Meet The Volcanologist Running For Congress

Her opponent is Representative Steve Knight, who she sums up succinctly: “He is, well, bad.”

Steve Knight is on the ironically named House Committee for Science, Space and Technology, which is currently controlled by GOP lawmakers often funded by fossil fuel companies. He lacks a science degree, and it’s not clear if he’s taken any science classes at all since high school.

“I don’t know if he’s qualified to be on the science committee. It would be okay if he was able to listen to facts, but he isn’t,” Phoenix points out. “You don’t have to have a Ph.D., but you need to have a belief and openness to factual information, and he doesn’t have that.”

According to the League of Conservation Voters, he has a score of zero percent when it comes to his voting record on the environment. This means that he has never cast a vote that is environmentally friendly – unique for a California politician.

Last year, a natural gas storage station leaked in the 25th district. “People were literally being poisoned,” Phoenix recounts. Knight didn’t turn up and try and mitigate the situation for months, claiming that he didn’t want to make the issue political.

“The problem is that the people that make these statements probably live in houses, drive cars, and use smartphones,” Phoenix points out. “These are marriages of engineering and science – so how can they ignore it when it’s convenient to do so?”

Her background will certainly come in handy. Unlike climatology, which is harder for the layperson to connect to, volcanoes are about as visceral a science as you can get.

“When you point out to people, you know – this volcano will kill you – people realize you have a cause: scaring everyone else silly, being morbidly excited by disasters, while also being concerned for the people involved,” she tells us, gleefully.

There are signs that things are already improving. Congress recently defied the whims of the President and gave a boost to federal science funding, instead of cutting it. Phoenix sees this as a good sign, but the 2018 gathering of lawmakers could decide on a very different path – and, of course, Trump is, for now, a mortifying constant that won’t go away.

“Trump advocates anger – that’s dangerous. He uses so much hate speech that it allows people to not treat other humans with respect and care,” she tells us. “I’m not just worried as a scientist, I’m worried as a human.”

Public enemy number one. Scott Olson/Getty Images
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