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By Tom Cushing

Sustainability 2: Green Tyranny?

Uploaded: Apr 18, 2013

According to one popular philosopher, "Life moves pretty fast." But has the world really gone from 'Silent Spring' to 'Green Tyranny' in three generations? Some folks would have you think so.

Rachel Carson's seminal book about the disastrous implications of DDT's tendency to "bio-accumulate" – move up the food chain with its poisonous effects intact, was a wake-up call to the world that 'better living through chemistry' sometimes wasn't. It demonstrated the interconnectedness of everything in the earthly realm, and suggested that being at the apex of all life forms did not imply insulation from those beneath. The book was a Defining Moment that gave impetus to mid-century environmentalism, which, up to that point, had been better known as the conservation movement.

So-called 'Green Tyranny' is a current rallying cry of those who fear that concern for human effects on the natural world is over-blown -- that counter-measures designed to sustain that world for future generations will impinge on today's precious liberties. Remember Walter Peck, the anatomically incorrect EPA inspector in Ghostbusters? He might be the archetype for these tyrannical Greens. Predictably, if ironically, the charge against sustainability is being led by the Tea Party.

The specific object of their concern is a 300-page document called "Agenda 21." Its saga begins roughly in the 1980s, when the term 'Gaia' took hold, in recognition of the fact that the earth is, ultimately, one circular system. One organism's waste (our exhaled CO2, for instance, as this is a family publication) is another's food, and around-and-around. That system does not respect man-made borders – 'Freon' escaping from our coolers carved a hole in the Antarctic ozone layer, for example, and pollution from China is detectable here.

The UN, then, took the lead in organizing transnational approaches to address these global concerns. Its conference in Rio in 1992 produced the Agenda, named for the 21st century. It was updated in later meetings, on its 10th and 20th anniversaries .

It's no mean feat to cobble together a document that can appeal to 192 countries in every region and stage of development. Obviously, 'sustainability' sounds different to folks in search of their next meal, or on the cusp of competing with big boys, than it does in Europe or here. And it is a truism in these multilateral negotiations that the language must remain general: more specifics usually means somebody will find a reason to opt-out, and generality may provide enough wiggle room that at least directional progress can be made.

In content, it's a voluntary undertaking, not a treaty (a problem for its foes, since it was never formally ratified), and divided into sections headed Social and Economic Dimensions, Resources, Empowering Major Groups and Implementation. For our purposes it's important to note that the first section seeks to integrate sustainability considerations into planning processes and encourage market-based mechanisms to reduce pollution and promote Agenda goals.

Section 2 deals with traditional environmental protection, broadly defined, while Part 3 notes the importance of empowering particularly NGOs and, notably, women, in pursuing these ends. Regarding Implementation, the Agenda reiterates its voluntary nature, committing its signatories only to 'continuous and constructive dialogue' in the 'delicate balance between environmental and developmental concerns.' The shorter 2010 update repeats the primary role of national policies, development strategies and the rule of law in pursuit of global sustainability.

So, what's not to like? I was frankly not sure, so I consulted the website of the East Bay Tea Party for direction. Among several Issues (which did not include forlorn and derelict billboards along 680, which may instead constitute an important private property right), was Green Tyranny. "Right now," it exclaims, "forces are working to eradicate the United States Constitution and give regulatory and political power to the United Nations and their vision for a global, one-world government."

But wait, there's more: according to the EBTP, more specifically: the UN, via Agenda 21 wants to dictate your car (if any!), where (and when!) you may travel, where you can live, where (and whether!) you may own property and how many offspring you may produce.

Now, if true, those claims would be deeply troubling, starting with the Constitution and ending with enforced family planning. So, I looked for any links on the site that would indicate how I missed all these dire outcomes in my quick review of the Agenda. And here's the problem: they do not exist. The site plays very fast and loose -- it is all fear-mongering contention, and no evidence. It does contain one linked passage critical of private property rights – but that sentence is from a different UN document written in 1976, 16 years before Agenda 21. And somehow our system of government has survived the intervening 38-year conspiracy. Perhaps others will come up with something to trouble my slumber in this regard, in the Comments?

Otherwise, I'll be left with just the irony of an organization that has bleated incessantly about the unconscionable consequences of the government debt we're leaving our grandchildren then turning both blind eyes to the global environmental catastrophe they are advocating. A national debt of any size will simply not matter in the context of calamities associated with an unsustainable planet, fifty years hence.

In the meantime, instead of gumming-up the local planning works with dark, unsupported warnings about sustainability conspiracies, perhaps the Tea Party faithful could take on fluoridation of our water, the Communist menace or maybe impeaching Earl Warren?

Synopsis: The concept of Sustainability is sustainable; Green Tyranny is not.