Have you heard the latest local conspiracy theory? Conspirators tell us that Chattanooga has signed on to a dastardly plot run by the United Nations (UN). If these evildoer plans are implemented, we will be put under control of people (undetermined) who will completely change our American way of life for the worse. You will lose your right to own property and be forced to move to a high-rise apartment. You will have to walk or make use of mass transit. Egad! According to conspirators, it’s all outlined in Agenda 21, that socialist, Marxist, collectivist document where global sustainable development and environmental management guidelines are the reasons we are going to hell in a handbasket. Say w-h-a-a-a-t?
It’s a big leap to say that Agenda 21 points to forced takeover against our wills, but this Tea Party-inspired talk uses as evidence Chattanooga’s Office of Sustainability and a Climate Action Plan already in place.
Apparently the local conspiracy talk has been unleashed due to two recent events: 1) a conference titled “Local Initiatives in Climate Protection and Renewable Energies in Germany and the U.S.” was hosted in Chattanooga. Representatives from four German cities and four American cities gathered to share ideas about how to move toward sustainability; 2) Southeast TN Development District as lead applicant can receive Federal HUD/EPA funds to be used in a local 16-county partnership for Sustainable Community planning.
What is Agenda 21 anyway? Most have likely never heard of it, but it is a comprehensive framework for global action to achieve sustainable development. It sets out a long-term vision for balancing economic and social needs taking into account the capacity of Earth’s natural resources. One hundred seventy-eight countries adopted it in 1992 during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. Priorities for action focus on water, energy, health, governance, globalization, poverty eradication and creating sustainable patterns of consumption and production. It recommends that governments, international organizations and civil society form partnerships and create initiatives to deal with sustainable development problems. You can read it for yourself atun.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/.
Some historical perspective may be useful for the suspicious among us. After people around the world saw those first photos of Earth from space, they realized that all life we know of is located on a single planet with finite resources required for existence. In 1987, The United Nation’s Brundtland Commission published Our Common Future. It caught the public’s attention with its widely adopted definition: Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Now, I suppose that those who believe Agenda 21 is a plan enabling the UN to con us all into an unpleasant world order will read their own meaning into it, but in fact, it only attempts to outline a desirable future based on wise use of planetary resources. It stems from the understanding that future generations should have the means for a quality life. To that end, Agenda 21 encourages us to “play well with others” on the planet and consider the environment in our development decisions. After all, it is in our enlightened interest to maintain and preserve the planet that supports us.
Sustainable living is a worthy goal. Unfortunately, in unsustainable fashion, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 jumped ever higher. Like it or not, we are going to have to adapt. Agenda 21 provides a process of change to get to sustainability. It may require us to live more in community and share, but aren’t those values we teach our kids?