Jess Phoenix: The Volcanologist Who Wants To Bring Science To Congress

"As a scientist I look at the world and look at problems according to the scientific method," says Jess Phoenix, a volcanologist who is running for California's 25th congressional district.


When President Donald Trump pulled the United States from the Paris climate agreement in June 2017, he was just getting started.

Trump's assault on science began long before he withdrew from the accord in the form of his cabinet picks and it continues in the form of his climate-hostile policies.

He picked Scott Pruitt, a notorious climate change denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

He tapped Ryan Zinke to head the Department of the Interior. Zinke is a climate change science skeptic who infamously said, "It's not a hoax, but it's not proven science either."

He chose Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy. In 2011, Perry called global warming  unproven science.

The list is fairly long.

Here's what happens when such people occupy positions of power: In January, Trump moved to open nearly all offshore waters to drilling. In February, the EPA said it would discontinue a program designed to study the impact of chemicals on children's health. In March, Pruitt's EPA announced to roll back the Obama-era car emissions standards. In the same month, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency dropped “climate change” from its strategic plan.

The list is fairly long (and running).

That's exactly why a record number of people with backgrounds in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematicians), around 200, decided to run for public office this year.

Jess Phoenix is one of them.

The 2017 was California's largest and most destructive fire season in the state's modern history. In addition, according to a paper published in April in the journal Nature Climate Change, climate change will put the state in a cycle of "precipitation whiplash," experiencing a destructive oscillation between floods and droughts.

Yet, there isn't much Steve Knight, the Republican incumbent of Phoenix's district, is doing to prepare for the threats posed by climate change. In fact, Knight is a climate change denier and he opposes regulating carbon dioxide emissions.

He has the support of powerful donors, including the multinational energy corporation Chevron.

And he sits on the House Science committee.

This is just one of the many examples scientists should be in politics, explains Phoenix.

"Science has been completely disregarded and undermined and its really frightening because without that input from scientists at all levels of government me really lose a lot in our conversation. We need to have voices that work based on facts and evidence representing us and I think that scientists right now don’t really have the connections that you need to afford to run for Congress but I think we need to change that."



As a first time candidate with a background in science, one of the biggest challenges that Phoenix faced was with fundraising.

The problem, she elaborates, is the "big money model."

"We really need for people in politics who aren’t stuck on the big money model. There is a Supreme Court decision called the Citizens United it actually opened the gateway for big money and dark money to enter our political world in a way it never had before. So we actually need to send people to our government who are going to vote in Congress to overturn the Citizens United decision to ass an amendment is how they'd do that so we need to send people to office who get to office without using the big money or dark money sources of raising donations."

In May, a Republican congressman suggested rocks falling into the sea cause rising sea levels. This kind of misleading and harmful information is exactly why people with backgrounds in science are needed in Congress, says Phoenix.

"If we don't protect science, if we don't speak out on behalf of good scientific method and good scientific research then you will lose the ability to do so, because we will have people who are trying to pass off completely inaccurate information, false things, fake news is the new term. We'll see more of that if we don't have people who actually believe in the validity of science in our positions of power."

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images

View Comments

Recommended For You