Exposing the Influence Behind the Anti-Agenda 21 Anti-Sustainability Agenda

© American Planning Association

What's So Terrible about Agenda 21 and Sustainability?

Agenda 21 is a pretty innocuous 20 year old document that calls for "sustainable development." ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability helps local governments build capacity and share knowledge about sustainable development. It is all pretty mild stuff, yet across America, it, and the very word sustainability, are under attack. However, a recent survey showed that most people never heard of it and only 6% say they are against it. so why are politicians from State governments up to the National Republican Party and Presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich make such a big deal of it?

" People don't wake up in the morning sweating bullets about the United Nations."-Robin Rather

Robin Rather of Collective Strength, who commissioned the survey, says " I genuinely believe the Agenda 21 phenomenon is highly manufactured. It's not out there in the mainstream."

Robin lives in Austin, Texas and has a lot of family who are Tea Party members. She respects and agrees with a lot of what they say. But she says "they don't wake up in the morning sweating bullets about the United Nations. Their anger is directed at Washington." Yet the scale of the Agenda 21 campaign is enormous. Who is manufacturing it? Robin continues:

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. The whole campaign serves no interest to anyone who isn't trying to ensure that we keep burning as much fossil fuel as we can for as long as possible.

"The UN’s Local Agenda 21 program may already be in your local community, through your home town or city’s membership in ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. Agenda 21 seeks for the government to curtail your freedom to travel as you please, own a gas-powered car, live in suburbs or rural areas, and raise a family."- Arthur Thompson, John Birch Society.

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John Birch Society

So who is driving this bandwagon? John Laumer wrote John Birch Society Is Back: Municipal Planning & Environmentalism Targeted. Fred Koch, founder of Koch industries, was a founding member. He was also the father of the Koch Brothers who founded Americans for Prosperity. One of the JBS's favorite experts on the threat of Agenda 21 is Tom DeWeese.

"The latest tactics by the American Planning Association reveals the dark intent of the Sustainablists and the lengths they will go to hide their goals. Honest intent doesn’t have to hide in lies and double speak. Those are the tactics of tyranny".- Tom DeWeese

Interview with Tom DeWeese at CPAC 2011 from The John Birch Society on Vimeo.

American Policy Center

When he is not out on the public speaking circuit, Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center, the loudest mouthpiece of the anti-Agenda 21 crowd. He claims that the anti-sustainability movement is not just crazy people: "The tin foil is falling off of our hats rapidly as the fight against Agenda 21 is quickly escalating into the main stream of the political debate."

He has a well-connected board of directors and advisors that includes:

Bonner Cohen, who, according to Sourcewatch, ran EPA watch, which was funded by Philip Morris and accused the EPA of "everything from destroying the US economy to trying to stop people from taking showers." He was the sole director of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition with his partner Steve Milloy of Junk Science fame. TASSC was funded by Amoco, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Motors and many more.

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Cohen is also senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, which received $ 445,000 from ExxonMobil.

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He is a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which gets most of its money from the Carthage Foundation and Sarah Scaife Foundation. Oh, and ExxonMobil, to the tune of $ 577,000 between 2000 and 2007 according to ExxonSecrets.

John Meredith is a director as well; he is a Washington lobbyist (and the son of civil rights icon James Meredith) and is on the Advisory Board of CFACT. He goes way back in the conspiracy, speaking in 1977, suggesting that there was:

what he termed the "radical green agenda" to "restructure American society." In particularly, he discussed a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (Community Sustainability: Agendas for Choice-Making and Action) which calls for the elimination of single-family dwellings, curbing suburbs, reducing the population's meat consumption, imposing population control techniques and more. This document, Meredith said, was submitted to the June 1996 "Habitat II" United Nations Conference in Istanbul as official U.S. policy.

His consulting company's skills include

The ability to motivate people into participating in the public policy process and providing them the tools to be effective when they do engage is a cornerstone of Meredith Advocacy Group services. Our grassroots techniques include creation of electronic distribution systems for issue education and action alerts, coalition building and coordination of like-minded groups and individuals, establishment and maintenance of key contacts, as well as Congressional and agency outreach programs.

Which is often called astroturfing.

The Board of Advisors includes Alan Caruba, who is a major contributor of articles to CFACT, which, by the way, was a gold sponsor of the Heartland Conference on Climate Change, infamous for its Unabomber ads (along with Americans for Prosperity)

Deweese has other opinions to offer beside just Agenda 21; his thoughts on botany:

The bottom line is, CO2 is not a poison to human beings, CO2 is not affecting the atmosphere, there is absolutely no evidence, I can say this with absolute confidence, there is no evidence of man-made global warming causing problems…..Trees give off carbon dioxide; all the plants around us give it off. The fact is some scientists have done some studies saying we’ve got a carbon dioxide shortage right now. That then causes plants to die, that causes environmental damage.

