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If We Learn One Thing from Greta Thunberg, It’s That the Voting Age Is Too Damn High

Let the kids vote for the future they'll be alive to face.

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Late last night, President Trump took to Twitter to mock a 16-year-old child. Responding to climate activist Greta Thunberg’s viral speech at the United Nations on Monday afternoon — in which she lambasted the adults in the room, saying “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.” — Trump wrote: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!“

What an expert roast, huh? Trump should quit being president and take over for Jeff Ross on Comedy Central. 

It’s in no way a surprise that Trump would mock Thunberg, who recently sailed across the ocean to come to the United States and has essentially dropped out of school in order to combat world leaders who fail to take a stand against global warming. Trump is a bully, yes. But he’s also a noted climate change skeptic, openly doubting whether or not human beings have anything to do with the warming planet. Choosing to ignore Thunberg’s words and mock her age and lack of optimism is classic Trump. 

It also speaks to a fundamental problem in our democracy: our representatives are old as dirt. Trump is 73. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? He’s 77. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 79, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 68. As a whole, two-thirds of Congress are Boomers and 11 percent are members of the silent generation. In other words, about 75 percent of Congress is made up of individuals 55 or older. Only 13 percent are Gen X or younger. 

What this means is that those making the most essential decisions won’t be alive to see the results of their failed leadership. And that makes young people like Greta Thunberg, who has been alive for all 12 of the hottest years on record ever, with only four years of her life spent in non record-breaking heat years, forced to deal with those decisions. If Greta were American, she would not be eligible to vote on important matters to force change. Kids are inheriting a world on fire and are deemed too young to grab the fire extinguisher.

The solution is simple: the voting age should be lowered to 16. Candidates like Andrew Yang support this. In most states, 16-year-olds can drive dangerous motor vehicles and work part-time jobs and even drop out of school to work full-time jobs if necessary. They can’t vote out the representatives who are taking money from the big oil and gas lobby in a quid pro quo to not deal with the planet because they won’t be harmed by global warming and can make a quick buck off of it. All they can do is model Thunberg and use their words or march en masse as the adults in power say there is nothing to be done or, worse, deny that the problem of climate change exists. 

Now, there’s more that can be done to ensure that the youngest among us, who will live with the decisions that their representatives make the longest, are more a part of the electorate process.

One such solution: automatic voter registration upon your birthday. Some candidates — like Senator Bernie Sanders,  and former Representative Beto O’Rourke — have called for similar moves. Other solutions include making voting day a national holiday, increasing polling locations at schools and in libraries, making absentee ballots easier to file for those who attend out-of-state schools, and, of course, lowering the voting age to 16.

Without doing those things, the people who get out to vote will continue to skew overwhelmingly Boomer. In the 2018 midterms, 66 percent of the votes were cast by people 65 and older. Only 36 percent of the vote was cast by people aged 18-29. While the numbers of younger voters are rapidly increasing — 16 percent more millennials came out to vote in 2018 than they did in 2014 — representatives are still old and still bound to the Boomers who put them in office and who are not keen on structural change. 

Look at Nancy Pelosi, a politician who very much believes climate change is real. When asked about a Green New Deal style environmental package, she said: “We welcome all the enthusiasm that people want to put on the table, and the Green New Deal is one of them, but we have to operate in a way that’s evidence-based, current in its data.” 

Pelosi won’t live to see the coasts flood, the heat waves lengthen, the storms swell, and the climate-rendered refugee crisis that will put a strain on our global resources like water and food. 

But Greta Thunberg and her fellow peers will. She was mocked for her seriousness. But what is more dire than the overall health of the world? We need those who understand that the earth they stand to inherit will burn — not those who will only be alive for the start of it — to vote to change their future.