Climate change is dominating some voters' concerns, including 16 Alverno College students who've been exploring the global issue in an elective course taught by biology professor Chris Young.
He describes this batch of students as the most engaged and eager to discuss the complexities of climate change of any class over the years. Yet, many told him they hadn’t heard about the gravity of climate change before taking his class.
Young says most of the students said they get their “news” from social media. But he's trying to broaden their perspective. So, he recently showed them a clip of the Oct. 26 gubernatorial debate. During the debate, Gov. Scott Walker and his challenger Tony Evers were asked how they would mitigate for the effects of climate change.
“I would bring scientists back to the Department of Natural Resources,” Democrat Evers said. “In addition, as we move forward, renewable energy is part and parcel of any fight against climate change."
Republican Walker says his vision for the environment includes maintaining Wisconsin’s great natural resources.
“It’s important for our state, it’s important for our children and our children’s children. I’ve said for years, one of the best ways to be green is to make green or save green — meaning if you can make things economically sustainable, you can make things environmentally sustainable as well," Walker said.
Environmental science major Kaleena Jones says she’ll be looking more closely at candidates as a result of the climate change course.
“Like today for example, listening to that video. I probably would never have seen that. Now I’m really going to dive into that question, how is he going to look at the science? And also with Scott Walker there were some parts I thought, I want to know more about that,” Jones continues, “So, I wrote it down and I’m going to before I go vote, going to learn about that.”
Jones says honesty and credibility are important when it comes to political candidates.
"I would much rather have them admit that they don't have any background on this, but they're planning on doing something to make sure that they are better educated on it — especially climate change," she explains.
Dionna Mcintosh is a senior majoring in psychology. She says this course has been her introduction to climate change.
“Learning how it ties into political issues and how it affects my day to day life, but I never knew about it,” Mcintosh says.
She’s doing some soul-searching because although the 21-year-old has voted in the past, she doesn’t like politics.
“I guess it’s a sensitive topic. It goes off into 'I want this, and I want that,' but it never happens. Or it’s just ‘I’m a Democrat or I’m only Republican so I want this person because I’m a Democrat.' It’s not about what people need and not actually being good for our country,” Mcintosh explains.
Katie Roberts, a 34-year-old, may be the exception among her classmates. She comes from a family that has always voted, although she says not always for the same candidates.
Roberts says she had been sizing up where candidates stand on environmental issues long before this climate change class.
“How do they handle the policies, how do they handle certain aspects – agriculture, economics, social implications of it is very important to me because ... right now our world is really hurting, so what can they do?” Roberts says.
She believes the climate crisis can’t be solved in an election cycle. But that it will require long-term, comprehensive planning from elected officials at every level over years to come.
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