Building Community with Free Enterprise

This blog was written by John D. Wilson, former Deputy Director for Regulatory Policy at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | August 22, 2012 | Climate Change

“Congressman Inglis has a unique and important point of view — that free enterprise is the best answer to our nation’s intertwined energy and climate challenges,” says Ed Maibach, director of the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication (4C), in remarks at the launch of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative.

I wrote an extended exploration of the call from former Congressman Bob Inglis for a free market solution to climate change last year. His simple challenge leads to some pretty complex questions that don’t have obvious answers. But some see this and other events as suggesting that conservative thinkers are re-engaging the question of how to slow global climate change.

What’s interesting about the launch of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative (E&EI) is that Congressman Inglis is now talking about what motivates him to keep digging into this issue. The E&EI will be engaging social-issue, economic-issue and libertarian conservatives around climate change in what boils down to an ask for a fundamental reform of the nation’s tax code (which happens to echo Al Gore’s call to “tax what we burn, not what we earn“).

But in an insightful interview with David Roberts of Grist, I hear Inglis’ passion less around the policy issues and more around the degree to which “anger and rejectionism” have replaced community and leadership in the conservative movement.

Inglis thinks of himself as “a conservative who wants to build community. That it is consistent with the ethical teachings of Jesus — to be a communitarian, to care for the sick.”

And, he wants new leadership from young conservatives. Congressman Inglis wants to “find the college Republicans, the young evangelicals, the Federalist Society members who will think fresh on these things, and who might just start a parade that elected officials could lead.”

Reconciling the divergent forces of free enterprise and community does call for leadership. Reconciling contradictions is what great leadership is all about. (Pointing them out is merely punditry.)

That said, I’m not entirely sold on Congressman Inglis’ approach. He speaks of accountability, but then disparages those pointing out the serious evidence that the dangers of climate change are present today. Another challenge is that free enterprise is at its best when responding to relatively short-term market signals. Climate change, however, has a long lead time – whatever impacts we are indeed experiencing today are the result of greenhouse gases that were mostly released before I reached adulthood. These also are tough contradictions to reconcile.

The mission of reconciliation hits home; it engages my memories of my first understanding of politics — politics in the most private sense of the word. Growing up conservative, Christian and Republican, I found myself encountering hate, anger and exclusion among people who professed the opposite values. The values I treasure most, which haven’t really changed all that much, have been cast into the shadows of conservative anger and resentment. Congressman Inglis, you have my prayers for success in your venture.

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