Glenn Beck does not understand Agenda 21 or sustainable development
Glenn Beck does not understand Agenda 21 or sustainable development
By Felix Dodds
(One of the authors with Michael Strauss and Maurice Strong of the recent book ‘Only OneEarth – The Long Road via Rio to Sustainable Development’
Glenn’s contribution is an “afterword” which focuses on sustainable development, Agenda 21 and the United Nations. I want to focus this blog on that - but would like also to make a couple of comments on the science fiction part of the book before moving on.
In this horrible world everyone is spending their time walking and producing energy, I would assume that we have run out of fossil fuels and not invested, as many of us have been calling for, in renewables. The world that Harriet imagines seems more likely to occur if we fail to move to a sustainable planet than if we do. I will come back to that at the end of the blog.
Returning to Glenn.
Underlying the attacks of Glenn Beck and his fellow travelers in the Tea Party is the accusation that Agenda 21 and sustainable development is some left wing plot to take away your freedoms. So what did he write?
Many governments felt that this new body should be housed in a developing country, so the US withdrew its offer and UNEP was the first UN programme established in a developing country, Kenya. The US continued to show leadership as they drafted the UN General Assembly resolution for the establishment of UNEP. One would hardly call President Nixon a socialist, though he may go down as one of the greenest US Presidents after Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was another Republican remembered for the visionary act of establishing the national parks...one wonders if this would have been seen a ‘socialist; by the anti-green Tea Party activists of today.
So what is Agenda 21? Is it a terrible socialist text? I do not think so. It is a collection of the best science based information at the time and the policy options available to move to a more sustainable planet. It recognizes that with growing population and consumption patterns the world will need to manage the global commons to ensure that we have a decent planet to pass on to our children and their children. Most of the recommendations in Agenda 21 are ones that developed countries like the US were doing or were intending to do. It is “soft law,” which means governments are not bound by it. Imagine that you want to run a business. Wouldn’t you look for the best advice to run that business? I know I would! That is what Agenda 21 is.
So what policy areas does Agenda 21 address?
- Combating poverty
- Changing consumption patterns
- Demographic dynamics and sustainability
- Protecting and promoting human health conditions
- Promoting sustainable human settlement development
Integrating environment and development in decision-making
- Protection of the atmosphere
- Combating deforestation
- Integrated approach to the planning and management of land resources
- Managing fragile ecosystems: combating desertification and drought
- Managing fragile ecosystems: sustainable mountain development
- Promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development
- Conservation of biological diversity
- Environmentally sound management of biotechnology
- Protection of the oceans, all kinds of seas, including enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, and coastal areas and the protection, rational use and development of their living resources
- Protection of the quality and supply of fresh water resources
- Environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals, including prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products
- Environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, in hazardous wastes
- Environmentally sound management of solid wastes and sewage-related issues
- Safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes
Agenda 21 should have had a 41st chapter of Agenda 21 which never was negotiated. This was on ‘Transnational Corporations and Sustainable Development’ and the way they should behave. The US and UK, in particular, ensured that chapter was never put to governments. Smart regulation is very important to ensure that we do not get things like BPs spill or the banking crisis. It is downloadable from the UNCTAD web site
Now let’s look at the attack that Beck and others have done on the International Council for Environmental Initiatives, otherwise known as ICLEI. ICLEI is an international network set up to share best practices on environment among local governments around the world. It has no power to force anyone to do anything. The idea of sharing best practices seems to be a good idea to help local governments to be able to serve their populations better.
What Agenda 21 says about Local Agenda 21 is ‘local authorities should work with their populations to produce local agenda 21s’ so not a top down approach but actually a bottom up – no UN black helicopters here!
What Agenda 21 is saying is that local authorities should involve local people in helping them make better sustainability decisions. This is very much based on ‘individual’ involvement – an extension and renewal of democracy, which is exactly opposite to what Beck says it is and exactly what he should be supporting. A lot of the ideas that have come from putting Agenda 21 to practice include extending individual liberties and reducing government engagement in our lives. Moving away from central power generation to local and individual power generation through solar power also makes individuals more energy secure. The move to promote rainwater harvesting means that a proportion of your water comes under your own control and not the companies that at present provide all your water. The move to local food production makes you less dependent on food imports and large agro business. If that food is free from pesticides then it is better for your health. Many of the ideas in Agenda 21 support the development of local economies as opposed to importing goods from abroad therefore creating local jobs. I could go on.
Let us turn to the precautionary approach, which is one of the 27 Principles in the Rio Declaration --- something which is already part of United States law for drugs and food. What the precautionary approach means is that companies should not be able to just do things like experiment with our water, air etc. without showing first that it is safe. I think this is common sense to most people.
The Rio Declaration also has the polluter’s pays principle, which is being exercised on BP for their damage but also should be recognize more broadly the damage caused by developed countries due to climate change such as the floods in Bangladesh and the famine in Africa. The US itself has seen some extreme weather events like Sandy and the droughts over last few years.
In 2006 News International the parent company of Fox News began calculating and reporting on its worldwide carbon footprint and in 2011 Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of News Corporation, announced that the company and its subsidiaries had reached their goal of carbon neutrality. Mr. Murdoch stated that improving the energy efficiency of the company’s day-to-day operations had not only curbed emissions but also “saved millions of dollars.”
In Europe the vast majority of the right and left both accept that Climate Change is happening and acting on it. In the US some people in the Republican Party, such as Christie, have made strong supportive comments on Climate Change and maybe they represent a new republican realism.
The problem we face over the next 17 years up to 2030 is
- Population growth: Expected to reach 8 billion by 2024 and 9 billion by 2050
- Economic prosperity: There will be a rising economic prosperity in some of the emerging economies particularly in India and China;
- Increasing urban world: by 2030 over 60% of
people will live in urban areas and by 2050 70%
This with climate change will mean
- Increase in energy demand: global demand for energy by
30-40% by 2030;
- Increase in demand for food: agriculture production to
increase by 30-50% by 2030 to meet the global demand for food;
- Increased need for water: Demand for water will exceed
global availability by 40 % in 2030.
I would be happy to debate Beck on Agenda 21 at any point.