As Congress inches closer to shutting down the federal government without agreement on raising the debt ceiling, journalists are figuring out how to describe the situation.

Is it a standoff? An example of partisan gridlock? James Fallows, a correspondent at The Atlantic, argued recently that it's neither. 

"This isn't 'gridlock.' It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us," wrote Fallows.

This could describe any number of issues that have become politically toxic during a time of asymmetrical polarization in Congress. It's particularly relevant to climate and clean energy policy, where Tea Partiers on the far right have made it impossible for moderates in the Republican party to talk about the issue rationally. The near-implosion of a bipartisan energy efficiency bill due to a fight over Obamacare is just the latest example.

Former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis is one of the few Republicans trying to bring real ideas to the table. 

Last Friday, a world away from the clashes in Washington, Inglis sat in front of a group of students at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business talking about the future of energy. He didn't label the newly released U.N. climate report a sham, or call sustainability a liberal plot to take away freedom -- he simply argued that Republicans need to bring serious conservative ideas to the table in order to solve the climate challenge and leverage cleaner sources of energy.

"This is a space is occupied by the environmental left," said Inglis. "We need to break the connection between the observed problem of climate change and the assumed solution. Our goal is to show there is a problem, but [to use a] limited role of government to solve it."

Inglis lost his job in Congress for taking that sensible approach to the issue. In 2010, he was ousted by the Tea Party for not voting in lockstep with his party on the Iraq troop surge, immigration and climate change.

"The most enduring heresy that I committed was saying climate change is real, and let’s do something about it," Inglis told PBS, reflecting on his ouster. 

Since then, Inglis has formed the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a think tank at George Mason University devoted to pushing free-enterprise climate solutions. He has become one of the only Republicans willing to be vocal on the issue. 

"If you're a conservative in the room, you understand the principles of accountability," said Inglis, speaking to the room of business school students about why he supports a carbon tax. "This is an economic problem. If we fix the economics, we can fix the environmental problem."

Inglis' approach is straight out of the conservative playbook. He wants to see a revenue-neutral carbon tax, an end to nearly all energy subsidies and a pretty limited role in how government helps commercialize new technologies. By setting a clear price signal for greenhouse gas pollution, Inglis believes that businesses and consumers will act in "enlightened self interest" and will find new ways to make a profit off of clean technologies.

"No more Solyndras, no more production tax credit, no more depreciation for oil and gas," declared Inglis to the crowd of students. "We need a sensible price on carbon."

But he also doesn't completely rule out the role of government in new industries. Inglis pointed to the role of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in helping create the foundation for the revolution in cell phones.

"This is why I'm a Republican and not a libertarian," said Inglis.

It's also one of the reasons why he was pushed out of Congress by the Tea Party.

Watching Inglis talk so bluntly about the issue is a refreshing reminder that there are people within the Republican party trying to lead on the issue. And considering the GOP has a growing problem with attracting young voters -- voters who overwhelmingly care about climate change -- making the conservative case for action to budding business school students likely has some strategic political value.

"If more conservative Republicans heard from business school students that we’ve got a plan, that this is going to work, then they would feel it’s doable," he said. "They wouldn’t have to doubt the science. If they think the solutions aren’t doable and it’s a big government takeover, then they doubt the problem."

Inglis is one of the only conservatives with national political clout talking about climate solutions so publicly. But as James Fallows describes in The Atlantic, it's not necessarily the voters that Inglis needs to convince -- it's the people within his own party.

"As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classrooms or expected until the past few years," wrote Fallows. "We're used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise. This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate."

The expected outcome of the current debt limit battle in Congress -- that Republicans will be unable to compromise -- says as much about the party's inability to address climate change as it does about any other issue. And it will take a lot more people like Bob Inglis to change that.

Watch Inglis present his approach to climate change:

Tags: bob inglis, climate change, congress, global warming, politics, republican party, tea party