n The Lie at the Base of Our Language Creating the Climate Crisis |

The Lie

Older generations lied to themselves and others by treating the most interpersonal act – having kids – as a matter personal and private to the parents, isolating those parents in the decision-making process from the impact their decision has on the children born, on our communities and on the world. The act of creating others is more other-determining – for the children born and the societies they will comprise – than self-determining for the parents. This move, to ignore the impact we have on others, evaded collective obligations to invest in children and preserved and expanded existing power structures via population growth. What appeared to be social justice movements – for equity and the environment – were being undone upstream by family policies that would eventually bring us to the place of` massive inequality in failing ecosystems in which we live today.

Elites and those they controlled, throughout the Twentieth Century, did not want to pay their fair share to give all kids a fair start in life, a healthy environment, and a meaningful role in their democracies. Instead, they pretended that fortune, or some magical god, simply made it so that some kids were born poor, and others rich. They assumed nature, as a resource, was infinite and growth infinitely sustainable. Elites gave their own children a massive head start in life, contravening basic principles of democracy like the requirement that there be equal opportunities for all.

They also sought to evade an obvious truth: The obligations we have to future generations come first, and override other obligations, like property rights. Why? Governments derive from people who derive from their creation, so a just creation norm precedes other rules. That norm represents the only opportunity to ensure consensual power relations, from the moment those relations are created.

We always have to ensure justice, in creation, first.

But instead, under the isolation or privacy paradigm men, and especially rich ones, kept control of their castles. And governments were more than happy to go along with the lie and the subversion of human rights – backed by the excuse of the cold war – as long as they got their cut in taxes, and otherwise benefitted from the growth.

That lie, the idea that what is interpersonal is really personal, fundamentally created the key crises – climate and inequity – we face today by driving the anthropocene over a more ecocentric world, and ensuring the massive inequality we now inherit at birth. Fact: Had world leaders adopted just and sustainable family planning policies in the middle of the Twentieth Century the world would not be facing the crises it is today. Whatever good politicians, wealthy philanthropists, or the nonprofits philanthropists usually control claim to have done, the underlying family paradigm they accepted and benefitted from over the past several decades on balance did more harm – especially given the climate crisis and what it will do to future generations.

Under this paradigm the wealthy and powerful, both public and private, benefitted from a family system of growth and inequity that harmed others – including depriving generations of the freedom democracy – the kind you actually participate in – required. As will be explained below, taking back that power and freedom is the height of justice.

This is not about population. It’s about people and fairness. It’s not about a simple thing like numbers, but about a dynamic matrix of relations (four at least) and values that are inextricable from one another (e.g., birth inequity provided cheap labor, which along with large families, helped drive industrialization and its impacts on people and the world).

The curve represents the opportunity to promote values like child welfare, parental readiness, the restoration of nature, and democracies where each person plays a greater role, or alternatively, to continue to exploit people as consumers, workers, and taxpayers. We should choose the former, and arc down.

People are not numbers. They are entities that exert power over one another. We see this when we 1) understand power as any form of human influence (emissions, bad parenting, using language to exclude others, etc.) rather than focusing on the coercive (or official) power of the state, and 2) think about people in terms of their whole life span, including their earliest and most formative years.

If you want to see the lies, join our Tell the Truth campaign and simply urge people and organizations to show you what they were doing to give kids a fair start, ecologically and socially, in the past and how they plan to do it today. Ask them to show the impacts of their family policies – past and present – on things like the climate crisis, inequity, and participatory democracy. Ask them to explain how we can have a just society without fairness, right from the start.

The truth is that no legal system is legitimate and obligatory unless it is comprised of consenting subjects who matter or have an influential role politically, and who act as though their capacity for self-determination is inverse to – and balanced against – population growth (which is fundamentally the addition of other sovereign or self-determining people) relative to the absence of human power, or nature. That is the base conception of a social contract – the device that fundamentally makes freedom work.

This is a condition for legitimacy prior to the development of downstream systems – like political representation, markets, or institutions. If power derives from people, is it more accurate to say that we are constituted into a system at some point in the past, through no role of our own, or actively part of a system of constituting physical democracies by taking part in a child-centric system that physically empowers people? Power derives from people who derive from their creation, and if it takes a village to raise a child it takes a village to plan for a child.

The lie regarding what is personal and interpersonal ensured growth that crippled this process of ensuring consensual governance. The quadrupling of populations in the Twentieth Century fundamentally replaced town halls with shopping malls by converting the possibility of fewer, well-developed citizens whose voices would matter into a mass of disconnected consumers with little influence over their governments, thus disempowering the average person.

The Truth and Resolution

The most just and effective solution to the lie and its horrific impacts is to move the wealth and power that was made through growth – both public and private wealth and power – forward into future generations rather than continue to move it up to the top of the current structure, or what Nobel Laureate Steven Chu called the Ponzi scheme population pyramid. This means taking and redistributing wealth, as the first and overriding human right, to incentivize family planning that ensures 1) fair starts and equal opportunities in life for all kids, 2) parental readiness instead of unsustainable population growth, and 3) smaller and more sustainable families for all that create truly bottom-up and inclusive democracies. Throughout the past century or so there has been more than enough wealth available to avoid the ecological and social crises we face today – had it been used to fund incentivized/entitlement-based family planning systems. As multiple peer-reviewed analyses show. taking that wealth now – by all means effective – as the first and overriding human right is the most just and effective way to solve the crises.

