“The 20th century was about getting around. The 21st century will be about staying in a place worth staying in.”
— James Howard Kunstler, author and social critic
The message in the video below seems to make a lot of sense, at least to me and probably a lot of the people who read this blog.
It argues that surburban sprawl — acres of tract houses, monstrous parking lots, miles and miles of multilane highways, huge interchanges, the need for a car, or a big, honking SUV, to to get anywhere you have to go — are harming the planet.
The video calls for “new urbanism” — a revival of central cities, creation of environments in which shops, services, restaurants, entertainment venues are a short walk — or bicycle ride — away. It calls for more green spaces and public transportation — such as streetcars and light rail — to reduce the number of cars on the road, conserve energy and lower noxious emissions.
In other words, sustainable development. All well and good in my sane corner of the world.
But some apparently see sustainable development as the work of the devil, or his earthly surrogate: the United Nations.
A local group of “patriots” connected with Fort Worth’s 9/12 Project, created by Fox News host Glenn Beck, used the video on sustainable development in an online invitation to a gathering at the Elks Club on May 22 to learn how to combat this insidious threat to the American way of life.
“What can you do to protect individual liberty and equal justice?” the online flier says. “How can individuals defend against the march of a global tyranny cloaked in the warm and fuzzy term Sustainable Development? How can we restore LIBERTY before it is too late?”
The guest speaker scheduled for the meeting is a fellow named Robert Semands.
“Robert Semands has fought the good fight against sustainable development in Edmond, Oklahoma,” the flier says. “He will train and inform us on how to push back and reclaim our beloved Texas.”
The dragon that Semands vanquished in Edmond, a well-to-do suburb north of Oklahoma City, was the town’s affiliation with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) “and its parent — the United Nations’ Agenda 21.”
Semands and his organization, Govern Edmond Locally (GEL), were instrumental in getting Edmond to end its membership in ICLEI. The city withdrew its participation after protests at a Dec. 6 City Council workshop on sustainable development.
The workshop, the Edmond Sustainability Forum, was held to share ideas about how to save energy and money, reduce waste, conserve water, make buildings energy-efficient, promote green spaces.
But the Oklahoma activists passed out handouts that read: “U.N. Agenda 21 is a 1,000-plus page, 40-chapter document spelling out how all activities on the planet, including the USA, are to be brought under the control of the United Nations.”
The workshop was disrupted and abandoned.
The ICLEI was established in September 1990 when more than 200 local governments from 43 countries convened at its inaugural conference, the World Congress of Local Governments for a Sustainable Future, at the United Nations in New York. The organization is now called “ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability.”
Agenda 21 is an action plan of the United Nations on sustainable development, with the numeral 21 referring to the 21st century. The plan resulted from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, where President George H.W. Bush signed the plan.
The United Nations has long been a bogeyman for the far right. The John Birch Society slogan of the 1960s — The U.S. out of the U.N.; the U.N.out of the U.S. — is still a favorite of the peddlers of fear.
And Agenda 21 seems to have emerged as the latest rallying cry among ultra-conservatives infected by a virulent strain of xenophobia. Any idea, no matter what its merits, is very suspect if it’s perceived to be “foreign.”
Don Maes, the Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for Colorado governor in the Nov. 2 elections, suggested that his Democratic opponent, John Hickenlooper, was a dupe of the United Nations because of his environmental initiatives, including a bicycle-sharing program, as mayor of Denver.
“These aren’t just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor,” Maes told a July 26 rally in Centennial, Colo. “These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to.” He later said the bike-sharing plan was a “well-disguised” effort aimed at “converting Denver into a United Nations community.”
Maes got only 11 percent of the vote; Hickenlooper was elected governor.
That same strain of thought is helping drive opposition to a plan to make neighboring Arlington more bicycle-friendly by reducing lanes for motorized vehicles on some streets and adding bike lanes. At least one opponent of a plan to bring street cars back to downtown Fort Worth expressed a similar sentiment at a public meeting.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if Fort Worth’s comprehensive bike plan, Bike Fort Worth, gets some mention at the Sunday meeting at the Elks Club.
The online invitation to the meeting quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying, “Information is the currency of democracy.” By the way, the website for Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Virginia, lists that quote among those “that we do not believe are genuine.”
The sentiment of the quote, however, is well taken. If you favor bicycle lanes, public transportation, sidewalks, walkable neighborhoods, more green spaces — in other words, sustainable development — it’s useful to know where your opponents are coming from. And their arguments seem about as spurious as their Jefferson quote.