Who pays the cost of growth?
Children's rights are being sacrificed to generate wealth
Last week I interviewed Carter Dillard on how every country is breaking the Children’s Rights Convention by sacrificing children for a fossil-fuelled, growth-obsessed economy. This is yet another episode that shows our policies, our institutions, our history have all been about providing labourers to fuel the machine, and consumers to feed the economic superorganism, which belches out wealth to the very few at the expense of everyone else.
Carter's analysis of how companies and governments have externalised the cost of the damage they are doing to the planet onto future generations, and externalised the cost of raking in such huge profits onto children born in the majority world where they will be forced to participate in a precarious labor market, taking jobs which render them wage slaves, is absolutely fascinating. And isn’t this just the problem—that economics allows for externalising, the admittance that someone, somewhere, will have to pay the cost, but not the company, state or individual creating or benefiting from it. Tax avoidance truly begins at the source.
The people at the bottom, those most vulnerable and with the least to give, are paying for the gross errors of judgement and malicious intent of those at the top. But here’s the thing—the planet is coming for the 1% and their unforgivable decisions. And if not the planet, perhaps the people.
The Fair Start movement has a vision for what a sustainable future could look like and it's all centred around family planning reform to create small, regenerative families. I love the use of this word, regenerative, being used to describe families. It implies families which can provide for their children, families which want children, families which can also provide happy and healthy parents because very many children in the world are not born into dangerous environments because their parents are subjected to the same economic system that will exploit them when they too come of age.
The idea behind the Fair Start movement is that every activist and citizen could rally around one message: that everybody deserves a fair start in life. This rallying cry sounds the alarm, demanding we change our economic system, our relationship to the natural world, our political systems, our politics, our consumption, and our meek acceptance of inequality. The current system doesn’t provide a fair start for anyone—it provides a grotesque start for the few.
Updating the Children’s Rights Convention in the United Nations to consider absolute biodiversity and a restorative climate along with housing, welfare and education is critical to mitigating the climate crisis. Further, sounding the alarm to parents and citizens that this Convention is ignored by most nations in the world, depriving children of their rights by refusing to redistribute wealth, provide adequate housing and education, and subsidising extractive industries destroying our planet, unites both sides of the aisle.
Who doesn’t love kids? Certainly not those who want to ban abortions. Right?
Unifying the movements
There are lots of justice movements in the world, even within the climate movement. Some folk argue that bringing children into a decaying world is unkind, some say the unborn deserve a healthy environment and a healthy wellbeing. In both cases, we are deliberating over the well-being of the future unborn.
The Fair Start movement reframes the fight around our children who are already with us and their right to be well. Existence and subsistence are no longer the low-barrier entry to human life on this planet; reframing life as a hospitable, comfortable, happy, safe experience means we can no longer look on the suffering of the majority world and accept their conditions as an external cost to our economics. Rather, they have been robbed of their life.
Children may not have have a right to exist in and of themselves, but they do have a right to exist in a good world because we have the technology and the finances to facilitate that for all human beings. This frame renders the climate problem, the economic problem, the political problem, the extraction problem, the inequality problem, concrete and immediate. It makes each individual’s fair start not relative to where they are born, but relative to what can be provided.
This is the question of redistribution. The wealth of the world deserves to be redistributed—and not just to disempower those arrogant fools careening us all into an 8 billion electric-vehicle pile-up. Wealth is created by externalising costs onto others, whether through slave labour, prison labour, wage slavery, or stripping a vulnerable island nation of its resources, or forcing future generations to deal with a 5 degree world. Therefore, that money, those profits, belong to those who pay the price.
Ah, precarity, the system of rule which invites the police state off the streets and into our heads. A population is easy to control when the threat of homelessness looms, when the minimum wage isn’t enough to make ends meet, and when riches await those who sacrifice community for personal ambition. All this is perfect for an economic system of exploitation which demands cheap labour. The working classes are pitted against one another to scrap over the material and ideological crumbs of their own skill and enterprise while the elite dine on seconds, congratulating the endless effectiveness of dividing and conquering.
All right, so they don’t want to share. But what if there were less people fighting over those crumbs? What if people chose to have smaller, regenerative families? This threatens the continuity of cheap labour, and access to that labour. As an act of protest, this says: you may not have access to the hands you do not feed; our bodies are not endlessly replaceable; my children will not feed your profits. If you want access to us—and you will always want access to more of us under growth—you better pay us properly and create a safe environment for us to raise our children. If companies exploit our natural environment to make profit, why shouldn’t providing a healthy environment for their workers fall under their mandate? If they depend on labour, why shouldn’t they protect that labour?
Under growth, more labour will always be needed.* Having smaller families is an act of resistance that can be taken by even the most disempowered citizen, as long as they have access to birth control (no doubt such policies will be stripped around the world sooner rather than later).
We can do so much more for each other than we are. And we must, before the erosion and erasure of human rights guts us of our ability to mobilise. In the past year, the two “developed” nations which call me citizen, have attacked my right to bodily autonomy, my right to contraception, my right to protest, my right to clean water, my right to tell the truth in court. I belong to a privileged demographic, coming second only to the straight, white man. My most vulnerable neighbours in both nations have suffered terrible, direct attacks on their basic rights to exist and to receive help.
The world is not a safe place for anyone because of the climate crisis—but the climate crisis is the perilous arrogance and ignorance of a precious few who covet power and money above all else. Even they cannot externalise the cost of a planet tipping over the edge. They, though, will be the last to feel its hot breath on their necks.
Will we let our children be born into hell or will we take back Eden?
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N.B. This may change dramatically with artificial intelligence, and I’m looking for an interviewee to discuss this topic.