Getting schooled: County school board member questions existence of climate change

Albemarle School Board . member Jason Buyaki has some doubts about climate change.
file photo Albemarle School Board . member Jason Buyaki has some doubts about climate change. file photo

Science class was in session at the October 25 Albemarle County School Board meeting, when board member Jason Buyaki paused to question not only the existence of climate change but also the nature of fossil fuels themselves.

Buyaki, who represents the Rivanna district, recently wore a tie bearing pictures of Confederate flags to a meeting to consider banning Confederate imagery from county schools. He later told the Daily Progress he chose his neckwear as a historical lesson about “various flags flown over the U.S.”

His latest lessons, this time in geology and climatology, came as the board discussed a proposal for county schools to commit to using renewable energy sources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Buyaki’s ire focused on the proposed resolution’s second paragraph, which said, “there is scientific consensus regarding the reality of climate change and the recognition that human activity, especially the combustion of fossil fuels that create greenhouse gases, is an important driver of climate change.”

“When I read this thing, there’s a lot of hot buzzwords in here and phrases that are questionable, and we should question it,” he said, according to a video of the meeting. “One of the first ones that strikes me, in the second paragraph, says there is scientific consensus regarding the reality of climate change. No, there is not—There is scientific consensus among the scientists who believe that there is climate change, but it’s a pretty broad field out there with diverse opinions. So that’s my first red flag warning on this.”

A United Nations panel of the world’s leading climate scientists warned in early October that climate change will cause catastrophic damage within decades unless humanity takes drastic action, including sharply decreasing carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

First, though, Buyaki wanted to define some terms.

“I also question the idea that petroleum products come from fossils,” he said. “I think that’s a fair thing to ask.”

He continued: “That was something that was taught to me in school, that oil comes from fossils. And I find that really strange as a concept, that fossils are buried so deep in the earth, and we can pump ’em out. And some of these oil fields run dry, and then 30, 40 years later they can pump out more.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, so-called fossil fuels, including oil, coal and natural gas, formed over millions of years when prehistoric plants and animals died and were gradually buried by layers of rock.

After the meeting, three school board members contacted by C-VILLE did not respond to inquiries about whether the board shares Buyaki’s skepticism about climate change. Buyaki did not respond to an email request for comment.

County resident Matthew Christensen, with Hate-Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle, says Buyaki’s remarks are part of a “disturbing” trend that government officials can decide they “don’t believe in science.”

If the school board member is going to deny science, says Christensen, “I don’t think Jason Buyaki has any business being in charge of our children’s education.”

He adds that Buyaki’s Confederate-flag tie was “a signal to people what he stands for.”

The school board will take action on the clean-energy proposal at its November 8 meeting.

Updated November 2 at 2:30pm with comments from Matthew Christensen.