"When government makes decisions on behalf of others about how much consumption, what types of living arrangements, and what types of transportation are “sustainable,” this can directly conflict with individuals’ freedom."- Americans for Prosperity

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Americans for Prosperity

As Far as the Koch's Americans For Prosperity goes, they hand out brochures about Agenda 21 that are almost fair and balanced compared to some of the stuff I have read.

Some conservatives worry that sustainable development is just a disguise for a larger scheme to adopt radical environmentalism, wealth redistribution, or some form of “world government” through local initiatives. But whether this is true is largely irrelevant: regardless of the underlying motives and regardless of the source, the policies themselves prove to be an affront to property rights and harmful to the American economy. To those who favor economic freedom and limited government, this alone is grounds for concern.

AFP branches from Kansas to Oregon appear to have Tom Deweese constantly on the rubber chicken circuit, he is everywhere.

"Under Sustainable Development, the recognition of the Unalienable Right to one’s life, liberty and property is lost. This war on freedom is a Global to Local one."- Freedom Advocates

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Freedom Advocates

The other organization that seems to do the most pushing of the Agenda 21 conspiracy is Freedom Advocates, run by Patrick M. Wood, who in the late seventies was obsessed with the Trilateral Commission, the conspiracy du jour. Information about him is sketchy, and there is little on any of his board members; they all appear to be big in Santa Cruz, California. He offers a downloadable handbook that tells you everything you need to know to scupper an urban planner and keep government small enough to drown in a bathtub.

1. Recognize and resist the trend to replace political boundaries with “regional governance.” Recognize that this form of government leads to a breakdown of accountability to the citizenry.

2. Refuse local government receipt of federal or state money for new Sustainable Development programs because they breach the American system of federalism and raid the treasury. Withdraw from established Sustainable Development programs.

3. Avoid local government partnerships with the federal government, NGOs, foundations and corporations that advance the anti-liberty Sustainable Development agenda. Do not surrender your town or county to the insider privilege of Sustainable Developers and their monied interests….

6. Kick ICLEI out of your town.

Their website is published on The Patriot's Web, a hosting company for right wing websites, which is owned by the August Corporation, which is owned by Patrick Wood, who also publishes the August Forecast and Review. He appears to be a one man media empire, but so far as I can tell, not the major force behind the Agenda 21 conspiracy.

In the end, there was no direct link from the Koch's Americans for Prosperity to any of the people I could find on the boards of either organization. Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies thinks there might be one, writing:

It isn't difficult to understand why the men behind Koch Industries -- a major emitter of carbon and other pollution -- would be interested in discrediting a sustainability initiative.

For example, the Koch’s have been major funders of efforts to discredit climate science in order to scuttle regulatory action on greenhouse gas pollution. A 2010 Greenpeace report documented how the Kochs contributed more than $48.5 million from 1997 to 2008 to a network of several dozen think tanks that work to sow doubt about manmade climate change.

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It is pretty clear that there are direct connections from the American Policy Center to The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, (CFACT , which is funded by right wing foundations and big oil, not to mention Daimler Chrysler and Ford in the past.

It is also clear that the anti-agenda 21, anti-sustainability movement is punching way above its weight in terms of public awareness and support. It's not a grass roots movement of concerned local activists, but, as Robin Rather puts it, "a brilliant campaign, preying on real fears that people have" about their homes and property.

How do we fight this? Lessons from Proposition 23

One of the reasons that California's Proposition 23, which would have suspended air pollution controls, was defeated was that it became clear that the whole thing was being funded by oil companies and Koch Industries. As the Bay Citizen reported, "Opponents of the measure successfully painted Prop. 23 as the handiwork of out-of-state oil companies bent on messing with California’s laws."

Bike lanes, transit and higher density are evil because they give people alternatives to cars, and that can never happen in America.

Fundamentally, that is what is happening here. Big Oil is paying for CFACT and either directly or indirectly the fight against Agenda 21; The Kochs are promoting it like mad, right across the country. Same big companies, same reason: to keep America in its happy motoring ways, to make any alternative just about impossible. And that is how we have to paint them: not concerned citizens worried about the United Nations, but representatives of big oil out to preserve their turf.

Tags: Activism | Agenda 21 | longreads

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