Humane Families Becoming the Norm

Dozens of groups are already beginning to move in the direction of just and sustainable families – and it looks like this. The kind of freedom these groups are building is true freedom – e.g., not the fake “I’m alone in the world” freedom to choose to wear or not wear a mask in the middle of a raging pandemic, but the intricate freedom represented by a fundamental state of affairs where any pandemics would have been substantially avoided or mitigated. This move – just and sustainable family planning – has the biggest long run impact by far. It also solves the dilemma at the heart of democracy, aligning 1) just or right outcomes with 2) popularity, by investing more in and developing each person. Through development we come together around truth. There are legitimate economies without democracies preceding them, which means our family policies must create citizens and not consumers. We can ensure that – the first condition of justice – by all means effective.

The facts :

Don’t Get Scammed: Testing for Freedom

There is a simple test for whether someone is part of this fix, and really accounting for freedom and justice, that involves looking at their language (much the way we look for binary gender mistakes in pronouns today). How? Ask anyone making claims about policies to define the people – the fundamental social organization – at the base of their claims, e. g. “tell me about the justifiable group that is making and implementing the policy you are discussing, in terms of basic values like the welfare, equity, ecological conditions, and effective roles in their democracy, both now and in the future,” and “tell me how they are consenting to the influence of others.” Ask them to unpack their claims in light of the open multiplier they are using, and the impact of that multiplier on child welfare, equity, nature and participatory democracy.

Most people will give answers that make it clear they never accounted for the actual people or these valuesthe values they will most certainly pursue in their own lives and that make us free and relatively self-determining. They will have simply planned to exploit the growth that comes from not having to think, the growth that created the crises. Ask them to do the numbers and admit the harm from the paradigm they accepted and likely benefitted from, the paradigm they planned to simply continue.

Do the people in question act as though population growth is inverse to one’s capacity for self-determination, relative to nature or a zero-power baseline? Groups of relatively self-determining people are bordered by the absence of human power (nature, or the absence of being determined by others, which makes consent to power possible), accept loss of pure self-determination as they grow in number, but seek to divide and create new groups to maintain the relative power of each individual. This is the fundamental equation of free and equal people, one test for which will be the presence of fluid – not fixed – political borders defined by people and not arbitrary lines.

This is not mere theory – this is what is happening in places Catalan, against the will of autocrats like Donald Trump. This is what optimal world populations – using a base value of freedom – look like. They are formed through the rule that meets the basic test for all rules – one that is fair. And in the case of any truly first rule, it can’t be practical or even interpretive, but must be existential in nature. It must be a rule – God notwithstanding – about who we should be.

In other words, do the people making policy claims act as though people matter politically, and do they seek to empower the majority – future generations – through family planning reforms that limit and decentralize the power each of us have over one another such that we reach qualitative optimal populations? If it takes a village to raise kids, it takes a village to plan for them. If we want relatively autonomous families, where vulnerable entities like the poor, women, and children share in the autonomy, we have to plan for and create them as such and not pretend autonomy will magically appear.

As a practical matter, do the claimants support a discourse where every child’s right to an ecosocial Fair Start in life overrides property rights? To constitute – politically – is to transfer power in a way that ensures the capacity for relative self-determination. It’s about making power flow bottom up, rather than top down and based on coercion, as it does today. Are the claimants willing to make that transfer or power? If they are not, they are putting property and things over people, rejecting the relative self-determination of peoples, and are choosing to remain part of fundamentally unjust systems. In other words, are they part of – or opposed to – constituting just societies comprised of smaller democracies where voices of the people are heard and matter? If not, the people in question are preconstitutional, or “precons.” They cannot account for any form of justice because they cannot account for how people – the majority – will fit into those forms. They cannot account for “constituting” or yhe physical limitation and decentralization of power, regardless of its form. Urge them to change course, and help us liberate the majority of entities – those who will live in the future (both human and nonhuman) – by supporting our action before the UN Human Rights Council.

Take action:

We can use the values that free us to physically define our species. Click here for dozens of ways to take action to support true freedom for the majority, starting by engaging in the direct action discourse that puts people over property, and which helps us act against concentrations of wealth and power in ways the liberate and decolonize the future. Putting human rights, like Fair Start, before governmental processes will feel infeasible because we have lived in a world filed with people who did not get a fair start in life. We can change that.


Carter, author of Justice as a Fair Start in Life, works to resolve the constitutive fallacy, or the mistake of attempting to practice justice without first ensuring it in the creation – or procreation – of human power relations.

He began his career as an Honors Program appointee to the U.S. Department of Justice. He later served as a legal adviser to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in the national security law division. He wrote his thesis reformulating the right to have children under Jeremy Waldron, his extensive academic work on family planning has been published by Yale, Duke, and Northwestern Universities, as well as in peer-reviewed pieces, and he has served on the Steering Committee of the Population Ethics and Policy Research Project and was a Visiting Scholar at the Uehiro Center, both at the University of Oxford. He has taught at several law schools in the U.S., served as a peer reviewer for the journal Bioethics, and most recently managed an animal protection strategic impact litigation program, with annual resources in excess of five million dollars. 

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