By Brad Garmon/Michigan Environmental Council
Depending on where you hang your political hat, United Nations Agenda 21’s environmental recommendations represent one of two things.
It could be the playbook of a shadowy global elite working to achieve total “global control,” in the words of former Fox News provocateur Glenn Beck. This is a commonly held belief among conservative, Tea Party adherents. These groups have fanned the flames of Agenda 21 suspicion throughout Michigan with a bill in the Michigan Legislature (House Bill 5785), resolutions from local governments such as Charlevoix County, and protests of Department of Natural Resources forest management plans.
Or, if you are a land planner, resource protection advocate or wildlife management professional, Agenda 21 is an obscure 300-page document that neither you nor anyone you know ever heard of until you Googled it. Suddenly, it is being portrayed as the driving force behind your entire profession and the talk of every meeting you host or attend.
Agenda 21 is a 20-year-old, nonbinding resolution that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It was signed by the first President Bush and languished in relative obscurity until this recent, new and bizarre wave of publicity.
The two views of Agenda 21 are dangerously far apart. The first group is so convinced that Agenda 21 will be the “end of America” that they see bogeymen behind every door. It is blamed for DNR limits on horseback riding in Pigeon River Country, for local land-use ordinances and for programs that help people get programmable thermostats.
The second group is so dismissive of the conspiracy adherents that they derisively dismiss the growing numbers of Agenda 21 agitators as akin to alien abduction believers or moon landing deniers.
That is why Agenda 21 is a truly dangerous issue after all.
Not because it’s a road-map to world domination (it’s not). But because it’s being used as a tool to drive a bigger and possibly permanent wedge into one of America’s most unique, authentic and homegrown institutions: the conservation and environmental community.
We cannot let it happen. While global conspiracy theories make entertaining talk show rants, they make terrible public policy.
Americans’ interest in securing great wild places for public use was strong long before Agenda 21. That ethic was solidified in the preservation policies of Republican leaders such as Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. It is a uniquely American approach, historically supported by a strong bipartisan movement of folks who simply love and value the great outdoors.
It’s easy for progressives to mock Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists. In doing so they miss the underlying desire that they share with many of them to maintain access to the outdoors, secure their freedoms to hunt and fish, and pass on to their children an outdoor experience similar to theirs.
Conservative policy-makers, by perpetuating the unreasonable fears of anti-Agenda 21 activists, risk rolling back decades of improvements in forest health, community economic development and natural resource management.
Stripped of political gamesmanship, Agenda 21 is just another take on the idea that people need to take a hand in nurturing and protecting our places and our planet. It’s a concern mirrored in local garden club meetings and deer-camp conversations across Michigan and the United States.
Managing our land, wildlife, and energy systems is complicated. More users demand access to landscapes for often incompatible activities. This balancing act requires thoughtful policy.
The conservation and environmental communities, progressives and conservatives, hunters and planners, need to come together now to make sure that our shared outdoor ethic doesn’t get trampled by the distraction of Agenda 21 rhetoric.
Brad Garmon is director of conservation and emerging issues for the Michigan Environmental Council. http://www.environmentalcouncil.org/