Former US representative Bob Inglis was given the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on Sunday for putting his career on the line to call attention to the threat from climate change.
“My grandfather’s legacy is kept alive by Bob’s courageous decision to sacrifice his political career to demand action on the issue that will shape life on earth for generations to come,” Kennedy’s grandson Jack Schlossberg said in a speech at the JFK Library on the 25th anniversary of the awards.
Inglis represented the Fourth Congressional District of South Carolina as a Republican from 1993 to 1998 and again from 2005 to 2010. He was honored for acknowledging that climate change is real and caused by humans, a decision he said played a role in his reelection loss in 2010.
After being introduced by Schlossberg, Inglis described how the future of his children and interactions with scientists in Antarctica influenced his decision to recognize the threat to the environment. He said the free enterprise system can contribute to solving the problem by aiding government in putting a price on carbon emissions.
“We’re going to come together and get this done,” Inglis said in the speech. “I believe that a pricing of carbon dioxide will be like someone said of the financial crisis, ‘It’s amazing how the impossible went to the inevitable without ever passing through the probable.’ ”
The crowd of 150, which included former US senator Paul G. Kirk, Democrat of Massachusetts, applauded as both Schlossberg and Inglis honored the former president in their speeches.
In emphasizing the need to address climate change, Schlossberg cited Kennedy’s commencement speech at Yale in 1962 . “President Kennedy said, ‘The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic,’ ” Schlossberg said. “This holds true with respect to climate change.”
Inglis compared the challenge of climate change to Kennedy’s determination to reach the moon by the end of the 1960s.
“What I hoped to do with the speech is show the incredible optimism Kennedy had for our country and his belief in our country,” Inglis said after the ceremony. “Just as the moon shot was the challenge of that time, climate change, as Jack Schlossberg said, is the challenge of this time.”
The Profile in Courage Award is given to a public servant who has made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences.
Inglis said in his speech that he did not think he could live up to previous recipients of the award, specifically Representative John Lewis, a Democrat of Georgia who was beaten by police during a civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in 1965. Other recipients of the award include former president George H. W. Bush, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
JFK Library chairman Kenneth Feinberg said the event was another example of success for the institution.
“It’s very uplifting every year,” Feinberg said. “Just when you’re wondering if there will be a change in the attitudes, in exhibiting courage, in making tough decisions, along comes the annual Profile in Courage awards.
When the ceremony ended around noon, Inglis stared outside the window of the JFK Library and said he visualized Kennedy enjoying the environment he has dedicated his career to protecting.
“Just looking out there, you just can almost see President Kennedy sailing out there,” Inglis said. “Since he’s kind of, for all of us, suspended in time as a young American president, representing America with a future in front of it, you can sort of see him sailing out there and really saying the future is here and we can seize it.”Zolan Kanno-Youngs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KannoYoungs.