California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a longtime member of the House Science committee. He's also a climate change denier who has called carbon dioxide "not a pollutant," has noted that the Earth "quit warming," and has speculated that "dinosaur flatulence" caused previous warming events. Some of his youngest constituents tried to educate him last week, but were turned away.
On their spring break, students from Fountain Valley High School in Orange County delivered two climate change textbooks to Rohrabacher's district office in Huntington Beach last week: Charles Fletcher's Climate Change: What the Science Tells Us and David Archer's Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast .
"We all walked up to his office, knocked on the door, called the intercom, and left a message to explain we're high school students from his district," Vian Nguyen, 17, who helped organize the effort, told me. "We said we'd like to share our concerns with him about climate change. The camera saw us, but nobody came out."
Nguyen said she and her classmate, Serena Chau, are members of their high school's ecology club and got about 10 other students to help deliver the books through a series of group chats. The club reached out to 314 Action—a new nonprofit that's hoping to get scientists to run for elected office—and local scientists at nearby University of California, Irvine, to help them with the protest.
Nguyen said she's hopeful that constituent pressure will force Rohrabacher to reconsider his climate change stance, but said she'll be ready to vote him out of office with her first ever vote in 2018 if he doesn't.
"We believe in climate change, and as constituents, we want to be represented effectively and fairly," she said. "I will be able to vote in the next election. Based on that day, I wouldn't give him my vote."
Seven of the students called the office and several spoke with staff there, but Rohrabacher's staff kept the door closed and wouldn't allow them to deliver a petition with 12,000 signatures asking Rohrabacher to reconsider his stance on climate change. Eventually, the staff allowed Miles Anderson, one undergraduate student from Orange Coast College, to enter the office alone. Rep. Rohrabacher's office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Kevork Abazajian, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and the California coordinator for 314 Action, says that the publishers donated the textbooks. Though the action was something of a stunt, he says it's important to engage with lawmakers as often as possible about their stances on climate change.
"It's kind of a win-win for those who want climate action to be taken," Abazajian said. "Either he gets intransigent and is like 'screw you guys,' which hopefully gets him out of office in 2018, or he says, 'Look, my constituents are upset about this and we should talk to them.'"
The students say they looked at their first piece of activism as a potential way to make positive change.
"We weren't there for any mean intentions, we just wanted to inform him about the issues, and we wanted him to hear our voices," Julia Lam, 16, told me.
Ted Bordelon, a spokesperson for 314 Action, said the failure of many representatives to take scientific consensus seriously is exactly why it's targeting Rohrabacher in the 2018 elections, as well as other Republican climate change deniers in the science committee such as Texas Rep. Lamar Smith.
"If Dana Rohrabacher put as much effort into understanding climate science as he did into avoiding talking to his constituents," he said, "he would know that climate change wasn't caused by dinosaur farts."