| Advancing the principles of
in the 21st century
| Alternative to the
U.N.'s Agenda 21 Program
for Sustainable Development
Over the past thirty years, the need for protecting the environment has become a national and international priority. Few would challenge the need for protecting the environment so that future generations can enjoy productive and fulfilled lives. These efforts, ideally, strive for two goals: To protect the environment so that future generations can enjoy productive and fulfilled lives and to use natural resources wisely to provide jobs and security for the world's population. These two goals are encompassed by the term "sustainability." The authors of this document, called Freedom 21, draw attention to the need to rely upon the principles of individual liberty, property rights, and free markets to ensure true sustainability.
The United Nations established its Environmental Program (UNEP) in 1972, following the first "Earth Summit" in Stockholm, Sweden (also called the United Nations Conference on Human Environment). After numerous international environmental meetings, the United Nations hosted another Earth Summit (the Conference on Environment and Development) in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. This Earth Summit saw the introduction of numerous international environmental agreements and treaties. Key among those was Agenda 21, a sweeping forty-chapter plan with the stated purpose of advancing humanity while protecting the earth's environment. Several additional international meetings were held in the wake of the 1992 Earth Summit, culminating in the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002. The primary purpose of the WSSD was to protect the environment and reduce human poverty by implementing the principles of Agenda 21.
No one can deny that many of these numerous environmental laws and international treaties have contributed in some measure to improving the environment in America and the world. The question remains, however, whether these mechanisms are the best approach to protect both the environment and people. All of these environmental laws and treaties use a strong, regulatory approach to environmental protection. History reveals, however, this approach often deprives citizens of their private property and wealth-producing capability, leads to corruption, and impedes economic growth. Ironically, it also often denies or reduces poor people's ability to improve their economic status and society's ability to protect the very environment it is supposed to safeguard.
The United Nations' Agenda 21 elevates this failed form of governance to the global level. In his 1997 Track II Reforming the United Nations document, Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended restructuring the UN Trusteeship Council from its original responsibility of global decolonization into a supranational EPA. This overarching authority would allow "Member states [nations] [to] exercise their collective trusteeship for the integrity of the global environment and common areas such as the oceans, atmosphere and outer space."1
The United Nations and the international environmental community call their concept of protecting the environment "sustainable development." Sustainable development means different things to different people, but the most frequently quoted definition is from the 1987 report Our Common Future (also known as the Brundtland Report):
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
It goes beyond just protecting the environment, and attempts to govern the economic and social development of the entire world. It encompasses changing policy and practice at all levels, from the individual to the international corporation.2
Among other things, Agenda 21 promotes widespread income redistribution to eliminate poverty, defines how to use earth's resources and environment, and outlines how each citizen should live in a "sustainable" manner. Signed by President George Bush (Sr.) and the leaders of most other nations at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, this effort has major flaws that will prevent it from achieving success. Although Agenda 21 ostensibly pushes decision-making to the local level, in fact it limits those choices to a few pre-approved options through what the United Nations has come to call, in its own words, "global governance." In other words, it represents a top-down, planned approach to the management of society; decreasing personal freedom but doing little to curb opportunities for corruption. As such, it is diametrically opposed to the proven principles of the United States Constitution; and ultimately to freedom and wealth creation for the world's poor. It annuls the creative, economic, environmental and other benefits that liberty brings.
Lest it be imagined that strong governmental control leads to a better environment, one need look no further than the former USSR. The Soviet government had absolute authority, yet presided over abysmal environmental degradation not only in Russia, but in East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and many other Soviet Satellites. By contrast, the cleanest counties are those of the U.S., Canada, and a few European nations, precisely because their governments have had to respond to their citizens' demands for keeping their environments clean.
Among many in developing nations, Agenda 21 has come to be labeled as "eco-imperialism:" the imposition of politically correct developed-world priorities, standards and principles on poor countries. That these poverty-stricken nations are still beset by health, economic and infrastructure problems which developed countries solved decades ago is tragic, but has seemed to elicit insufficient attention from many in the international environmental community. Gar Smith, editor of The Edge, the newsletter of the Earth Island Institute, which publishes much environmental literature, said at the WSSD:
The idea that people are poor doesn't mean that they are not living good lives. I don't think a lot of electricity is a good thing.... I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant cultures and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity.... African villagers used to spend their days and evenings sewing clothing for their neighbors, on foot-peddle-powered sewing machines. Once they get electricity, they spend too much time watching television and listening to the radio. If there is going to be electricity, I'd like it to be decentralized, small and solar-powered.2
African villagers may well object to Gar Smith's desires for them to have very limited, unreliable electricity. Lacking a good energy source, the women carry bundles of wood or animal dung from distant sources to use for cooking. The atmosphere within their huts is appallingly unhealthful. Mr. Smith would consign Africans to subsistence living, short life expectancy, and disease.
Certainly not all international environmentalists, of course, espouse Gar Smith's beliefs. Yet, many First World demands often prevent less developed countries from addressing their critical disease, energy, employment, sanitation and trade needs. The easily foreseeable result is that millions of potentially productive parents and children get sick and die every year. These same people would live much better lives if their poor countries could utilize the same methods that today's rich nations employed on their way to prosperity, nutrition, health, and environmental quality. Eco-imperialism prevents these impoverished countries from taking their rightful place among the Earth's prosperous nations. It is a human rights violation unprecedented in its scope and in the degree to which it is justified by appeals to vague promises of sustainability, the "public good," "social responsibility," and environmental purity.
There is a positive alternative to Agenda 21 called Freedom
21. Freedom 21 protects the environment using the principles of
individual liberty, property rights and free markets. Unlike Agenda
21, and even capitalism as is often practiced in many parts of the
world, Freedom 21 helps impoverished nations by giving their citizens
the liberty and the tools needed to use their creative abilities, so
that they can participate in wealth creation. Only a free and wealthy
people can protect the environment without the loss of liberty.
Notes and Citations
1 Kofi Annan. "Reform at the
UN." Track-2, Part I Overview, para 85.
Morano. "Environmentalist Laments Introduction of Electricity," CNS
NEWS, August 26, 2002
http://www.cnsnews.com/Culture/Archive/200208/CUL20020826b.html [an error occurred while processing this directive]