Reframing the Environment: Conservatives and Climate Policy

Rep Bob Inglis Batten Hour

In a political landscape where climate change has frequently been polarized along partisan lines, advocacy by conservative Republicans for meaningful environmental policy action can seem rare. That’s precisely what made this week’s Batten Hour truly noteworthy, reflecting the importance of cross-party collaboration and consensus-building in addressing environmental challenges.

Presented in collaboration with UVA's Environmental Thought & Practice program and the Karsh Institute of Democracy, former U.S. Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) reflected on the dynamic politics of climate change, and the less often discussed intersection of conservative principles and environmental stewardship. Inglis (Law, '84), the executive director of republicEN, an organization that explores conservative climate policies based at George Mason University, has been working for decades to shift the mindset of his party towards acknowledging and addressing climate change. 

Inglis served as a member of Congress representing Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina—“the reddest district in the reddest state”—from 1993 to 1999, and then again from 2005-2011. After 12 years in Congress, he received only 29% of the vote in a Republican primary for his seat in 2010. 


Rep Bob Inglis Batten Hour

Inglis shared his perspective on the election that ousted him, explaining that he voted contrary to the Tea Party Caucus on a variety of issues including gay marriage and banking regulation, but that his most enduring heresy was saying “climate change was real and let’s do something about it.” Still identifying as a conservative to this day, he acknowledged that, “the left started this problem of identity politics, but my people perfected it.” 

For Inglis, that begged the question, how do you break out of a toxic cycle of politics that hampers the development of policy addressing real and urgent climate problems? He noted that research shows personality-wise, conservatives are more hierarchical and individualist, in stark contrast to overarching progressive policy frameworks generally focused on community and fairness. Inglis said that he believes this fundamental difference in personality types plays a significant role in driving the disconnect between the two political parties on action addressing climate change.

He added that most climate conversations are “conducted in the language of the left, and that’s why conservatives don’t typically feel comfortable,” and have even more difficulty explaining climate policy to others. That’s something republicEN is trying to change, using conservative language, focused on individual economic interests, national prosperity and jobs to reframe discussions around the environment.

Rep Bob Inglis Batten Hour

One of the highlights of the Batten Hour was a live case study conducted with the audience focused on implementing decarbonization policy. The interactive exercise allowed participants to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in addressing climate change, especially when considering diametrically divergent perspectives. By examining real-world scenarios and discussing potential solutions, attendees had the opportunity to think critically and engage in constructive conversations from multiple political angles.

Inglis underscored the growing awareness that a need for action to create a sustainable future is not exclusive to any one political ideology, emphasizing there is a real need to work with people who don’t understand climate change science and trying not to offend them in the process. 

In this effort, Inglis encouraged students to be vulnerable. Remarking on what he views as the most effective way to discuss environmental issues with people bearing skepticism, he said to appeal to the heart, not the head. “We need you, we can’t do this without you.” 

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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