Clean Nuclear Energy & the Environment: A Discussion with Congressman Bob Inglis

Recently, the French government and a multinational coalition announced the groundbreaking of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), an experimental nuclear fusion power plant that could provide clean energy to all of Europe in the next five years. While nuclear fusion has long been theorized as a safe, clean energy source, no country has successfully created a nuclear fusion power plant. If successful, ITER could be the first large-scale nuclear fusion reactor in the world.

In response to this potentially massive leap for clean energy and the environment, Renew America Together asked Congressman Bob Inglis, founder and Executive Director of conservative environmental group, about his thoughts on nuclear fusion and the polarization of climate change in the United States. Congressman Inglis is the newest featured speaker at Renew America Together and is a Republican leading the fight against climate change.

The UK government invested £200 million into nuclear fusion last year. The French government and a coalition of other countries announced the creation of the ITER nuclear fusion reactor this year. What are the major obstacles to the US government investing in nuclear fusion?

Vision is the major obstacle. Fusion power in this century is about as audacious as the moon shot was in the last century. In his speech at Rice University in September 1962, President Kennedy admitted that some of the materials needed for the spacecraft hadn’t been invented yet. No matter; we were going to the moon. The means of containing and harnessing a fusion reaction are every bit as visionary. So the question is, do we have another moon shot in us? Can we say with President Kennedy: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

What would it mean for Americans if the construction of the ITER nuclear fusion reactor in France is successful?

It would serve as a kick in the pants. It would remind us that France has pursued nuclear power in a way that we should have. It would tell us to dream bigger, to work harder, to invest more wisely and to believe that it really is possible to produce emissionless power.

With the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the failure of the Kyoto Agreement, do you believe that the United States can still garner support for a multinational coalition of countries to combat climate change?

Our slated departure from the Paris Agreement signals an abdication of leadership by the United States. If we are to reclaim our role as the leader of the free world, we need to reverse that withdrawal and reengage. Restating our commitment to a “will” to solve climate change would make us credible in asking other countries to join us in charting a “way” to that goal. Absent that reengagement with the Paris Agreement–an agreement that was so difficult to negotiate–how could we be credible in addressing the even harder work of finding a “way.”

How do politicians get Americans to support multinational collaboration in furthering technological advancement in potential clean energy sources?

Our political leaders should be telling us that we are great, not that we were great. Let us not be called back to some good old days that never existed, but challenged to rise to the even better days ahead. After all, when leaders are optimistic, they’re saying they believe in the people they represent. That kind of leadership would give us confidence to engage, to collaborate, to lead. It’s insecurity and a sense of having little to offer that causes withdrawal.

Where can Republicans and Democrats collaborate on environmental issues?

Conservatives are coming around on climate. As they make that turn, it’s vital for progressives to welcome them to the climate conversation without recrimination. While professional partisans will find it difficult to drop a very effective political wedge, I’m confident that many progressives will welcome their conservative neighbors to the climate conversation–in full recognition of the fact that we are literally all in this together.

Renew America Together works to combat the polarization of our society and find common ground as Americans. Why do you believe climate change is such a polarizing issue in the United States?

Climate action became polarized because some vested interests used the dislocation of the Great Recession to brand it as a left-wing cause so as to maintain their ability to socialize their soot and their CO2. Meanwhile, some on the left were glad to be handed that wedge and to sink it deep. The result is that climate action became culturally marked as a cause of the left. That marking can be undone if: (a) conservatives reassert themselves as conservationists, shedding the doctrines of populist grievance that have infected the GOP of late; and (b) partisan progressives drop that climate wedge that’s been working so well for them.

How can the United States take steps towards combating climate change, either in nuclear fusion and clean energy or in another aspect of environmental protection?

There are three ways to solve for climate change. You can regulate it, you can incentivize solutions, or you can price pollution. The challenge of the first two is getting them to go global. Our regulations don’t apply in China. Our tax incentives don’t work in India (unless early adoption in America leads to cost-crashes sufficient to make the cleaner technologies widely affordable in the developing world). Pricing pollution can go global if we collect a carbon tax at our borders on goods coming from countries without an equivalent price on carbon pollution (a “border adjustment”). If we make that carbon tax revenue-neutral by pairing it with a cut in existing taxes or a dividend of all of the carbon tax revenue back to our citizens, there would be no growth of government. Accountability for the true cost of burning of fossil fuels would bring the blessings of innovation. Free people engaged in free enterprise would lead the world to a cleaner future.

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