Geek Bravado, Republican Style


Democrats aren’t the only ones geeked out by climate change science and policy. It appears Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) could probably give Al Gore a run for his money when it comes to a simple, compelling explanation of the dense and oh-so-titillating subject of climate science.
I saw this video addressed to Clemson University students via an email from Eban Goldstein, who has been leading a group called “Focus the Nation” that has organized an extensive bipartisan group of Congressional members to draw attention to climate change solutions.
With his folksy charm, Inglis manages to impart the lessons of arctic carbon-dating and internalizing externalities. But he also draws on imagery and metaphors that I would venture to guess are rather new to the reconstituted environmental movement.
Inglis’s relies on a pair of University of South Carolina cups (“washed in the tears of Gamecocks”) to explain negative externalities. He goes on to suggest how we can turn the potential hard hit of climate change into the “triple play of another American century” by cleaning the air, creating jobs, and reducing oil dependency for national security. The real surprise was his likening of EPA regulations to biblical law in their mutual support for stewardship of the earth.
Despite Inglis’s disarming self-assuredness, I do have a concern or two about his pitch. Inglis relies on a “why not” argument to address climate change — that if it doesn’t cost us, why not try to help stop it. In fact it will cost us and trying to obfuscate that fact will make for a more difficult sell. Businesses and economists aren’t just whistling dixie when they complain about the initial costs of compliance for some sort of tradable permits system. The argument is more convincing when explained in terms of a risk calculus where the cost of inaction for the global economy is twenty times greater than the cost of acting now on climate change as the Stern Report made clear two years ago.
Investment is another way to make the case to businesses, which Inglis does. But renewable and R&D investment can easily fall prey to parochial interests. The hydrogen solution Inglis proposes is not only a long way off, it’s also an incredibly expensive front-end investment. I am left wondering whether Inglis would support these investments if they didn’t benefit the South Carolina R&D economy. If serious action on climate change can only win Congressional support with a pork-barrel buffet, this will be another uphill battle to yield another energy boondoggle.
But overall, I think Inglis is pioneering new ground and has caught on to a bigger idea here about how the US can revitalize its leadership potential — even if we are waving goodbye to hegemony — when he suggests we can no longer afford to look like “the fat cats who really don’t care.”
–Sameer Lalwani


8 comments on “Geek Bravado, Republican Style

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *