Guest column: Getting serious about ‘Agenda 21’

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.

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James Lefler
Tue, 12/18/2012 - 8:36am
No matter where you sit with Agenda 21, it still represents a tremendously centralized plan that cannot possibly take into account each individual municipality, or individual property for that matter. That alone should be enough to oppose its implementation. The rest, just oppositional gravy.
Linda Pierucki
Tue, 12/18/2012 - 2:35pm
I agree, James. However, the central planner concept has some inherent flaws in terms of 'land preservation' that most proponents refuse to see. For instance, these 'plans' are always put forward by the urban-based elite at the expense of rural areas. Michigan already has one of the largest acreages of State and Federal land east of the Mississippi. Because the 'planners' wish to live in the urban environment with all of its perceived advantages (including a majority of the tax-sponsored grants and favors), they cant even see the huge amount of open,'publicly-owned' land already in existence. Because they are the more politically powerful group, the assault against the rural private property owner continues.When DNR representatives talk of creating 'an emerald necklace' around southeastern Michigan, realize that the 'necklace' is made up of land in those rural areas to benefit those 'inside the necklace', not those outside of it. That it is their tax base that they have taken over-to benefit primarily their city-dwellers-doesnt seem to enter their consciousness at all! A perfect example: the proposed Raisin Valley Recreational Area-99% in Jackson County-and will be administered by Washtenaw County Parks! Why? Because Washtenaw County is more politically-favored than Jackson County. . . .and their property rights and future opportunities can be ignored in favor of 'their betters'. The worst part is, many of those being abused by this dont even recognize the slow assault because they are so indoctrinated into this 'save the wildlife' scheme/scam that they allow it to happen. This IS Agenda 21 and it must be stopped or we will lose our property rights completely. This may not matter to those who intend to survey A2 forever from the balcony of their expensive condo where they have no responsibility except the monthly lease payment but it matters a great deal to those who actually choose to LIVE out here in the wilds of Michigan.If you want the land, man up and buy some . . .give up your mass transit and multiple nightspots, theaters and restaurants within walking distance and give some ownership care and property taxes to your own piece of land. Oh-and plan to put up a fence so that the prolific coyotes dont get Fifi!
Thu, 12/20/2012 - 1:10pm
Linda, Clearly, to follow your argument to its logical conclusion is only to surmise that this "Agenda 21" and the philosophy behind it must have really started with Teddy Roosevelt and his hair-brained scheme to preserve the most precious resources of our country for all of us, our children, and their children to enjoy in our respective outdoor pursuits be they hunting, camping, fishing, or otherwise. If only we could have shaken the wholly irrational notion that "conservation" was a "conservative' principle from those so called "stalwarts" of the Republican Party just because "conservation" and "conservative" share the same word root we'd all be a heck of a lot better off! Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and all those other ridiculous "conservation" and "preservation" areas could be rightfully in the hands of private property owners to do with as they wish and if we wanted to see them then that'd be tough luck.
Tue, 12/18/2012 - 7:50pm
Linda. I (& many others I'm sure) agree whole heartily agree. I'm very glad that You said it so nicely. I couldn't have done it that way. I simply say if you want some place to play, buy it and then let me come and play there also!