Jess Phoenix has spent her scientific career descending into volcanos to study climate change. Now she’s trying to descend into Congress to figure out how to stop it.
Phoenix is one in a new class of scientist-turned-politician who are running for office following the election of Donald Trump and his positions on climate change.
For them, the stakes have become too high to remain politically neutral.
“I was moved to step out of my work boots and into the race for Congress,” Phoenix writes on her campaign website. “Because people like Donald Trump and Steve Knight are threatening that future by destroying some of the most basic things we all agree are important.”
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Phoenix is running as a Democratic for the House of Representative seat in California's 25th Congressional District in 2018. She’s ultimately trying to beat the Republican incumbent Steve Knight who has said that “the GOP is committed to a clean and safe place for people to live.”
This is Phoenix’s first foray into politics, but she comes from a political family. Both her parents were FBI agents from whom she learned the importance of being a good citizen.
“When you have people like that as your role models, loyalty, bravery, and integrity become your way of life,” her campaign page says.
And she has extensive experience teaching students about volcanic science, so being able to communicate a compelling message has been part of her career.
Still, she understands that people may doubt how her experience translates to politics.
"It's fair to ask what scientists know at all about the political world," she told NBC. "One of the great things about being a scientist is that you get a really broad set of skills, particularly with what I do as a field scientist. I work out in the real world every day, solving difficult problems that sometimes involve matters of life or death."
Climate change isn’t the only issue that Phoenix cares about. Her platform mentions her support for education, infrastructure projects, immigrant rights, women’s rights, healthcare and more.
But as someone who studies the effect of climate change, the relentless dismantling of environmental measures is what propelled her to take action. Since Trump took office, his administration has stopped the Clean Power Plan, withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, and threatened mass cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, among other actions.
All across the US, scientists are pushing back against what they perceive as widespread antagonism. For Earth Day, the full force of this movement was felt in Washington as scientists marched through the streets.
As a Californian, Phoenix was at another march in Los Angeles and the words she spoke to the audience seem to reflect a mind thinking about slogans.
"We need science in our everyday lives," she said at the time. "Ignorance is the disease."