the EcoRight, but clarified the day after his talk that he views such events as fulfilling a “secondary purpose, which is being an interpreter for the progressives—helping them to understand their conservative ‘Uncle Charlie.’” 

In Crummer, he had urged left-of-center students to send Republican relatives their way, stressing that they need to hear about solving climate change from the “language of the Right.”  

“Conservatives on climate feel like they’re just being treated like the dumb kid in the class—the last one to get it. So, we’ve got to tell them, ‘No no, you’re the smart kid, the one with the answer. Raise your hand.” 

Pro-Climate, not necessarily Pro-Choice 

Perhaps Inglis’ journey to eco-activism best parallels the transformation of George W. Romney, governor of Michigan from 1963-1969. Father of Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), G.W. Romney held promise as the best prospect for the Republican presidential nomination of 1968—until he was ousted from the race when he proclaimed that he was “brainwashed” into supporting the Vietnam war and led a march in Detroit to support Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.  

Both have allowed moral reasoning to triumph over public opinion, which is increasingly rare in such an unforgiving political party and atmosphere.  

“I’ve become suspect to friends, you know?” Inglis revealed. “My wife and I just had dinner with some long-standing friends recently, and you could tell that they were consciously avoiding anything about politics.”  

Make no mistake—former Representative Inglis is a principled conservative. While in Congress, he held an A rating from the NRA, a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition of America, a 93/100 American Conservative Union rating, as well as a 100 percent from the National Right to Life Committee. 

On some issues, Inglis does not stray from the party, though it may cause disagreement with his five children. He aligns with pro-life believers and 2nd Amendment advocates. 

He said of pro-choice believers, “What I try to say to them is, ‘I can guess where you’re coming from, you feel a need for autonomy, and this is the government reaching into your very own sphere, and it’s just unacceptable.’ I understand that. Can you understand how people like me see the unborn child as a life deserving protection, and can you see that those are inherently in conflict—and it’s an irreconcilable conflict. That’s the trouble.” 

On gun control, Inglis is confronted by another irreconcilable conflict.  

He said of the 2nd Amendment, “If it’s a right, it’s not an iron-clad right. It can be revoked by mental incompetence.”  

“The problem is, how do you take a country that really loves their guns, and try to take them away from them—and that’s just not my business right now, my business is climate,” said Inglis. 

Inglis is not sold on compiling other issues into the climate change conversation, which is his primary criticism of the Green New Deal.  

“Choose something that works on climate and just stick to it rather than solving all these other problems at once,” he said. “We’re not going to usher in Nirvana by having a grand bill that solves everything.” 

A lot of confusion over the Green New Deal, a plan to combat climate change, was caused by Alexandra Ocasio Cortez’s team releasing a proposal summary in 2019. 

The proposal included extra provisions not approved for the outline, a blunder that emboldened some conservatives to falsely claim it would confiscate cars or ban livestock and ice cream.  

Speaking the “Language of Conservatives” 

Living on a “farmette” in northern Greenville County, South Carolina, and hailing from Bluffton, a small Lowcountry town overrun by Hilton Head, Inglis’ mother told him he would either “be a preacher or a politician,” despite coming from a family with little-to-no history in politics. This is the same district he called the “shiny buckle of the Bible Belt” in an interview with PBS.  

The Lowcountry itself is especially at risk when it comes to climate change, with vulnerable coastal waterways and salt marshes and the impending threat of sea-levels rising. It shares this vulnerability with the coasts of Florida, as evidenced by hurricane damage costs in both states — perhaps this is why Inglis has traveled around the Sunshine State in search of Republican support. 

These impending threats are what motivate Inglis to promote accountability, by trying to eliminate the ability to dump into the “trash dump of the sky” without paying a tipping fee.  

Inglis characterizes fossil fuel lobbyists as a concern for instituting a tax on carbon emissions but maintains that “if campaign cash were the single determinant of the outcome, Nikki Haley would be winning in South Carolina, because she’s got big money behind her from the Koch Brothers.”  

According to Inglis, one of the largest oil and gas corporations is actually on RepublicEN’s side.  

“This is what’s really strange: we do have unusual allies. One of them is a small family company called ExxonMobil,” he jests.  

“Jeanne [Jeanne Mitchell, Exxon Mobil Corp. (2002-Feb. 2023)] said to me straight, because she’s a straight-shooting gal, she said ‘Bob we sell petroleum and natural gas. If you put it on a carbon tax, natural gas beats coal better than it’s beating it now. That’s why we’re for a carbon tax.’” 

Leadership that Never Goes Out of Style 

As a winner of the JFK Profile in Courage Award himself, Inglis fittingly identifies John F. Kennedy as one of his political heroes.  

“Well, when I get discouraged in this business, and there are some discouraging times, I go watch that Rice University speech,” he said, citing JFK’s 1962 address, “We choose to go to the Moon.” 

“It’s 17 minutes of pure American exceptionalism. Probably delivered better than any Republican has ever done it,” he adds, noting that some of the materials for the spacecraft had not even been invented yet. 

If it isn’t already clear from Inglis’ respectful matter of fact, yet effervescent and lighthearted demeanor, he made it clear that positivity is what the country needs right now, especially in believing we can solve this climate crisis.  

“Kennedy was saying he believed in the American people. When somebody comes along with authoritarian tendencies and says, ‘we’re done for, things are terrible,’ aren’t they really saying, ‘You suck, you Americans!’” he laughs. 

“Isn’t that what they’re saying?” he asked. 

“Just think about it. People should be insulted. Come on, Look around. Look at what we enjoy here, can’t we be thankful for that? It’s sort of astounding that people are willing to take that offense,” Inglis said.  

Inglis has learned from his 2010 primary loss, and is continuing into his era of climate activism with gentle leadership at the forefront of his mind. “If you lead them with a sort of jerky motion, they recoil,” he explained. 

As Inglis shepherds his fellow conservatives into the climate conversation, he reflects on their importance to the movement.  

“Conservatives are the indispensable partners in the indispensable nation. It’s not gonna happen without them, it’s not gonna be durable without them,” he said. 

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect those of The Sandspur or Rollins College. Have any additional tips or opinions? Send us your response. We want to hear your voice. 

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