The Last Minority

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.

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9 thoughts on “The Last Minority

  1. “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.”
    There are also quite a few teenagers who are completely oblivious to the political world. But I still agree with you, mainly for two reasons. One, they may be more interested if they actually had a say. Two, stifling the freedom of, say, one fourth of the youth population because the other three fourths doesn’t care hardly seems fair.

    “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.”
    And that’s exactly why they should be allowed to vote on those issues. Since it doesn’t affect them, they get an unbiased perspective. I recently was in a debate with an older person on school uniforms (I was con), and he mentioned that I was probably biased since I happen to be in school. By the same logic, adult voters are biased on certain issues.

    “However, not all legislation is only applicable to legal adults. Some is actually more applicable to youth than any other segment of the population.”
    Aha!

    Very good post. I don’t think it will persuade any politicians to propose a change of the Constitution (does Canada have a Constitution? I’m a self-centered, nationalistic American, so I wouldn’t know), but you never know. It could set off a chain reaction with thousands of blogs posting about this. And then we could get some real change. Blogs have a vast untapped power that we have only just begun to unleash upon the world.

    • Yes, Canada has a Constitution. For most of our short life as a country we used the Constitution of Britain (since we’re still part of the Commonwealth, but all the royal assent stuff is really a formality – see this video for a hilarious explanation of Canada’s government, Bush makes an appearance) but then in 1982 Pierre Trudeau (a fantastic prime minister who updated legislation to encompass more tolerant views on homosexuality, ethnicity, and Quebecois culture) patriated the Constitution and created the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So now we have our own constitution, rather than being a footnote in Britain’s, but we still have to have the Governor General (Queen’s representative) approve every bill before it is passed (no GG has actually ever said no to a bill that the elected Houses approved, if the GG did the people of Canada would probably riot and threaten to separate from the Commonwealth).

      I like what you say about giving freedom to the one-fourth of teenagers who care. If the other three-fourths don’t care, they don’t have to vote. It’s not mandatory…

      I also like what you say about how being outside of the situation makes you unbiased. It’s easier to understand where the government is coming from if you don’t have to pay them your money. However, it also makes it harder to identify with the taxpayers. It’s all a matter of context and opinion.

      When it comes down to it, I really just want to have a say in politics, without having to march around in front of Parliament holding a protest sign. I don’t care if that voice is created through voting, spreading awareness about the issues I care about, or any number of other measures. I just know that our generation is going to inherit this world and this country and I want the importance of our opinion to be respected.

  2. You’re right; youth aren’t included in a lot of major decisions that affect us. It seems like adults like to complain about younger generations being apathetic and self-centered, but when we aren’t like that, they aren’t really interested in what we think. (Sorry that sounds cynical – it’s just an observation.)

    That’s why the internet is handy, though. I don’t get a high number of hits on my blog, but I feel that if a few people read it and start to think differently then I am making a difference.

    We can’t vote, but we can still make our voices heard through art, writing, and simply trying to set an example. I also try to take advantage of online petitions, which usually don’t “discriminate” on age. And I have written several letters to my state’s congressmen; they don’t know that I’m not old enough to vote.

    • Type in the address of your blog when you leave a comment! I’d definitely check it out. I love seeing the websites of readers.

      I can usually pass quite easily as an adult, nobody thinks I’m underage until I tell them so, whether they’re reading my writing or meeting me face to face. I’ve had people asking me what university I’m going to since I was 14….

  3. “the G8 met this week, and agreed to plan their emissions legislation around a maximum 2 C rise in global temperatures by 2020.”

    This is a misunderstanding. They agreed on a 2 C rise as an upper bound that must not be crossed, and they hoped to agree on 2020 targets towards this end; but there is no prospect of a 2 C rise by 2020 under any scenario. More like 2050, perhaps (see Figure 8b, page 23).

    • Thanks for that clarification. I thought 2020 seemed a little steep for a 2 C rise (but as those reports keep getting worse and worse you never know). I evidently shouldn’t give too much weight to my daily newspaper. Credibility spectrum again.

  4. United Nations Ambassador Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands said there is no sense of urgency to find not only those answers, but also to address the causes of climate change, which many believe to be responsible for rising ocean levels.
    “Even if we reach a legal agreement sometime soon, which I don’t think we will, the major players are not in the process,” Muller said.
    Those players, the participants said, include industrial nations such as the United States and China that emit the most carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. Many climate scientists say those gases are responsible for global warming. Mary-Elena Carr of Columbia University’s Earth Institute said what is now an annual sea level rise of a few millimeters will increase dramatically by the year 2100. “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from Geneva. International legal experts are discovering climate change law, and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is a case in point: The Polynesian archipelago is doomed to disappear beneath the ocean. Now lawyers are asking what sort of rights citizens have when their homeland no longer exists.
    t present, however, there appear to be at least three possibilities that could advance the international debate about ‘climate refugee’ protections and fill existing gaps in international law.
    The first option is to revise the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees to include climate (or environmental) refugees and to offer legal protections similar to those for refugees fleeing political persecution. A second, more ambitious option is to negotiate a completely new convention, one that would try to guarantee specific rights and protections to climate or environmental ‘refugees

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