Agenda 21

Agenda 21: This is the new face of life

The Fringe Puts You in Charge of the World!


There is a buzz in blogosphere about Agenda 21, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) resolution approved almost 20 years ago.


The document, which you can read HERE,  though almost no one has read it, begins like this:

Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being.  Agenda 21


In the two decades since those words were written, most of those measures, income disparity, poverty, hunger, ill health and deterioration of the ecosystem, have gotten worse.


Agenda 21 is separated into 40 chapters and four main sections:  Section I: Social and Economic Dimensions,  Section II: Conservation and Management of Resources for Development, Section III: Strengthening the Role of Major Groups, and Section IV: Means of Implementation.


The original Agenda was approved by 178 countries in Rio in 1992; it was reviewed five years later and since has been reviewed and reconfirmed.


“Governments recognize that there is a new global effort to relate the elements of the international economic system and mankind's need for a safe and stable natural environment. Therefore, it is the intent of Governments that consensus-building at the intersection of the environmental and trade and development areas will be ongoing in existing international forums, as well as in the domestic policy of each country.” Agenda 21


Why Some People Don’t Like It

The Agenda is anti-capitalist in the extreme, which makes extremist capitalists go nuts.  It focuses on the disparity between rich and poor within nations and between nations.  That is mostly the result of globalized capitalism.  Likewise, global health problems related to food are linked to capitalism: in western countries an abundance of carbohydrates such as high fructose corn syrup lead to heart disease, and in developing countries capitalists tend to disrupt subsistence economies resulting in food shortages.  The environment continues to degrade across most measures including air and ground water quality, largely due to our nearly endless hunger for fossil fuels.  This is true in the United States and even more true in developing countries. 


Indeed, it has been the success of capitalism over the last 500 years which has resulted in all manner of environmental degradation, unequal accumulation of wealth, and unintended health consequences.


Capitalists would point out that capitalism has also resulted in and been facilitated by the rapid growth of technology.  Thanks to capitalism we live in a manner the kings of Europe would have envied.  It’s made the world smaller, cured malaria and small pox, and on and on.


And, that’s certainly true, in a way of speaking, but it ignores some important facts.

Such as, the fact that death is a constant companion of capitalist expansion.  Or the fact that there was medicine long before capitalism.  Or the fact that capitalism sometimes thwarts better technology in favor of entrenched technology.

“More specifically, all countries should develop policies that improve efficiency in the allocation of resources and take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the changing global economic environment. In particular, wherever appropriate, and taking into account national strategies and objectives, countries should… Remove the barriers to progress caused by bureaucratic inefficiencies, administrative strains, unnecessary controls and the neglect of market conditions”  Agenda 21


Why We Don’t Like It

It’s change, and it’s change we don’t understand, and it’s change which seems to benefit others more than ourselves, and most of all, it’s change we weren’t consulted about.

Indeed, one of the strongest criticisms against Agenda 21 is that it binds signers to certain actions.  If the plan were followed, federal governments would enforce objectives on states.


But, that is happening without Agenda 21.  National leaders already realize if we don’t do something the environment will keep getting worse; many feel it might already be too late to prevent some major environmental effects.  The feds and states are already insisting we have energy efficient homes, already insist our septic tanks don’t foul ground water, and already insist we drive cars that don’t pollute.  Without Agenda 21 the need for these steps become clear.  We should be careful to distinguish “Agenda 21” problems in our lives from the problems which either always accompany a rural relationship with urban areas, or changes which have become necessary as a result of the Big Picture.


The Big Picture

It simply isn’t possible anymore to pretend the world isn’t one.  An earthquake in Japan results in thyroid cancer in California.  A sick monkey in Africa kills a kid in America.  What we excrete into the ocean today reduces our food supply tomorrow.  The change of a regime in one country results in profound political consequences in other, sometimes distant nations.  This has always been so: Rome relied on wheat from Egypt as much as we rely on Middle Eastern oil.  But, Rome couldn’t destroy the cities of Egypt with the push of a button, and we can.  And, while Egypt struggled with a Jewish immigration problem, parts of the world are now vast refugee camps.


Agenda 21 was assembled by people who live in an international environment, they understand the relationships between the price of rice and the number of 12 year old Thai farm girls for sale in the sex trade.  They concluded that humankind, if the average person is to have a moderately pleasant life, should begin to share willingly, to be fair to everyone, and so the environment is to be preserved, and poor nations are to be given the same advantages to the marketplace as wealthy nations.


There are many changes forced on us by the feds and the state; certainly not all of them are fair, or necessary.  By no means are all or even most of them part of a conspiracy to enforce “Agenda 21.”  Indeed, Agenda 21 was intended to be flexible, tailored to local conditions, and does not carry the force of law.


