I. Introduction to Part 2
This article continues the analysis of the anti-Agenda 21 disinformation campaign begun in our last article. In that article we looked at the four claims about Agenda 21 that appeared in a resolution passed by West Cornwall Township in Pennsylvania which are also very frequently being made by activists in the anti-Agenda 21 campaign across the United States. We now continue our examination of specific claims made by the anti-Agenda 21 campaign by looking at claims made by John Anthony, a conservative businessman who frequently speaks on Agenda 21 issues around the United States and who has produced a You Tube in which he makes the specific claims considered here. The claims that Mr. Anthony makes are also often being made by other anti-Agenda 21 activists. We end with a claim made by the Republican National Platform.
After looking at eight additional claims in this article we examine the ethical issues raised by the anti-Agenda 21 campaign.
The last entry in this series will examine the organizations who are most responsible for the anti-Agenda 21 campaign.
II. Continuing Analysis of Claims of the anti-Agenda 21 Campaign
Claim 5. Agenda 21 attempts to erode the local control found in our communities across the nation and turns home and regional rule over to a global agenda set by organizations authorized by the United Nations. (West Cornwall Township Resolution)
The fact that this claim is a complete and utter canard can be determined by looking at the actual language of Agenda 21. Paragraph 3.5 (a) of Agenda 21, for instance, calls for the empowerment of local and community groups under the principal of delegating authority, accountability, and resources to the most appropriate level to ensure that the program will be geographically and ecologically specific.
In addition paragraph 10.6 (e) of Agenda21, as we’ve seen above, calls for delegating policy making to the lowest level of public authority consistent with effective action and a locally driven approach.
Absolutely nothing in Agenda 21 calls for the divestment of local power and the substitution of the United Nations authority expressly provides that
Agenda 21 does acknowledge that some environmental and economic development problems cannot be solved by one community alone because some problems do not fit the boundaries of a single local community’s jurisdiction. In these cases, governments need to cooperate to have any hope of solving the problem. For instance, upstream communities and nations can degrade the water supply of downstream nations and communities. Three or more communities may degrade a common water supply. In such cases a regional solution is required to solve the problem and Agenda 21 implicitly calls for regional government cooperation in such cases. In solving these regional problems, the United Nations is not called upon to play any role in the regional decision making. In these situations, the governments are encouraged, but not required, by Agenda 21 to consider the environmental and economic impacts in an integrated in decision-making.
Some environmental problems are global in scope such as ocean acidification, ozone layer depletion, and climate change. For these problems global cooperation is necessary and the United Nations has often played a convening role in bringing national governments together to solve these problems. However, even for global problems the United Nations has no power nor attempts to dictate the elements of global solutions. The United Nation’s role in global problems has been to call nations together in negotiations to arrive at treaties which have to be ratified by national governments. In the United States treaty ratification requires a 2/3 vote of the US Senate. In global treaty negotiations, the United Nations plays no negotiating role except to facilitate negotiations among nations and sometimes to act in an administrative role in regard to the implementation of treaties. Yet even when it plays this role it reports to the nations who are parties to the treaties.
Thus Agenda 21 endorses a principle which is known legally as the “subsidarity” principle. The subsidiarity principle is an organizing principle of decentralization, stating that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority capable of addressing that matter effectively.
Not only is there no basis for the claim that Agenda 21 undermines regional control by replacing it with a global control, as we have seen, Agenda 21 by incorporating principle 2 of the Rio declaration acknowledges the sovereign right of nations to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and development policies.
Claim 6. Agenda 21 calls for decisions affecting local property to be made in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations rather than local property law. (John Anthony tape)
This claim is simply a lie or reckless disregard for the truth. As we have seen, Agenda 21 calls for decisions to be made at the lowest practical level in accordance with the laws and policies of that level.
Furthermore, the Charter of the United Nations expressly provides in Article 2, Paragraph seven that:
Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.
Since the planning issues under attack by the anti-Agenda 21 are matters within the jurisdiction of local, regional, state or national governments, the Charter of the United Nations actually prohibits the United Nations from usurping local or regional authority.
Thus, the claim that Agenda 21 calls for local decisions to be determined under the authority of the United Nations Charter is so loony and inconsistent with international law that it has obviously been made by someone who does not understand international law, yet who has been convinced by conspiracy theories that the United Nations is rapidly usurping national sovereignty.
Claim 7. Agenda 21 means that individual rights must take second place to the rights of the collective. (John Anthony tape)
Not only does Agenda 21 nowhere say that individual rights must take second place to the rights of the collective as we have seen above, Agenda 21 is clear that governments at the appropriate scale should make decisions according to their own laws and policies, expressly reaffirms property rights, calls for judicial processes to protect rights, and is comprised of a set of recommendations for consideration by the appropriate government, not rules that must be adopted. This claim, along with many others discussed in this series, must be understood as a lie or reckless disregard for the truth.
Claim 8. Agenda 21 calls for free enterprise to be replaced with public/ private partnership. (John Anthony tape)
Nothing in Agenda 21 remotely comes close to saying that free enterprise should be replaced. As we have seen several times there is an entire chapter of Agenda 21, chapter 30, that calls for the strengthening of free enterprise in decision-making and Agenda 21 actually recommends greater use of market mechanisms.
