Photo courtesy Republicen.org
In the November/December issue of Sierra, we profiled Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman who became an advocate for solving climate change through free-enterprise innovations. Much has changed since then. We checked back in with Inglis to hear his postelection thoughts about Donald Trump and the way forward for progress on climate. Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
How did you and your organization, RepublicEn.org, react when Donald Trump won?
It’s still defying encapsulation. We’re a group of actual conservatives who believe in free enterprise and civil discourse. And we find so much of the persona of Donald Trump completely repulsive. It’s tragic, the damage that he’s done to our republic and the forces that he has unleashed.
What does his election mean for your work?
We’re focused more on Trump voters than on Trump himself. Reluctant Trump voters didn’t like Hillary Clinton, and they didn’t like an internationalist president advancing a regulatory solution to climate change that was part of a broader UN mission. We think we can show them a free enterprise solution that would fit with their values.
Another group of voters is the party loyalists—the people who said, “He’s the nominee and I’ve got to vote for him.” We’re out to convince the reluctant Trump voter and the party loyalist there’s a solution. They’ll be looking for cover—for a way to say, “We're not with those people who think it’s actually getting cooler or who don’t believe in sea level rising.’”
What do you think of his appointment of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency?
It’s obviously very disturbing. People should have passion for their work and their mission, and it seems Mr. Pruitt has passion for undoing the work of the EPA. You’d almost prefer an incompetent to a zealot who wishes to torpedo the work of the agency he’s assigned to lead.
I don’t know what happens to the professional staff at the EPA, whether they leave en mass or whether they do what you really don’t want bureaucrats to do, which is dig in and slow walk everything (Pruitt) wants to do. That’s not a good model of governing.
What do you make of Trump meeting with Al Gore, then naming Pruitt two days later?
The Economist wrote that Donald Trump is a guy who wants everybody to have a pony, and who doesn’t understand governing means choosing who gets the pony. That helps me to understand the meeting with Al Gore.
Either Trump wants everybody to have a pony and doesn’t understand that he has now set up in his own administration the opposite of what he was saying, or he was simply doing a publicity stunt with Al Gore and Ivanka.
It would be one thing if somebody like Pruitt were saying there’s a better way than the Clean Power Plan. It’s quite another to be the guy who’s in charge of the agency that’s full of scientific inquiries and yet rejecting the science of climate change. It’s a threat to my optimism, but I hope that Ivanka and Donald Trump meeting with Al Gore has meaning.
Do you see any bright spots or potential opportunities?
It’s strange to say, but I think there’s hope in the uncertainty. Mr. Pruitt may be an ideologue, but there is no ideology that drives Donald Trump except personal aggrandizement. If he senses from the public that there is desire for action on climate change, he may well go that direction. He’ll be blown by whatever winds of public opinion are out there. One setting of the sails will be Mr. Pruitt, but the captain of the ship can change those settings.
What’s next for you and RepublicEn.org?
The election is driving people to our site. We’ve had a tremendous increase in the number of people standing with us. People are looking for a way to say, “I reluctantly voted for this guy. But I don’t accept what he says about climate change.”
We’ll continue to engage with Congress and think we’ll find receptivity there. While there are candidates who are planning to mimic Donald Trump as a way to get elected in future cycles, I think there are even more who realize this is and must be an aberration from the norm.
It’s always a heady thing when there’s a victory and sense of control. When Republicans took control of the Congress in 1994, that was certainly the case. We had the Contract With America. Pretty soon there was the comment from the Senate that this was a House contract, not a Senate contract. And we had President Clinton to deal with. All that headiness runs into reality and gets reshaped.
So for people worried about the climate, there’s hope?
The gear of history is stuck in forward. Every once in a while the tractor slides downhill a little bit, but the gear is stuck in forward. We’re going to have action on climate. As long as we can come out in a fresh way and talk about a nonregulatory, worldwide solution on the price of carbon dioxide, I think we’ve got a shot.
It may take us approaching people by saying, “You know us. We believe as you do in small government, free enterprise solutions. Now can we talk about climate change and making this a livable common home? We’re all in this together.” Once people are victorious, they can hear that better than they could when it looked like their views were being run over and they were powerless. When we feel empowered, we can be much more thoughtful.
Andrea Cooper has reported for NPR, the New York Times, and National Geographic Traveler, among other publications. She lives in North Carolina.