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 previous issue                  issue #50,  posted 9/30/2016, revised 10/12/2016                       archive of all  issues

Young Voters, the Environment, and the 2016 Election

in the news: In a September 19th Washington Post opinion piece, Eugene Robinson writes, "Anyone who takes climate change seriously had better do everything possible to keep Donald Trump out of the White House." Three days later in Mother Jones, Jeremy Schulman points out that although young voters see global warming as a serious problem76% in a November 2015 ABC News / Washington Post polla recent Quinnipiac poll found strong support among 18 to 34 year old voters for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. The article outs Johnson's anti-environmentalist positions, quotes him as saying "We should be building new coal-fired plants," and headlines "Gary Johnson Wants to Ignore Climate Change Because the Sun Will Destroy Earth One Day."  Meanwhile, many journalists and reporters have pointed out the challenges this election poses to those who traditionally see themselves as truth seekers and promoters.  In this regard, an opinion piece in  the September 10 issue of The Economist  titled "The Art of the Lie" begins "Politicians have always lied."  It goes on to ask, "Does it matter if they leave the truth behind entirely?" and identifies Donald Trump as "the leading exponent of "post-truth" politicsa reliance on assertions that "feel true" but have no basis in fact."

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org): Besides being environmentally concerned, many young voters are ethically rather idealistic. Many would not only value an Ethical Orientation (worldview theme #42) , but with youthful,  hopeful, optimism disdain the Cynicism (theme #36A) and Conspiracism (theme #36B) that many Trump supporters embrace. But that same idealistic high regard for ethicsnote that for many the Ethical Orientation "starts with honesty and respect for laws"—that turns young folks off to Trump, also alienates many of them from Hillary Clinton...And leads many of them to consider voting for third party candidates Libertarian (worldview theme #50A) party candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. 

Many Libertarians' anti-big government / pro-free market orientation / pro economic development typically translates into them valuing  Economic Individualism (theme #19A) and embracing Anthropocentrism (theme #25). Needless to say, those whose worldviews are built around these themes are typically hostile to themes environmentalists like, such as Sustainability (theme #23A), Belonging to Nature (theme #27), and Environmental Economics (theme #40). Note the description of this last theme concludes with "Markets (some based on “cap & trade”) providing incentive for environmental good & investment in restoring / protecting natural capital should be encouraged."  (A tax on carbon is a related, but simpler, scheme that many environmentalists favor.)

As one would expect, Gary Johnson denounces "cap and trade taxation." While it seems clear that libertarian worldviews and those of young environmentally concerned voters have little in common,  what about Hillary Clinton's appeal to such voters? While she led Johnson by a scant 2% in the above cited Quinnipiac poll, a key question for Hillary will be, "As these young voters turn away from Gary Johnson, will they vote for her or opt for Green Party candidate Jill Stein?" Hillary has certainly made appeals to such voters. As the above cited Washington Post article notes, in a November, 2015 Time article she wrote, “I won’t let anyone take us backward, deny our economy the benefits of harnessing a clean energy future, or force our children to endure the catastrophe that would result from unchecked climate change.”

Despite Hillary's strong support from their darlings—Senators Bernie Sanders and  Elizabeth Warren—some progressives on the left will scoff at this idealistic statement. They tie both Hillary and former President Bill Clinton to ethical lapses, big corporate money and everything bad that globalization has brought to the USA. Relevant worldview themes here are Corporate Capitalism (theme #19B) and Ethical Globalization (theme #51). While these themes are a mixed bag to some, those who prefer to see "the glass as half full, rather than half empty" can find reasons to be hopeful in parts of their descriptions. The first of these concludes with "I wish corporate management more often pursued enlightened self interest.  Beyond seeking short-term profits for share-holders, they ought to be sensitive to the needs of all their stakeholders—including workers, the community at large, the environment, etc." Language in the second urges international authority to reign in multinational corporate excesses, and in particular intervene "when worker exploitation, environmental degradation or economic upheaval warrant..." Hillary supporters would argue that under her leadership efforts to make this happen might accelerate...

Of course young environmentally concerned voters may opt for the Green Party and Jill Stein, since the worldviews of both groups to some extent embrace the three themes cited above that environmentalists like. But before voting accordingly, ethical considerations in the form of "I want my vote to count" arise.  And, in evaluating this proposed (voting for Jill Stein) action the Ethical Orientation theme , suggests we consider three questions:     1) Greatest General Good Principle: “In deciding whether a proposed action is morally right, am I comfortable with its perceived social benefit and the extent to which it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people?” 2) Principle of Fraternal Charity: “If I were in the shoes of someone affected by this, facing similar circumstances, could I live with the consequences of what this decision involves?”  3) Principle of Universality: “What would be the results if everyone acted in this manner?” 

With Jill Stein polling in the very low single digits, applying the last of these principles sends us to Fantasyland and—just weeks before the election— is not helpful! Rather questions 1) and 2) help us focus on real world consequences. Recalling what happened in Florida in the 2000 election where Green Party candidate Ralph Nader siphoned enough votes from Al Gore costing him the Presidency, an obvious argument against voting for Jill Stein is that such action could help elect Donald Trump. 

Recently (in their October 1st print edition) The Economist identified (in "A Tale of Two Ethics") an ethical distinction that is particularly applicable to the  "whether environmentalists should vote for Jill Stein" issue. Following 19th century German sociologist Max Weber, they distinguish between "The Ethics of Conviction" and "The Ethics of Responsibility". Those following their own convictions wish to preserve their own moral purity, no matter what the consequences. If those consequences are bad results, the responsibility is not theirs, but rather is due to the stupidity of others. In contrast, someone guided by the ethics of responsibility takes into account the “average deficiencies of people” and does not “presuppose goodness and perfection…” Someone guided by this answers for the consequences of his or her actions, even unintended ones. Viewed this way, those idealistically following their convictions would vote for Jill Stein and deny their responsibility should Trump be elected; those with a more pragmatic bent would anticipate that their vote might help elect Trump and vote for Hillaryeven if they preferred Stein's Green Party stance on environmental issues. 

The above cited Washington Post opinion piece cited as news as I began above is headlined, "A Vote for Trump is a vote for climate catastrophe".  The human caused global warming climate change referred to is something that humanity will either successfully deal with in the relatively near future of the next 500 years* (see note 1) or it will perish. Contrast this with the causes and time scales of two other possible climate catastrophes of cosmic origin. 

First, one Gary Johnson refers tothe Sun expanding to become a red giant starwill threaten Earth five billion years from now. If human civilization can survive the next 500 years, we'll have another TEN MILLION 500 year periods to prepare for what Johnson refers to as warranting our attention now! 

Second, the climate catastrophe that NASA and other folks are already preparing for involves a large piece of space debrismany would call it a meteorhitting the Earth. Rather than seeking a precedent for this environmental catastrophe in the immediate past in the USA (say in Florida in 2000), we look to what happened 65 million years ago in the Yucatan peninsula: a rock six miles wide crashed, wiping out the dinosaurs and much else.  Without human intervention, collisions with space rocks large enough to cause global climatic catastrophes might be expected at most every 100,000 yearsmeaning that in any one year there is a one in a 100,000 chance of such a climate catastrophe.  Contrast this probability with recent (Wall Street based!) estimates that put the odds of  Donald Trump being elected in the 35% to 40% range.

1) Many climate scientists argue that we must act in the next 0 to 25 years to avoid crossing a dangerous, irreversible global climate "tipping point"!  

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