Over the past century, our society has significantly expanded its definition of “citizen”. It wasn’t too long ago that the only people who were allowed to vote were white males.
In Canada, where I live, women with close relatives away at war could vote in federal elections beginning in 1917. By 1919, the right to vote was extended to all women.
As we were an enormously racist country until Trudeau came into power in 1968, Chinese Canadians were not allowed to vote until 1947. It was even worse for the First Nations peoples – their right to vote was not granted until 1960.
In 2002, prisoners were granted the right to vote. Today, you can even vote if you are a Canadian citizen living overseas, or are homeless and don’t have an address to verify on your Voter Identification card.
It took us a long time to get here, but now, every Canadian citizen has the right to vote, regardless of gender, ethnicity, personal circumstances, or religion.
Or do they?
What about young people?
“They’re not mature enough,” you may object. “Teenagers are rebellious troublemakers who can’t understand their own decisions.” But I have witnessed a fair few rousing discussions in geo and history classes, and can personally attest to the fact that there are many teenagers out there who are more politically aware than most adults.
Probably the reason that Canadian citizens under 18 aren’t allowed to vote is that a lot of the legislation being voted on only applies to those 18 and older. Prison sentences, insurance, property taxes…..a great deal of it only kicks in once you’re old enough to get a library card without a parent signature.
However, not all legislation is only applicable to legal adults. Some is actually more applicable to youth than any other segment of the population.
Climate change is a long-term problem. Due to the lag time between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and temperature, whatever changes we make in our emissions won’t be noticeable for another 50-60 years. You can bet that most of the politicians debating Waxman-Marley and Copenhagen won’t be around to experience the results of their actions, or lack thereof.
Maybe I’m just being cynical, but it seems a lot easier to care about a problem when it’s your future in jeopardy. When it’s your chance to go to university and travel the world, to have a family, to own property. When you might be left in a world where travelling is impossible due to sea level rise and environmental refugees, where the chances of your family being injured in a natural disaster or infected by a vector-borne disease increase, where cashing out your insurance on your new property looks a heck of a lot more likely.
We, the youth, haven’t experienced any of the milestones that our parents have. It’s our future that’s threatened. But we have no say in it. Instead, the decision is being made for us by people who won’t be around to experience most of the consequences. Youth are some of the only people that have a vested interest in the long-term consequences of society’s actions. So why is it that we are the only ones prohibited to vote?
Finally, I was really touched by this commercial from Australia. Most of it is the normal “use clean energy! ratify Kyoto!” propaganda, but then the narrator says, “I’ll do everything in my power to make it happen. The only thing I can’t do is vote.”
A quick housekeeping note: I have purchased a domain name from WordPress and the URL for my blog is now http://climatesight.org! Shorter and catchier. The old URL, https://climatesight.wordpress.com, will still work. No links to this site will be broken. I just thought that a more obvious URL would help the blog reach more people.