Peter Roskam joined Wheaton professors and students at the West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve on Sept. 18 for a hands-on discussion about environmental impact in DuPage county. The possibility of rain did not defer Roskam. He arrived in a bright orange rain jacket and enthusiastically declared, “let’s live on the edge!” He then led the group of 12 onto the park’s trail for a short hike.
This outing was planned alongside a Young Evangelicals for Climate Action and RepublicEN event that featured former Rep. Bob Inglis who spoke on campus on Sept. 11. Roskam was invited, but his schedule didn’t allow him to make it. That’s where the idea for the event was born: a chance for Roskam to hear why Wheaton students cares about the environment.
Among those in attendance from Wheaton were distinguished Biology Department Chair Dr. Kristen Page and professor of political science Dr. Amy Black. A friend of Page’s, Laura Rericha from the Cook County Forest Preserve, also joined the group. Page and Rericha walked at the front as Roskam asked questions about environmental impact in the area.
Also in attendance was Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, a group with strong participation among Wheaton students. The group seeks to be a place for conservative evangelicals to express their concern about environmental issues.
Senior Chelsey Geisz, EVP of Environmental Stability, and a fellow of YECA, asked Roskam about his involvement in the Climate Solution Caucus, a bipartisan advocacy group. Roskam responded, “Especially in a season when things are so partisan, to have a group that by design [has] the same numbers in both parties trying to raise a voice about these issues [is important].”
The group stopped for the first time as Page and Rericha spoke about the particular ecosystem found in West DuPage Woods.
“Intact ecosystems provide us with so many resources,” Page explained. Her specialty is disease ecology, which is the study of how changing ecosystems correlate with emerging diseases.
As the group continued, Roskam remained attentive and asked follow-up questions. At the second stop, he asked, “How does climate change manifest itself here in what we’re observing?”
Rericha explained that the main problem is the changing of the landscape and its effects on the particular species of plants that grow there. Rericha is the author of “Flora of the Chicago Region: A Floristic and Ecological Synthesis.” She expressed concern about the lack of open space in this area of the country, commenting that she has to drive nearly two hours to find prairie in the “prairie state.”
One of the groups behind the event was RepublicEN, described by member Brian Smith as “a group of conservatives who think that climate change is something to be serious about.” Smith had been in the Air Force for several years when he moved to D.C. and became concerned about the United States’ dependence on fossil fuels. He then joined RepublicEN, a group pioneered by Inglis.
However, some have expressed skepticism about Roskam’s environmental concern in the midst of a political campaign against his Democratic opponent, Sean Casten, who is a scientist and clean energy entrepreneur, according to the Casten For Congress website.
Roskam posted pictures of the event on various social media accounts and immediately received pushback from those who felt he had not lived up to environmental standards in the past. Junior Amy Rice, who worked on the Casten campaign this summer, explained that “[Casten’s] opposition to Roskam is actually primarily on an environmental level. He’s called Roskam out before on referring to global warming as junk science. Roskam has a 3% rating from the League of Conservation Voters.”
Rice told the Record, “It’s great that [Roskam’s] willing to have these conversations with Wheaton students and faculty, but from a realistic perspective of what he’s accomplished or pushed for in congress thus far, he’s not exactly been on the side pushing for clean energy or reducing pollution in the state of Illinois and nationwide.”
Despite the overwhelming activity of mosquitos and beginning of a rain shower, Roskam and the group remained in good spirits until the end of the hike. He stayed to answer a few more questions while a short reception was held. As Roskam left, he turned to the group of Wheaton students and added that he had just read a devotional by Tim Keller on Psalm 104, a passage flooded with natural imagery. “It seems fitting,” he said.