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Book Review by David N. Cassuto - Professor of Law & Faculty Director of Graduate Programs

Book Review: Dillard, Carter J., Justice a Fair Start in Life: Understanding the Right to Have Children (Eliva, 2021)  by David N. Cassuto
Professor of Law & Faculty Director of Graduate Programs
Director, Brazil-American Institute for Law & Environment (BAILE)
Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University
White Plains, NY

This just in: The planet is burning, the right to procreate is not absolute, and nature is a habitat not a resource.  Carter Dillard, author of Justice as a Fair Start in Life: Understanding the Right to Have Children, wants to make you uncomfortable.  Dillard, is a legal scholar, an animal-rights lawyer, and the founder of an NGO dedicated to promoting the idea of family planning as a moral and legal responsibility.  He does not want you to sleep well; he wants you to bolt awake and do something.  And he wants you to do it while having fewer children.   

The Fair Start model provides a blueprint for a radical egalitarianism.  It seeks to redress inequalities among the living while arguing that parental autonomy is an unjustifiable and unsustainable means of power consolidation.  Rather than speak of an unbridled right to procreate, we should instead speak of an inter-generational right to thrive.  With climate change presenting the most complicated and dangerous collective action crisis in history, this book offers an urgently needed new approach to the way we inhabit the planet.    

COP-26 ended with no clear path forward.  What looked like a pathbreaking (albeit still inadequate) global agreement to lower carbon emissions got submarined.   A few nations’ attachment to coal forced the parties to jettison language about “phasing out” coal-generated energy.  Coal addiction, however, remains a symptom not the source of the problem.  

India is one of the world’s largest carbon emitters, and one of the COP-26 holdouts.  It had previously expressed willingness to shift away from coal if wealthier nations helped defray the costs.  That help has not come.  

Ten years ago, the world’s wealthiest nations pledged $100 billion per year to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.  The amount received has never come close to $100 billion, which is far less than what is actually required.  As a result, some African nations spend up to 9% of their gross domestic product on climate adaptation to accomplish only a fifth of what is needed.  In sum, the world is a mess and our attempts to fix it amount to trying to stop a juggernaut with a traffic cone. 

We cannot coherently speak of what “we” must do as an international community without defining the “we” whose experiences – both lived and unlived – inform their responsibilities for maintaining a habitable planet.   Is the “we” who will suffer the same “we” that caused the suffering?  The former includes all of us.  The latter comprise those who hoard power and consume resources, heedless of carrying capacity, equity, or future generations.  This dichotomy of experience and responsibility is worsened by the reality that those without resources suffer far more than the people whose abuses drive the problem.  These differing versions of “we,” and the intergenerational and trans-species inequities that accompany them, underlie Dillard’s argument for what he calls the “zero baseline model” or ZBM.”  


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