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UN's Agenda 21: The Main Target In The Right's Fight To Deny Climate Change

How an obscure UN smart-growth plan became the biggest rightwing rage target since Obama's birth certificate

Photo Credit: tommjonzz


 In the last several years, an obscure United Nations accord called Agenda 21 has emerged as something of a unified field theory for the antigovernment movement. On its face, Agenda 21 does nothing but provide countries and communities with a set of principles to grow smartly –– a plan, in short, to fight overpopulation, pollution, poverty and resource depletion.

But for a far-flung network of antigovernment extremists who have risen up to attack it, the nonbinding document that was approved 20 years ago at the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro is not really about preserving the planet at all. Between the lines, they argue, lies a blueprint for the “New World Order.”

In his final days on Fox News, Glenn Beck passionately argued that by agreeing to follow Agenda 21, the U.S. government had colluded with internationalists to undermine its own sovereignty and turn the nation into an environmental refuge where nature would take precedence over people.

“Those pushing … government control on a global level have mastered the art of hiding it in plain sight, and then just dismissing it as a joke,” Beck told his viewers, holding up the 294-page document. He cautioned: “Once [internationalists] put their fangs into our communities and suck all the blood out of it, we will not be able to survive.”

The irony is that Agenda 21 is all about survival. It was intended to offer a strategic plan to scale down the use of natural resources to levels that meet “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations.” (The 21 stands for the 21st century.) One hundred and seventy-eight world leaders, including President George H.W. Bush, signed on to the agreement in 1992.

While there is some opposition to Agenda 21 from the left –– from groups like Democrats Against Agenda 21 –– it’s on the radical right that the UN plan has become a touchstone of a larger theme that equates environmentalism with totalitarianism and the loss of individual freedom. For a growing cast of far-right hardliners, Agenda 21 is a sort of Trojan horse, a totalitarian scheme with a green environmental mask, lying in wait to destroy America as we know it.

How such an arcane UN document that defines the concept of “smart growth” and environmental sustainability became so controversial, even though it gives the UN no enforcement powers, has a lot to do with the work of a tight cadre of antigovernment “Patriot” activists whose fears are rooted in right-wing lore about a New World Order, a kind of authoritarian one-world government. Figures such as Tom DeWeese, head of the American Policy Center, Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the anti-feminist Eagle Forum, and John Bush, with Texans for Accountable Government, have in recent years crisscrossed the country to put on seminars and conferences that strike terror into those inclined to believe conspiracy theories about powerful global elites plotting to install a socialistic global government. The John Birch Society, an archconservative group formed during the Red Scare of the 1950s, regularly assails Agenda 21 with the fervor it once reserved for communists.

Under Agenda 21, these activists argue, the expansive American way of life, in which everyone can aspire to the dream of owning a house with a big yard and two cars in the driveway, will be replaced by one in which increasing numbers are crammed into urbanized “pack ’em and stack ’em” apartment complexes, and forced to use mass transportation and live according to a collectivist ethos. Once the UN’s radical utopia is achieved, gun ownership will be forbidden and the UN will raise an army intent on terrorizing the populace in the name of social order and equality, sustainability and smart growth –– all words that anti-Agenda 21 activists believe signal the true intent of the UN’s plan.

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