Many businesses and business organizations have enthusiastically supported the ideas of Agenda 21. For instance the World Council of Sustainable Buisinness is an organization comprised of over 200 international corporations that have actively participated in UN meetings on sustainability. Thousands of businesses around the world have made commitments to sustainable development. As we saw above the United State government consistently met with US business interests before taking positions on sustainability issues at the UN. The claim that Agenda 21 calls for replacement of the private sector is not only inaccurate it is preposterous.
Claim 9. In decision-making at the local level, the job of the facilitator is to guide the local stakeholder groups to accept predetermined objectives consistent with Agenda 21.(John Anthony tape)
This claim apparently is made about multi-stakeholder meetings that are encouraged by Agenda 21 at the appropriate government level. Multi-stakeholder meetings are usually organized by the government unit that is considering action relating to planning. The local governments usually select which facilitators will run meetings. It is very, very unlikely that facilitators of these meeting know anything about Agenda 21 or looked to it to find rules to apply to local solutions. There is no evidence at all that all or the majority of facilitators that have participated in local declension-making relevant to sustainability issues have forced the stakeholders to come up with recommendations consistent with Agenda 21.
Claim 10. Agenda 21 implementation will mean that people will only be able to live in the black areas in the following maps, living in rural areas will no longer be possible in the United States. (John Anthony tape)
This claim is obviously ludicrous and utterly disingenuous. There have been no proposals that have come close to limiting future domestic dwellings to the black spaces on the map nor to prohibiting people from locating their homes in rural areas. In the United States, land use decisions are made by state and local governments in accordance with state and local law. The United Nations has zero authority over the decisions of State and local governments on these issues. Agenda 21 makes no recommendations to prohibit living in rural communities.
From time to time in the past state and local governments have made land use decisions that restrict land uses to protect wild life and natural resources but they have not done this in response to Agenda 21. Some governments may also choose to restrict certain land uses for ecological preservation reasons in the future. Property owners of lands that might be identified to be preserved for ecological reasons have strong property rights in the United States that prevent the government from taking their property without just compensation and due process of law. Agenda 21 not only does not undermine the rights of property owners, it reaffirms them as we have seen.
Claim 11. Agenda 21 requires that the same solutions be applied the same everywhere in the world. (John Anthony tape)
Once again, this claim is directly contradicted by the text of Agenda 21. Paragraph 8.2 of Agenda 21 says in relevant part:
National plans, goals and objectives, national rules, regulations and law, and the specific situations in which different countries are placed are the overall framework in which integration takes place. In this context, it must be borne in mind that environmental standards may pose severe economic and social costs if they are uniformly applied in developing countries.
As we have also explained above , Agenda 21 expressly recognizes the sovereignty and right of nations to exploit their own resources according to their own needs. Agenda 21 is simply a menu of options for consideration, not a set of rules to be applied.
Claim 12. Agenda 21 Erodes National Sovereignty. (Republican National Platform)
Agenda 21 not only does not erode American sovereignty in any way, as we have seen throughout this analysis it reaffirms national sovereignty.
First, we have seen from the quote above that Section 8.2 expressly provides that the law of nations is the basis for integrating environmental and economic issues in implementing Agenda 21.
Second, we have seen that Agenda 21 is simply a menu of options not a set of rules to be applied in nations.
Third, we have seen that the Charter of the United Nations says that the Charter does not give the United Nations the authority to interfere with matters rightly within the jurisdictions of nations.
Fourth, we saw that paragraph 10.6 (e) of Agenda 21 calls for delegating policy making to the lowest level of public authority consistent with effective action and a locally driven approach.
Fifth, we have seen that Agenda 21 expressly incorporates Principle two of the Rio Declaration which says that “Nations have in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and development policies.” (Rio Declaration, Principle 2)
Sixth, it is a well establish principle of international law that nations are not bound by international agreements unless they are treaties that have been ratifies or adopted according to national law. In the United States, the US Senate must ratify a treaty by 2/3 vote of the United States Senate. The United States never ratified Agenda 21 nor even considered so doing because it was universally understood to be a non-binding document from its conception.
In summary, the United States retains full, undiluted sovereignty over matters discussed in Agenda 21. Nothing in Agenda 21 remotely undermines the sovereignty of the United States.
III. Ethical Analysis of Anti-Agenda 21
We now look at the anti-Agenda 21 campaign phenomenon through an ethical lens. We end this ethical analysis with a reflection on the ethics of sustainable development.
1. Tactics of anti-Agenda 21 Campaign
We have seen in this series of articles that the assumptions and claims of the anti-Agenda 21 campaign are very frequently based upon either lies or reckless disregard for the truth. Over and over again, claims of this campaign are made about the meaning or effect of Agenda 21 which are directly contradicted by the text of this document or are based upon a completely delusional understanding of the potential power of the United Nations over local or regional governments in the United States as a legal matter.
