As noted in the last post, more than half of all Americans who ever lived are alive now. The percentage isn’t as dramatic in other countries because they haven’t had the 100X increase in population over the last 200 years that the US has, but the percentage is likely to be high there too.
But I think there’s another effect at work that magnifies the impact that modern culture has on the natural world even more. Not only are there are a lot more people these days, but a higher percentage of them are active agents. They’re out on their own, with their own domiciles and jobs. They’re citizens, and that means they’re burning up the planet faster than ever.
To try to see this effect, I looked at what percentage of the population actually votes. I could also look at the proportion in the workforce, or the size of households, but this data goes back farther.
If you can’t vote, you’re not really a participant in society. You’re a child, or mentally incapacitated, or an illegal immigrant, or have forfeited your rights in some way. You may be an agent, but your activities are constrained by law or by your dependency.
So here’s what it looks like for the North Atlantic Anglophone world:
The US data is for presidential elections; Canada and the UK are for Parliament. All three countries had elections before the first dates shown here, but didn’t record the popular votes. The UK and US had surprisingly low rates in the early 19th century – just a few percent. The big jump happened in the 1920s when all three countries granted women the right to vote. The rate more than doubled, so apparently everyone was encouraged to participate. Perhaps more men were egged on by their wives.
The rate has been fairly flat for the last 60 years, in spite of the repeal of Jim Crow laws in the southern US, and lowering the voting age to 18. Perhaps these are balanced by higher proportions of immigrants or felons. The US proportion of voters is significantly below the others, for reasons that would be worth understanding by those who value the Republic.