Have Nonprofits Misled Supporters by Hiding Unsustainable Growth Policies?

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Sources: Fair Start Movement, Earth • Food • Life

Many nonprofits have accepted family planning policies that are harmful to women, children, and the environment.

Mother with child (2).jpg
Carter Dillard is the policy adviser for the Fair Start Movement.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

As the climate crisis deepens, with massive heatwaves killing untold numbers of people, and pregnant women and infants being harmed by even the current rise in world temperature, many are wondering how the world came to such a state.

Many nonprofits have been touting the success of energy efficiency or other campaigns designed to limit emissions.

The success of these efforts has been largely undone by overconsumption. This happens as demand for things like emissions-producing animal products, and even whole ecosystems, rises with growth. But it also happens at a much larger scale as that growth exacerbates the climate crisis on dozens of other levels, something that is enabled by many organizations’ anthropocentric and extractive environmental policies, and policies that failed to protect nature; i.e., the nonhuman world.

Crisis Driven by Harmful Family Policies[edit | edit source]

The crisis was fundamentally driven by the family policies—both tacit and explicit—that many nonprofits have simply accepted despite the harm they cause to women and children. These policies often quietly placed more children, animals, and ecosystems in harm’s way than the organizations’ campaigns were saving, and in a way that degraded human rights and democracy and empowered a few.

I have spoken with leadership at nonprofits who admitted to me that their position on population growth, and ignoring the massive child inequity that comes with such growth, was undoing their claimed success in fundraising materials, but these leaders were afraid to speak out for of fear of losing funding by being controversial.

These policies made large funders and the groups that answer to them money by bypassing requirements to ensure birth and development conditions for all children consistent with the Children’s Rights Convention and instead creating unsustainable, population-driven economic growth that treated children as cheap future labor, voracious consumers, and compliant taxpayers.

Government officials have been equally complicit in this process, creating policies like pronatal tax incentives that help large concentrations of wealth and power undermine democracy while appearing to further progressive goals. These policies enriched white families at the cost of black families, as officials ignored alternatives that would have done the opposite and instead chose policies that quietly eroded democracy and the extent to which they could actually represent their own constituencies.

Mainstream media, including journalists like Ezra Klein, have ignored journalistic integrity and pushed population growth—in the face of the climate crisis—in a way that benefited their advertisers and imposed costs on future generations. Google search terms like “baby bust,” and contrast how media covers that issue (while stealth advertising) with how much they have covered the best way to mitigate the climate crisis in the long run.

Unethical Reporting Hurts People[edit | edit source]

The harm from this dynamic, of claims of environmental success performed with one hand being quietly undone with the other hand through anthropocentric growth policies, cannot be overstated as the body count from climate-induced heat waves mount. This dynamic has also hidden the fundamental baseline for compensation owed to the Global South and future generations, owed because of the failure of the Global North to prevent the climate crisis that it largely caused.

Not only were many nonprofits embracing outdated family policies that let their wealthy funders pass massive privileges to their children while other children were being born and raised in horrific conditions, but now those vulnerable children will disproportionately suffer the impacts—long into the future—of the climate crisis.

Exploitative Growth, Inequitable Power Relations[edit | edit source]

Every crisis the public interest community faces today derives from the failure of our predecessors to bend the arc of exploitative growth toward just power relations.

Why would we continue to make that mistake? The list of costs stemming from that error is staggering: Growing levels of birth-based inequity, rising numbers of unhoused persons, exacerbation of the conditions that drive pandemics, multiplying the climate crisis on multiple levels, degrading systems of participatory democracy, heightened risk of terrorism, the knock-on impacts of the relationship between population policies, the creation of communities and humans’ inclination to imitate rather than innovate beneficial behavior, and the inability to effectuate human rights amid the chaos of billions of people (including the commercial cacophony that drowns out valuable truth), most of whom are not sufficiently prepared and empathetic to grasp and apply the system’s basic concepts.

This is not pure theory. I’ve worked in and with nonprofits in which leadership chose climate and population policies that hid the possibility of things like climate reparations, while also benefiting them personally at a cost to the organizations’ stated missions. I have talked with prominent advocates of biodiversity who knew their anthropocentric family policies were quietly causing extinction that undid their public claims, but who were terrified to change course.

I have personally met with funders who for years held themselves out to the public as philanthropists protecting animals, in part by investing in vegan products, though they knew the population growth policies they tacitly or expressly supported and profited from were doing much more to harm animals than their investments were doing to help them.

I’ve spoken with public officials who understood that growth policies were akin to a Ponzi pyramid scheme (per one Nobel Laureate) that degraded their own representative capacities while exacerbating inequity and the climate crisis, but who chose to do nothing about it.

It’s time to break this dynamic of fundamental injustice and to constitute ourselves—through just family planning—as free and equal people.

How to Take Action[edit | edit source]

  • If you support a nonprofit that claims to protect children, the environment, animals, or human rights and democracy, urge them to disclose their current family policies. Are they opting for policies that could bring more children into horrific conditions than the number of children the group is actually serving? Are they opting for policies that could place more animals in harm’s way than the group is saving? Are the groups accounting for how growth is driving a climate crisis that is undoing local environmental efforts or degrading democracy in relationships between people irrespective of formal changes in political systems? Urge them to instead adopt more ethical models like Fair Start or comparable options.

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