But thanks to the efforts of the Larry Spencer wing of the local Republican Party, a long-overdue overhaul of local land use codes is in jeopardy because of irrational fear of an obscure and utterly irrelevant international document.
First, some background. For the 85% of Americans who will have no idea what this uproar is about, Agenda 21 is a 20-year-old document produced at the so-called “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 as a non-binding resolution. The broad principles were reaffirmed the general direction at a similar international summit in Johannesburg in 2002.
The gist is captured in the preamble:
Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can – in a global partnership for sustainable development.
The pie-in-the-sky document contains a long list of potential approaches and implementation strategies to protect the environment and promote global economic development. And like most U.N. documents, it essentially ages on an ever-growing report-shelf, gathering dust. Global action on global warming anyone?
In the last couple of years, however, the document has been pulled off the shelf by far-right activists in the U.S. and waved around like a religious relic, an icon of everything wrong with international cooperation, environmentalism, and well, all sorts of liberal ideas. The Agenda-ists claim that the very words “sustainable development” are suspect, and practically any effort to protect the environment can all be traced back to the U.N. So very fearful of all this, the state of Alabama has actually banned regulatory action “as may be required by policy recommendations originating in, or traceable to ‘Agenda 21.'”
However, as one observer puts it, “Usually when you listen to complaints like those of Tea Party members, there are different inflections, a much wider variation. But this isn’t organic and local, the same talking points come up everywhere. They are being played and used.”
You see, it is no accident that this line of thinking has taken hold. Playing on black-helicopter gullibility, and xenophobic paranoia, a cottage industry in selling Agenda 21 snake oil has suddenly popped up. The anti-Agenda 21ers are driven by an industry of anti-regulatory propagandists funded by resource extraction corporations and their patrons. The long-discredited John Birch Society was an early leader of the anti-Agenda 21 efforts, and now their cause has been picked up by organizations like the “American Policy Center” and “Americans for Prosperity” and “Freedom Advocates” and “Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.”
The American Policy Center, for example, is essentially a personal vehicle for Tom DeWeese, a right wing property rights advocate (whose emails to and from Bonner County officials are subject to a KEA lawsuit). Raising close to $1 million in 2010, the “Center” appears to have paid much of it to DeWeese, his wife, and “The DeWeese Company.” But hey, you can buy your discount anti Agenda 21 “action kits” for as low as $159!
The common thread is that these organizations are heavily funded by oil companies and the usual-suspect right-leaning foundations and donors. Of course, it isn’t difficult to understand why global polluters would be interested in discrediting a global sustainability initiative.
But leave it to North Idaho to cite to Agenda 21 to scuttle their own local best interests. You’d think that Republican county commissioners in North Idaho of all places would be the last people on earth to succumb to the pressures of U.N. directives. But now, a simple exercise in re-writing out-of-date land use codes is now under attack as an example of the sinister reach of the overarching and all-consuming U.N. Agenda 21.
Protect water quality in Couer d’Alene and Hayden lakes? Not if the U.N. is behind it.