Voting Green

A matter of life and death?
Richard Parncutt

21 May 2014

We live in an age of global poverty and global warming, both of which may cause a billion deaths this century (link). Both of these problems could be reduced or even solved surprisingly easily, by relatively small adjustments to national income (taxation) and expenditure patterns (link). People like to deny the truth of this statement with sophisticated sounding arguments, but the truth is simple: The more we invest in stopping global poverty and global warming, the faster we will make progress toward solving these problems.

I am assuming that public funds for global development and alternative energy are mostly invested wisely, just as money for any large project in either the public or the private sector is mostly spent wisely. Given the enormous numbers of experts out there on the fine details of these problems, this is a reasonably assumption. It is basically just a question of putting the right expert in charge of the right task. Every rich country already has functioning structures in place for this purpose, and on the whole they work well.

Given the unprecedented emergency of global poverty and global warming, the seeming inability of human beings to solve either problem, and the radical differences between the usual political parties in their willingness to address these problems (let alone solve them), voting at elections has become a matter of life and death. If you vote for the right party, you can save lives. If you vote for the wrong party, you can indirectly cause future deaths.

The pen that you use to mark your ballot paper is like the sword of a medieval knight. You can use it as a weapon of chivalry to generously respect and defend weakness, and to fight against evil and injustice (cf. Léon Gautier, La Chevalerie, 1883, more). You can also use it as a fatal weapon to end the lives of innocent people in order to defend the interests of the rich and powerful. You alone carry the responsibility to use your sword wisely. You are free to do what you want with it. After the election, you will not appear in the newspaper as a life-saving hero, nor will you face a charge of manslaughter or accessory to murder. But the way you vote will nevertheless cause lives to be saved or lives to be lost in coming decades, mainly in developing countries.

This is not a Hollywood movie, nor am I not talking about some kind of computer game. My argument is not far-fetched. Every day, tens of thousands of innocent people die of hunger, preventable disease and curable disease in developing countries. Global warming will cause this death rate to gradually increase, other effects remaining equal. These people really exist. They really are dying, and their deaths really are preventable by political means.

If you agree that human lives are more important than money, and not many people will openly disagree with that statement, then the way most people vote at elections is deeply immoral. The normal and accepted way to choose a political party is to think about what the different parties will do for your personal financial situation, and vote accordingly. It's the economy, stupid. In today’s globalized economy, that effectively means giving more priority to your personal finances than to matters of life and death for other people.

Given that the human species is gradually destroying the planet (the main problem being that our carbon footprint is too big, but there are many other environmental problems and unsustainable processes), voting on this basis is like putting your personal needs above the long-term needs of your children and grandchildren, not to mention one billion people living in poverty in developing countries. If you look at this kind of behavior logically and objectively, you can see that it is deeply and shockingly selfish. Perfectly normal, decent, warm-hearted people, including many with a good education who really should know better, are thinking and acting in this quite evil fashion.

My argument applies only to industrial (richer) countries that have the means to combat global poverty, for example by raising the official development assistance budget to 0.7% of GDP (as repeatedly agreed in international forums) and encouraging other countries to do the same, and the means to significantly reduce climate change, by supporting the recommendations of climate scientists and economists. Citizens of poorer countries should vote for the party that is best for the future of their country, but that is beyond my scope; a good source is the book "Unbowed" by Wangari Maathai.

In most richer countries, there is only one political party with a serious and consistent interest in reducing global poverty and global warming, and that is the Greens. Let us look at the other standard parties in turn.
Please excuse me for being so devastatingly honest, but the stakes could not be higher. A billion lives are on the line, a fact to which most people seem to be entirely oblivious. I refuse to leave the bottom billion and future generations in the lurch. If to get my point across I have to invent a new term such as “indirect multicide” (for the indirect, unintentional killing of many people), I will do it. From a legal point of view, one could argue that we have a duty to rescue people who are likely to die as a result of global poverty or global warming, as Peter Singer has convincingly argued (more).

From this argument, it follows that the only morally defensible course of action at elections is to vote Green, or for a party that is strong on ending global poverty and global warming. It's the human species, stupid. It's our own children and grandchildren, stupid. It's the only planet we will ever get, stupid. Of course there will be exceptions to this rule, given that political parties are constantly changing their policies in an attempt to attract more votes; and in any case every country offers a different spectrum of political opportunities. And of course not all Green politicians are good, a point that applies to politicians in every party. But there is also remarkable stability in the way in which the Greens in different countries have been promoting practical solutions to the world's biggest problems. The other parties have been similarly consistent in their tendency to ignore those problems and instead focus on local short-term issues.

The aim of this political statement is to encourage people to vote for whichever party is most likely to promote the human rights of the bottom billion and future generations. This is no ordinary political manifesto. The usual approach is to focus on economic self-interest and assume that people will vote on that basis. I am instead appealing to your altruism. I am not writing as if my readers have never heard of morality, or have their heads in the sand. Many people already vote altruistically, and they are not abnormal or psychologically sick. In fact, depending on your definition, they may be the only psychologically healthy people on the planet. They vote for the party that they think will do the best things for the entire world and all of humanity. That party is not always the Greens, but in most cases it is.

Our grandchildren deserve to inherit a planet worth living on. They are not going to live anywhere else. They are counting on us, and we should not let them down.

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