As we noted at the beginning of this series, citizens have clear rights to protect their interests by participating in and attempting to influence local and regional planning efforts. There is no doubt, some land-use decisions have occasionally infringed upon property rights. In these cases existing US law provides legal protection for redress. Nothing in Agenda 21 can be construed to change this.
However those seeking to influence government processes have no rights to tell utter untruths about issues in contention. For this reason, the tactics of the anti-Agenda 21 campaign are ethically problematic particularly in light of the magnitude and scope of the misinformation the anti-Agenda 21 campaign has been inserting into discussions about local planning issues.
The tactics of the anti-Agenda 21 campaign include not only include large doses of misinformation about Agenda 21, they also appear to be designed to scare uninformed citizens that their rights are being taken over by the United Nations which is in the process of undermining national sovereignty in pursuit of imposing a Marxist/socialist one world government.
And so, the tactics of the anti-Agenda 21 campaign include the spreading a huge number of false claims that are being used to scare uninformed citizens. These tactics are clearly morally reprehensible.
2. The Ethics of Sustainability
As we explained, Agenda 21 is a document that encourages but does not require governments around the world to pursue integrated decision-making about environmental, economic, and social issues at the global, national, regional, and local scales. The idea is premised on the notion that if economic, environmental, or social policies are pursued by themselves they may prevent the achievement of legitimate environmental, economic, and social goals that may be achieved in integrated decision-making.
The idea of sustainable development does not give strong guidance on how to reconcile conflicts between environmental and economic goals. As we noted in the first part of this series, the definition that is usually used to define the term is notoriously vague. Namely, sustainable development is development which meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This definition could be understood to allow destruction of all natural resources if technology finds substitutes, makes human needs the measure of value for natural resources, fails to recognize duties to sentient animals, makes no distinctions on what human needs are, etc. As a result, many environmental ethicists have criticized the term the idea of sustainable development for its failure to be clearer about the value of nature and animals.
Similarly many environmental activists have criticized the concept of sustainable development on the basis that its implicit valorization of development will lead to environmental destruction.
Yet it can be argued, that the idea of sustainable development is worthwhile pursuing practically and ethically despite its ethical vagueness because it calls for decisions relating to economic development to take into consideration potential adverse environmental impacts. It also encourages governments considering environmental protection policies to consider unwanted impacts on legitimate economic development objectives. Because environmental and economic goals can have ethical significance, sustainable development is ethically supportable despite the lack of clarity about how to resolve conflicts between environmental and economic goals. For this reason, sustainable development is what philosophers call an “orienting” concept. It helps orient decision-making to consider the right thing to do, even if it is ethically incomplete in giving guidance on how to resolve environmental protection and economic development conflicts. Many other “orienting” concepts which contain no ethical rule but are helpful are frequently used in public life. For instance, the very word “justice” is such an orienting concept.
The word “justice” in the abstract does not tell one what should be done when distributing societal benefits but it is useful in orienting thinking about what is a fair distribution of societal goods in human affairs 0r when procedures should be created to provide rights of participation in decisions for those who could be affected by government decisions. For the same reason, a call for integrated decision-making is ethically positive even if it does not resolve all conflicts about environmental and economic issues.
This is so because many governments have pursued economic development objectives or environment protection goals without consideration of how policies in each of these areas might affect the legitimate aspirations of the other policy goals. For instance, very frequently economic development projects that affected water quality have been approved before the project’s impacts on water quality were considered. Because people have a right to not have the water on which they depend degraded by others, it is ethically required that adverse impacts on water quality be considered in economic policy decisions that could affect water quality. There are also many examples particularly in developing countries where projects which proposed to restrict the use of natural resources have been approved without consideration of the adverse impacts that would follow by restricting natural resource on local indigenous people who depended on the resources for subsistence. Ethics requires that environmental decisions consider how people’s subsistence needs may be affected by environmental policies.
And so the idea of sustainable development is ethically supportable despite its lack of clarity about how to resolve conflicts between environmental and economic goals. In cases of conflict between environmental and economic goals, governments need to look to other ethical principles contained in law or ethical theory to resolve conflicts. And so, sustainable development is an ethically supportable goal despite the fact that its it gives incomplete ethical guidance on how to resolve conflicts between environmental, economic, and other policy goals.
It would appear that the anti-Agenda 21 disinformation campaign is always opposed to the idea of sustainable development that encourages integrated decision-making on environmental, economic, and social policies.
Such a position is itself ethically problematic precisely because people and governments have ethical duties to avoid certain kinds of adverse environmental, economic, and social impacts on others.
Therefore, we conclude that the anti-Agenda 21 campaign can be criticized on ethical grounds for many reasons including the fact that it appears to be opposed to integrated decision-making on projects that can have adverse environmental, economic, and social impacts.
We have demonstrated that the claims of the anti-Agenda 21 campaign are built upon misleading and inaccurate claims about Agenda 21. We have also shown that the tactics of this campaign are ethically problematic.
The last entry in this series will look at the organizations that have been propagating the claims that we have examined in this series.
Donald A. Brown
Scholar In Residence,
Sustainability Ethics and Law
Widener University School of Law