Common Ground: Navigating the Climate Crisis
The co-author of the Green New Deal, Rhiana Gunn-Wright, and the Republican champion for climate change, Bob Inglis, discussed climate change under the aegis of Common Ground in the Chapel on Jan. 31.
Gunn-Wright, the director of Climate Policy at the Roosevelt Institute, helped author the House bill that calls for public policy to address climate change while creating jobs, ensuring economic growth and reducing economic inequality. She grew up on the south side of Chicago where she worked on the Obama campaign in high school, then went to Yale where she experienced class differences for the first time.
A Republican, Bob Inglis grew up in South Carolina, “the reddest district in the reddest county in the reddest state.” He served his state for two terms as U.S. Rep., first championing legislation that would weaken federal climate change policies. In his second term, Inglis did a 180 and began to support federal and local climate change policy. He is currently the executive director of RepublicEN.org.
Gunn-Wright and Inglis could not have grown up in more dissimilar environments. Their home districts were the exact opposite to each other in race, class, and political orientation. Their background featured prominently in their discussion, as the only topic the speakers could consistently agree on is that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed right now by a bi-partisan effort to ensure long-term stability. On all other topics relating to climate change they disagreed. The discussion was civil but “had a little bit of spice” as Common Ground Executive Director Ty Seidule put it.
Gunn-Wright argued that to address climate change in isolation of other systemic problems in our society would be to court the collapse of the American state. I thought her argument was convincing in its realism as it rested on two main points: 1) people of color suffer the consequences of any and all significant economic changes in our country and 2) how we tackle climate change comes down to the politics of race and power.
Gunn-Wright argues that any solution to the climate crisis will fall to low-income people of color in America. She said this is because this cohort in America typically does not turn out to vote, and as such, they have no power, and when a group has no power, it’s easier for those in power to use and abuse that group for their own benefits.
However, this is not the case with white voters. Historically, the white populace has been the largest group of voters in the United States. This group has enough power to throw elected officials out of office, so their needs and desires need to be respected, Gunn-Wright said. Thus, when any sacrifices need to be made by a state or country to address a problem, officials will first look to those with no power — low income POC, she claimed. To not address these issues in our plan for tackling climate change would be to pass the problem further on to a later generation.
Personally, I thought this argument made a lot of sense. At this point, the problems present within our society are so intertwined that it's hopeless to separate one from another; however, I do not think it is cause for despair. I think it is a great opportunity to remake our society in a comprehensive and thoughtful way — a way that will result in a realization of ideals we have always said we champion.
While Gunn-Wright and Inglis did duel for several minutes regarding ways to go about tackling climate change, Inglis raised some points I agree with. He proposed implementing a carbon tax, a certain amount of money added to the price of all goods, both imported and produced locally, to account for carbon emissions created in their production. I was initially surprised, as increasing taxes seems to be the cardinal sin of the right wing. Inglis explained that his approach would be to implement a carbon tax while decreasing income tax across the board for the 70% of Americans with the lowest income.
These events are why I am proud to work for Common Ground. Tonight, we had one of the most courageous Republicans and one of the architects of the Green New Deal come to our campus to speak on “the most pressing issue of our time.” Not only were they well versed in their respective arguments, but they approached this question with humility and respect for their fellow speaker. In an age of disrespect and anger at the “other,” Common Ground remains one of the few venues capable and willing to encourage an atmosphere of calm disagreement and teamwork to solve the significant challenges that face America today.
Photos by Nancy L. Ford
Expand Your Perspectives
Common Ground is Hamilton’s multi-format program that helps prepare students for active citizenship. Designed to explore cross-boundary political thought and complex social issues, Common Ground brings respected thought leaders to Hamilton to participate in small classroom dialogues and large event discussions.
The College thanks Mary Helen and Robert Morris ’76, P’16,’17; Eve Niquette and Charles Pohl, P’20,’25; and Lori and David Hess ’77 for their generous support of Common Ground.