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Congressional Candidates Discuss Climate Change At ASU Town Hall
Four congressional candidates answered questions about the climate at a town hall hosted by climate advocacy group Defend Our Future at ASU on Thursday.
Defend Our Future state director Nicholas Petrusek said they wanted to give students the opportunity to learn where the congressional candidates stand on climate issues.
“ASU has a lot of different students from a lot of different areas around the Valley,” Petrusek said. “We wanted each candidate to be able to explain where they are on these issues and for students themselves to be galvanized by something they hear that really encourages them to vote.”
Petrusek said the event planners invited all congressional candidates running in the 2018 election but only four showed up, all Democrats: Rep. Tom O’Halleran from the 1st Congressional District; Anita Malik, a candidate in District 6; Hiral Tipirneni, a candidate in District 8; and Greg Stanton, a candidate in District 9.
“It was very disappointing to not get some responses,” Petrusek said. “But this is a conversation that people are having, and you leave yourself out of it at your own peril.”
It was not difficult, he said, to generate interest in climate change on campus, noting more than 70 students showed up for the event.
“I would say we are preaching to the choir,” Petrusek said. “Young people believe this is a real issue and needs to be addressed right now and we are essentially just showing them how to get involved.”
Reaching Out to Students
Before the forum began, Stanton talked with many of the students who gathered for the event, asking about their classes and concerns.
“They obviously have the most at risk by having the Congress make the right decisions in the upcoming years, and so I’m excited to hear what they have to say,” he said.
Kedar Joshi is a senior studying finance and business data analytics trying to learn more about the candidates’ views before he votes.
“I think global climate change isn’t just about the sea levels rising,” Joshi said. “I think it causes other issues that we don’t really know about yet, so I think it’s all interconnected. In the long run, it will affect all of us individually in terms of how we live our day-to-day lives.”
Student moderators asked the candidates a series of questions pertaining to the environment. In response to questions about water scarcity in Arizona, O’Halleran recommended a more proactive approach, going beyond conservation efforts alone.
“Obviously water in Arizona is a complicated issue,” he said.
O’Halleran noted that a statewide water plan took five years to create in the Arizona Legislature.
“We have to grow smarter,” he said. “We have to identify future resources. We have to identify the cost and get in front of it, not behind it.”
Student moderators asked the candidates why Arizona, with its abundant sunshine, was not capitalizing on solar energy.
Stanton told the group he believed Arizona and and the country should become leaders in clean energy and solar production.
“I think we’ve just had this short-term thinking from some of our power companies as it relates to investment in clean energy and solar where other states haven’t had that — and they’ve advanced the ball much more than we have,” he said. “Clean energy is the future. Clean-energy jobs are the future, and we have to have public policies that back that up.”
ASU student Gabriella Bachara acknowledged low voter turnout rates for youths and asked candidates to describe what they perceived as the reason and what could be done to make voting more accessible.
“I think there is sometimes a feeling of being a little disenfranchised,” Tipirneni said. “You may not think that the conversation includes you. And I think part of that is on us, and part of that is on you.”
Tipirneni said there are many important issues that don’t sound urgent to younger voters, like Medicare and Social Security.
“But look, it’s important for us to make sure that we’re making those issues relatable to you,” she said. “It doesn’t impact you today, but it might impact your parents or your grandparents, which does, in some way, impact you.”
All candidates emphasized the need to make voting easier.
Malik said she supported an automatic voter registration system.
“We have an opt-in system right now for voting,” she said. “That’s not OK with me.”
Malik said a better system would be “the minute you turn 18, you are automatically registered to vote.”
She said accessibility also depended on the strength of the Voting Rights Act. “It is incumbent upon every generation right now to get involved and to use your power — to use your voice.”
“We’ve all been there, we’ve all been your age” Malik said. “It’s OK — everyone has different priorities. You’re focused on what you’re going to do with your career. But having a conversation and learning about the issues is key.”
O’Halleran joked to the crowd that he loved talking to young people because “you are the demographic that votes the least.”
But several students’ heads shook in agreement as he described the long-term effects of such voter apathy.
“You’re gonna wake up at 35 years old, look around — two children maybe, a home, a job, government’s taking taxes out of your paycheck day in and day out — and you had an ability to make change for 17 years and you chose not to be involved,” O’Halleran said. “You must be involved. Those that you elect are going to be making decisions for you that are going to affect you for 70 or 80 years.”
ASU junior Julia McGinnis said after reading a recent report from the United Nations, climate change has become her number one issue.
“I think the main difference with this report is how urgent it was,” McGinnis said. “We basically have a deadline and it is within all of our lifetimes and so if we don’t hit this, we’re done.”
McGinnis said she thought the past year has been very politically charged on campus.
“A lot of people I know who aren’t necessarily involved with politics but are studying the STEM majors — climate change is causing them to become more politically active and motivating them to turn up to vote in November.”