With more severe weather, sea level rise and plastic in the deepest part of the ocean, it’s no surprise that environmental issues are getting more attention in the 2020 election. From legislation like the Green New Deal to presidential candidates focusing more on environmental issues, it’s clear environmental policies will play a role throughout the 2020 election.

Political science assistant professor Kim Suiseeya attributes the increase in environmentally focused politics to a rise in media coverage and a growing number of voters who are more concerned about the environment. She cited examples of environmental crises that have received more media coverage over the last decade such as the lack of clean drinking water in Flint, Michigan or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Suiseeya says that the environment is now being addressed as a more holistic problem. For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) Green New Deal aims to cut down on carbon emissions and stop the use of fossil fuels but also has a focus on creating jobs.

“What the Green New Deal does is that it links social, economic and environmental issues in a broad, visionary way that has not yet been seen before,” said Suiseeya.

As the 2020 election approaches, several Democratic candidates have announced their plans to address environmental issues. Most notably, Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, is running primarily on a green platform.

Although in the past, candidates who centered their campaigns around environmental issues have not been widely successful, Suiseeya says that Inslee’s campaign “pushes all the other candidates to take the environment much more seriously.”

In a similar vein, presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke promised to re-enter the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement and released a plan to invest $5 trillion in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 by building green infrastructure.

While politicians begin to take environmental concerns more seriously, where do Northwestern students stand on the issue? We polled 30 students in Norris University Center on Wednesday, May 15 to see how important environmental issues were to them in the upcoming 2020 election. We asked them to rate the importance of this issue on a scale from one to five with five being the highest.

Graphic created by Maia Brown / North by Northwestern

Most students gave the issue a four or five, and of the students interviewed, many of them mentioned that our generation is more aware of how our actions impact the planet.

“I think our generation does a really good job about knowing about the problem, especially because of things like Twitter and Instagram and all the technology we have to access that information,” Communication sophomore Mary Tomei said. “But at the same time, I think we’re all like ‘oh we have to do something’ but using reusable straws and that’s it. I think we definitely need to be more proactive.”

Bienen first-year Nick Abrahams echoed this idea.

“With our generation, we’re becoming more conscious about our decisions, how they impact the environment,” Abrahams said. “I think it’s a trend that the people in office should start adapting to, and I think that we should start bringing that foremost if we want our planet to still be here.”