BOSTON — A conservative congressman from South Carolina whose change of heart on climate change drew the wrath of fellow Republicans and helped cost him re-election has been named the 2015 recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
Bob Inglis will receive the award from President Kennedy’s grandson, Jack Schlossberg, during a May 3 ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
The award is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. It is named for Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers by taking principled stands for unpopular positions.
“This is tremendously meaningful because I read ‘Profiles in Courage’ ... and remember forming the conclusion that that’s how I want to be,” Inglis said Monday.
Inglis, who served in Congress from 1993 to 1998 and from 2005 to 2010, was a member of the House Science Committee and ranking member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. He initially opposed efforts to address climate change.
But after interactions with scientists and discussions with his five children, Inglis called on the U.S. to confront the issue and began advocating for a carbon tax to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.
“In reversing his own position and breaking with his party to acknowledge the realities of a changing climate and its threat to human progress, he displayed the courage to keep an open mind and uphold his responsibilities as a leader and citizen at the expense of his own political career,” Schlossberg said in a statement.
The change of heart was gradual, Inglis said.
He remembers a conversation with his son, then 18.
“When my son was voting for the first time in 2004, he said, ‘Dad, I’ll vote for you, but you have to clean up your act on the environment,”’ Inglis said.
Inglis went to Antarctica and saw the evidence of climate change in ice core drilling samples. He met a climate scientist in Australia who integrated his love of the Great Barrier Reef with his faith in God.
There were several factors that led to his political defeat in 2010, but there is no doubt that rejecting the conservative position on climate change was pivotal.
“The most enduring heresy that really stuck in the craw of conservatives was just saying climate change was real, let’s do something about it,” he said.
Inglis is now executive director of the Energy & Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, which encourages conservatives to accept the reality of climate change and to promote free enterprise innovations.
And just as President Kennedy inspired all Americans to come together and win the Space Race, Inglis said, he wants to inspire Americans of all political stripes to employ their ingenuity and spirit to tackle climate change.
“I hope this is a moment for conservatives to be inspired,” he said.
Previous winners include Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Profile in Courage Award: http://profileincourageaward.org
Energy and Enterprise Initiative: http://www.republicen.org