Youth vote and the future

Dropping my daughter off at daycare yesterday I heard a news story about efforts by Elections Canada to mobilize the ‘youth vote’, that politically elusive 18-25 group. For good reason, every major political party is salivating over the prospect of biting into this demographic. But Elections Canada seems to think that the problem of getting them out to vote is a merely technical one, something that can be solved by allowing for on-line voting, for instance.

Now, I’m all for on-line voting, if it can be done with the appropriate security guarantees. Still, I can’t help thinking that the idea that there is this giant pool of young people out there waiting to vote if only they could get off the couch and locate their polling booths is badly off-target. That’s the idea implicit in the Elections Canada approach. However, youth disengagement is much deeper than this picture suggests. The problem is that they have been alienated from the political process through inattention to issues that really worry them. In the past, this was not such a pressing social issue. When they voted, parents could for the most part be counted on to protect the interests of their kids and grandkids. But things have changed radically with the advent of a full-blown ecological crisis with climate change right at its centre.

Let’s be direct about this. The current generation is in the process of handing to its children and grandchildren a terribly degraded natural environment. And it is doing this by empowering Liberal, Conservative and NDP candidates. If the scientific consensus view of things is at all accurate, in just 10 or 20 years our descendants will inherit a world with vastly fewer species, huge numbers of climate refugees, the collapse of whole food production systems, increasingly destructive storms, and much more. According to British economist Nicholas Stern, coping with this could cost the global economy $7 trillion/year.

I’ve talked to hundreds of students over the years about this and from what I can tell this is the number one issue on their minds. And yet, to come back to politics, what are the big parties doing to help us avoid climate catastrophe? Expressing pious sentiments about ‘sustainability’ and issuing environmental promises they promptly deep-six as soon as the election is over. Only the Green Party places protection of the environmental and social rights of future generations at the core of its political program. Only the Green Party will act aggressively to (a) mitigate the effects of climate change by slashing our emissions now; and (b) prepare the country for adaptation to those effects of climate change it is already too late to avoid. This is why Green always wins in mock debates at high-schools. Young people will vote in droves if they find a party genuinely committed to their long-term interests. Green is the party of the future. And the future, friends, is now.