For some Minnesota college students, climate change is top issue on ballot

University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ UMN Students for Climate Justice
University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ UMN Students for Climate Justice club students attend the “Living Wages, Living Planet" Earth Day 2022 rally in collaboration with Teamsters Local 320.
Courtesy of University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ UMN Students for Climate Justice

“The climate change and climate justice is probably my most salient issue and if a candidate does not support it, I ain't voting for you,” Nicholas Mertens said.

Mertens is a student at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, where he acts as a sustainability representative for the student senate and is a member of Climate Justice Club. He helps coordinate political events centered around climate change, working with other students passionate about climate-related issues.

In clubs and organizations at colleges and universities around Minnesota, a small but mighty force of students are focusing on climate justice as the most important political issue. 

Students see their advocacy as the only way to ensure a livable future for younger generations, and say there must be people in high-power positions who consider climate change as a top issue for any change to take place. 

Many young voters are keeping that in mind when they cast their ballot in the upcoming midterms elections on Tuesday, Nov. 8, and hope by electing candidates who care about climate justice, they will represent their voices encouraging a better environment.

Climate justice as a form of racial justice

Some students see fighting climate change as part of fighting for racial equity. 

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Ella Stewart is a student and member of SEE Change at University of Minnesota Duluth, an advocacy organization focused around economic, environmental and social justice issues. She hopes political candidates understand how much of a threat climate change can be to young people's futures.

SEE Change at University of Minnesota Duluth
Members of SEE Change tour the University of Minnesota Duluth Land Lab during "Welcome Week" to learn about sustainable food systems.
Courtesy of SEE Change at University of Minnesota Duluth

“It is going to be more under-represented groups who will see the effects of climate change —those who do not have the money to just up and move to a different place — so we definitely want to advocate and give a voice to those who do not have a voice,” Stewart said. 

A report from Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate found “BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] neighborhoods are more likely than white neighborhoods to be home to or located near hazardous waste landfills, petrochemical and industrial facilities, waste incinerators, coal burning power plants, and other sources of pollution.”

“For me, it's more so an investment in the future and seeing if we can make a change now that might mitigate or at least avert the worst of those actions, because it will affect marginalized communities more than it will the wealthy community,” Mertens said. 

Students advocate for climate-justice clubs
College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University students promoting their climate-justice clubs and campaigns.
Courtesy Climate Justice Club

Additionally, the Washington Post recently reported “Black Americans (69 percent) and Hispanic Americans (58 percent) are more likely to say climate change is important in their vote than white Americans (46 percent).”

Gracelyn McClure is a member of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ UMN Students for Climate Justice. She said the group has recently focused on a Minneapolis neighborhood already being impacted by pollution. 

“The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center boarders Downtown and West Minneapolis and all the pollutants that are burnt are mostly sent to North Minneapolis which is a BIPOC and low-income community, and that is why we are prioritizing this issue because they are the communities that are most affected,” McClure said.

Sahan Journal reported earlier this year that environmental activists have been advocating to close Hennepin Energy Recovery Center. As the center burns trash to produce energy it also creates pollution near the North Loop and North Minneapolis: it produced almost 173,254 tons of carbon dioxide in 2019.

The area around HERC is represented in Congress as the 5th Congressional District by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat who is up for reelection this month against Republican newcomer Cicely Davis, and U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, who are not up for reelection; in the Minnesota State Senate as Senate District 59 by state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, a Democrat who is up for reelection but is unopposed; and in the Minnesota House of Representatives as Legislative District 59B by state Rep. Esther Agbaje, a Democrat who is also unopposed. 

Some young voters say with some people already being affected by climate change, the need for representation who will focus on the issue is urgent. Their heads are turned to political candidates who will advocate for the environment. 

Marking the ballot for climate justice

UMN Students for Climate Justice club meeting
Members of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ UMN Students for Climate Justice club after a meeting.
Courtesy of University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ UMN Students for Climate Justice

“Lots of older generations will not see the worst of it and things are changing pretty drastically, so it will affect certain groups like us more than it will others so it will impact our future in many ways and not the older generations who will be gone before we see the major effects,” McClure said. 

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in October found half of voters believe climate change is very important or one of the most important issues in their vote. 

“I think if they are not advocating for it, they are ignoring one of the biggest issues that we are facing for the generation to come,” Stewart said. 

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