Congresswoman talks climate with campus group


Washington state Congresswoman McMorris-Rodgers discusses climate change with Whitman students on Tuesday, April 7.
Washington state Congresswoman McMorris-Rodgers discusses climate change with Whitman students on Tuesday, April 7.

Third-term Republican congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who received a “0” on the League of Conservation Voters’ 2008 National Environmental Scorecard, met with students on Tues. April 7 for a short forum on climate change, a discussion organized by Campus Climate Challenge.

Climate change itself, however, wasn’t directly discussed. When asked by senior Jesse Phillips whether she believes climate change is real, Rodgers replied, “I agree that we should be taking steps to reduce our carbon emissions and I think that’s where we can find common ground.”

Last year The News Tribune, a Tacoma, Wash. newspaper, reported on a talk Rodgers gave that included a list of her top 10 reasons it’s good to be a Republican in 2008. “We believe Al Gore deserves an ‘F’ in science and an ‘A’ in creative writing” was third on her list.

CCC first met Rodgers last month in D.C. for Power Shift’s clean energy advocacy conference, and invited her to visit campus for their April 16 Focus the Nation event. Rodgers agreed instead to meet with students during her tour through Walla Walla.

“It’s a big brave step for her to come here,” junior Camila Thorndike, CCC co-president, said to the group gathered around a conference table in Memorial before the event got underway. “We’re working with what we’ve got, which we’re grateful for,” she added, referring to the limited time they were offered with her.

President Bridges, who met privately with Rodgers about financial aid before the forum, iterated the desire to make this a positive experience for the congresswoman.

“The goal is to make this a very welcoming experience for her,” Bridges told group members before Rodgers’ arrival.

Despite confusion before Rodgers’ arrival between Bridges and CCC ––Bridges had thought group members exclusively would attend, while CCC had invited any interested students and community members –– the event ultimately was a success. Bridges later told Thorndike that he was impressed with how it went.

“I wasn’t aware until the administration told me how significant this event was. They very much stressed to our group their concern that the meeting would seem hostile to her and jeopardize the chances of her coming back to campus, so that was something we were very much aware of and it was our intent to let our concerns be heard but in a way that wouldn’t be off-putting,” said Thorndike.

CCC had just enough time to ask its prepared questions. Its goal was realistic, not expecting to hear the answers they wanted but hoping instead to strengthen the relationship with Rodgers they’d forged in D.C.

“Expecting initiative on her part about the environment is not going to happen. But it was very friendly and cordial. I was surprised,” said sophomore Anders Forsgaard.

“I felt at Power Shift we were much more direct and much more demanding,” said junior Bailey Arend. “It’s too bad we were a little bit soft, but I think it was crucial that we showed her respect and tried to emphasize that we want to work with her towards a solution. The best part about it is that there’s a dialogue now.”

Arend asked Rodgers for her view on the U.S.’s role in the upcoming Copenhagen climate conference, to which she responded, “Can I ask you all a question? How do you think we should be approaching China and India?”

“My concern is that we would put restraints on our own country that other countries won’t enact,” thus hurting our innovation and economy, she said later.

At the forum’s end, Bridges asked Rodgers what advice she would give to students about achieving the goals of sustainability. Undermining her earlier resistance to independent U.S. action without cooperation from the “Chinas and Indias of the world,” she responded, “I think you’re doing a great job. I think it begins with each one of us independently putting into practice what we’d like to see eventually adopted. You lead by example.”

While intended to empower, climate activists see profound shortcomings in the rhetoric of individuality.

“For a U.S. congresswoman to say that individual action is going to save the day is completely incompatible with her job, which is to lead our country. That is to discount the power of government, which she is a part of,” said Thorndike.

Along with concerns about our economy, Rodgers insisted we not mandate unrealistic goals. “We don’t have the technology today to accomplish the goals we want to accomplish.”

In light of what proved to be the congresswoman’s limited knowledge on the issues, group members offered her authoritative climate change literature. First-year William Lawrence gave her the Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment, and sophomore Wayne Lichty gave her the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

“I think really it’s just a matter of education. Just the fact that she hadn’t even heard about the IPCC report is disappointing because it means the information isn’t reaching the people who need it most,” said Arend.

Beyond clear ideological divergences, Rodgers too seemed to believe the event was a success.

“She definitely congratulated us on how it went and it was all smiles at the end. For my purposes I am proud of how it went because we left her with a strong impression of the urgency and seriousness and professionalism with which we conduct ourselves on issues that are a priority for our generation,” said Thorndike.