Earth Day 2022: Exxon Should Pay Reparations for the Climate Crisis That Physically Create Just and Sustainable Communities Through Family Planning Investments
Dear Exxon Directors,
The Fair Start Movement (FSM) is a collection of groups and individuals committed to prioritizing every child’s right to an ecosocial Fair Start in life – defined minimally as the birth and development conditions required by the Children’s Rights Convention – as the first and overriding human right. We are writing in honor of Earth Day 2022. We differ from other environmental and children’s rights organizations because we prioritize family planning reforms, making the planning child-centric and oriented around incentives/entitlements that would level the playing field for all children, to achieve change. Child-centric planning is the only truly democratic form, because it is focused on the majority – those who will live in the future.
In Exxon’s public commitment to address the climate crisis, the company uses a particular ecological goal or baseline for its risk assessments and climate mitigation strategy that – compliance aside – is at least comparable to the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. While we focus on Exxon in this letter, to be clear, the logic applies to many companies and well beyond the energy sector.
FSM was formed because these goals or baselines are premised on an error. They were developed based on the assumption that nations operate from a place of historical political legitimacy, and can themselves freely define ecological goals, including anthropocentric ones like those of the Paris Accord. That assumption is incorrect. As recent peer-reviewed research shows, nations are constituting, not constituted in the past, and they are either doing so legitimately or not depending on their family policies. Nations cannot simply declare their legitimacy. Legitimacy is a political ideal based relative self-determination that would require, again minimally, that all children enjoy the ecosocial birth and development conditions required by the Children’s Rights Convention.
Resolving this baseline error involves treating legitimacy as contingent on our ongoing fulfillment of our obligations to future generations.
Because no nation has properly adhered to its obligations in this regard through just and sustainable family policies, a fact evidenced by the climate crisis, we cannot assume we operate from a place of legitimacy. Instead of preparing children for meaningful roles in their democracies, the world has historically treated children as inputs of economic growth, or as bodies to expand undemocratic political structures like those in Russia.
In other words, to properly assess costs and benefits we have to first become groups of people capable of doing so in a way that is actually inclusive and reflective of the group constituents. This is simply the ideal of the “we,” in “We the People.” The ideal political we, meaning fundamental power relations defined by the goals of the Children’s Convention, is the primary baseline. We cannot think of, or describe, an ecological outcome that is not first contingent upon family planning outcomes, on at least five levels.
If we value human self-determination or freedom, we have to begin from an ecocentric – rather than anthropocentric – baseline, because that makes relative self-determination possible, freeing us from the influences of others, including the harmful impacts of even the current rise in global temperature. Humans cannot self-determine when their childhood development is defined by the pollution of others. Moreover, climate goals cannot be limited to ecological outcomes, but should include changes in family policy that maximize the resilience, equity, and democratic cooperability of future generations to thrive despite the crisis. Our creation is the intersection of our values.
Nothing would have a greater or more comprehensive impact on bettering our future.
In other words, if we correct the error described above, the correct goal or baseline must entail our becoming democratic and legitimate groups of free and equal people, which requires concrete and specific restorative ecological policies much more aggressive than the Paris Accord, redistributive and equalizing family planning reforms that also encourage smaller and more sustainable families, and movement towards optimal world population targets that would better ensure participatory democracy where every voice matters. A simple litmus test, given these standards, for our being free and equal persons involves whether we first treat the capacity for each person’s self-determination as directly inverse to population growth, relative to a neutral baseline such as the nonhuman world. This is proof that each person is politically, and equally, empowered. Not treating growth as such calls into question the true role of citizens in their own democracy.
Moreover, because this unifying goal or baseline is primary in nature, it overrides state issued property rights and entitlements enjoyed by Exxon, enabling intending parents claims to wealth at the top as part of their constituting just and sustainable societies. Our becoming just and sustainable people comes first. A helpful analogy relies on what is generally called the “myth of ownership,” which requires that ownership of wealth first account for the societal costs the creation of that wealth entails. Based on our research, the costs to our being free and equal people positioned to truly consent to the influence of others are first costs we must account for.
We cannot assign property rights in ways that undercut physically constituting and democratically empowering future generations. Our being, and in this case becoming, positioned to determine costs and benefits in a way that is inclusive of the reasoned views of all, is the first baseline.
Again, we can refer to this helpful summary of the baseline problem. All of the solutions to the problem Professor Solum gives jump to what we should do rather than who we should be, and thus ignore the need to be fair people, in terms of the physical power relations determined by our creation, before we can be positioned/empowered to make fair rules/laws. Ideally we would be created/grouped to look like a functional Rawlsian constitutional convention before fundamentally assessing costs and benefits, hence our being an ideal “We the People,” is the first baseline. And for that, the minimal guidelines that would apply to family planning would be the standards we hold up for extant persons, like parental fitness, the Children’s Convention, equality of opportunity, restoration-based climate sequestration targets, biodiversity restoration targets, historic voter-representative ratios, etc. Those point us towards the UN low-variant population, something aggressive family planning incentives – funded with claims to wealth at the top of the economic pyramid – could practically help achieve.
We are writing in the spirit of Earth Day 2022 to urge Exxon to embrace the specific restorative ecological policies described above as the part of the first and overriding human right to a Fair Start in life, and to commit some share of its wealth and resources as Fair Start planning reparations to offset the harm it has done to future generations, relative to baseline discussed above. Exxon could easily practice this change by supporting the child tax credit reforms linked above, while treating them as a fundamental human right.
This is not about liberal or conservative politics. Family planning redistributions – as primary obligations – can replace wasteful tax obligations that would simply create larger governments which do not reflect the will of the people. This is about a commitment to human freedom and equality of opportunity, enabled by policies that ensure children can develop and physically comprise communities that liberate them from the threats they face today. This is something we all should value. Correcting the baseline error described above enables such a future.
Please let us know if Exxon will commit to these changes.
The Team at Fair Start Movement