Bob Inglis, a former six-term Republican U.S. representative from South Carolina, spoke Wednesday night in William L. Harkness Hall on harnessing free markets for environmentalism.
The event, attended by about 15 students, was co-sponsored by the Yale College Republicans and the Yale chapter of Ducks Unlimited, a wetlands conservation group. Inglis was on campus as part of his conservative-led educational campaign called the “Energy Enterprise Initiative,” which calls for the elimination of fuel subsidies, attaching a proper cost to fuels and changing the structure of energy taxes.
While identifying himself as “very conservative” and highly rated by the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association, Inglis said the claim that climate change was a legitimate problem was a hard sell for his state’s right-leaning constituents during the Republican primary. Inglis, who lost to a tea party candidate in the 2010 Republican primaries, attributed his defeat to his support of measures combating climate change.
Inglis said he used to deny the existence of climate change and gained votes from opposing Al Gore’s view on stopping climate change. However, he said his perspective on the issue was changed by a conversation with his son, Robert Inglis ’07, who told him to “clean up [his] act on the environment.” He added that his visit to Antarctica as a member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment showed him physical evidence of climate change.
Inglis discussed the various initiatives taken as part of the Energy Enterprise Initiative, including writing competitions aimed at conservative students in red states.
Elizabeth Henry ’14, chairwoman of the Yale College Republicans, said Inglis offered a unique view on the issue that she had not heard before.
“It’s great to hear policy views not just like that of the National Review”, she said. “There’s an increasing number of conservatives coming to speak at Yale, but they say pretty much the same thing.”
Inglis said he believes climate change is real but does not believe the science to explain the phenomenon is settled. He claimed this view is accurate given available statistics, adding that his “faith informs my reaction to the data.” He said the Republican Party is failing the nation by not delivering solutions for climate change.
Helder Toste ’16, who attended the talk, said climate change and its economic implications are important issues to him, especially since he hails from California, a coastal state.
“I think what he’s proposing is a straightforward, conservative solution … but we need to implement it in the next three years,” Toste said.
Inglis called for true cost comparisons of energy across countries, arguing that oil subsidization in countries including Iran and Iraq distorts market forces. He also called for developing countries like China and India to tax carbon at the same rate as the U.S. and advocated for import taxes on developing countries that do not institute such policy. He called for America to use free enterprise to solve the problem “before the Chinese do it.”
When asked about the role of free markets in environmentalism, economics professor Robert Mendelsohn said in an email to the News that for natural resources, the government needs to “get the price right … But once the prices are set, the private sector is best left alone to manage the resource.”
The event marked the undergraduate leg of Inglis’ visit to Yale, which also included a talk with the Federalist Society and the Environmental Law Association at the Yale Law School.