“One of the fundamental prerequisites for the achievement of sustainable development is broad public participation in decision-making. Furthermore, in the more specific context of environment and development, the need for new forms of participation has emerged. This includes the need of individuals, groups and organizations to participate in environmental impact assessment procedures and to know about and participate in decisions, particularly those which potentially affect the communities in which they live and work. Individuals, groups and organizations should have access to information relevant to environment and development held by national authorities, including information on products and activities that have or are likely to have a significant impact on the environment, and information on environmental protection measures.” Agenda 21





You Do Better

The population of earth is currently about 6.9 billion  people.  It’s been growing steadily for 50 years, from 3 billion people in 1960 to 7 billion today.  Most of the population growth is in developing nations, in spite of frequent famines and the epidemic and endemic diseases. 

While most of the people are in the developing nations, most of the wealth is in the handful of developed nations.  Even in the developed nations, the richest of the rich have far more than the poorest of the poor.  On the other hand, many developing nations have resources that the wealthy nations typically own and profit from. 


So, the Prospect appoints you to the UN; it’s up to you to decide how to deal with a population that will most likely top ten billion, that’s 10,000,000,000 people before 2025.  The problem is to discover and disseminate information to people in places as diverse as Goodyear’s Bar and Mumbai.  The point is to ensure 1. An adequate standard of living for everyone, including healthy food and clean water; 2. To preserve what is special about each place in the world; 3. Protect the environment. 


To do this, you must know about a couple of important concepts.  One is “carrying capacity” and the other is “peak oil”.


Before we start, there are people who don’t believe in “carrying capacity”, “peak oil” or “global climate change.”   There is strong evidence for all of these things; indeed one has to be willing to ignore major scientific data to avoid believing in these things.  I’ll venture that most people who disbelieve the significance of, for example, human influenced global climate change probably don’t know the difference between “climate” and “weather”. 


“Carrying capacity” is a simple but important concept every rancher knows well.  How many cattle can you run on a pasture in a sustainable way?  In other words, too many cattle and they eat the best grasses until they won’t come back, leaving the weeds which are less desirable and so decreasing the herd size because of a shortage of food.  It works exactly the same way for people.  We take up room, we eat, we poop, we drink water, we have babies.  What is the carrying capacity of Africa; when it is exceeded it results in migrants which increase the population of Europe.  What will happen when the carrying capacity of our one small world is exceeded? 


“Peak Oil” once only applied to a relationship between oil exploration and production and demand.  It has since come to have broader meaning.  All fossil fuels have a price; for one thing, they fill the air with filth.  Never mind for a moment greenhouse gases, the amount of hydrocarbons we pump into the sky each year is incomprehensible.  We just can’t wrap our minds around the idea of putting tons of something into the air.  Tons is heavy, it doesn’t float.  But tons do float when they are molecules. 

Another price is the cost of exploration and extraction.  Whether it’s coal or oil, all fossil fuels are in limited supply, become more costly as the “low hanging fruit” are taken and suppliers resort to “fracking”  and other dangerous means to get more oil.  “Peak oil” is very similar to “carrying capacity” except that, someday if the cows are taken off the meadow can be restored, but fossil fuels occur in a finite supply.


Human influence on global climate change isn’t nice and clear, but it’s been more than 30 years since the idea took root, and it isn’t possible to ignore that, for whatever reason, the dry places are getting drier and the wet places are having erratic weather.  The caps are melting, the sea is rising and deserts are growing. 


As you decide how to best provide for the growing population, consider the problem of clean water.  It is threatening the livelihoods of our agricultural families here but abroad nations threaten war over clean water.  Not only are there more upstream users, taking water out and flushing waste in, there is the siltation caused by deforestation and land development.  In the last few thousand years cities who were once great ports on the mouths of rivers found themselves miles from the sea as silt created deltas around them.  In the Amazon basin, the market for key crops has resulted in slash and burn agriculture which leaves thousands of acres open to erosion. In many places, there isn’t enough water anymore to carry on agriculture. 


You will also have to factor in the growth of cities.  Everywhere around the world megacities are appearing.  People flee rural areas just as families are leaving Sierra County, for cities where there is hope of making a living.  It’s happening just about everywhere from Mexico City to Manila.  Even in less densely populated areas people are fleeing the agricultural lands for the cities. 


On the other hand, some nations, like China, are doing well enough to have a blossoming middle class.  They want what people in the U.S. and Japan have; cars, televisions, single family homes.  Carrying capacity and peak oil come into play when you talk about a nation of a billion consumers. 


So, it’s up to you, you can’t just consider your own back 40 now, you have to make the decision for the next few billion people.


It should be easy to see that if we want everyone on the planet to have an equal chance at life, something we in the U.S. profess to value, our dwindling resources need to be more fairly distributed.  The tenets of capitalism were forged at a time when it was considered good for forests to be turned in to farmland and good for young Black girls to get a dose of superior White protein.  Most people today understand that there is only so much forest left, and young girls of every color deserve basic human respect.


It’s fun and easy to call this “socialism” but it isn’t.  It’s much more real and immediate than dogma, it’s the realization that the Earth is limited.  If we abuse it, like a meadow it will die.  The fuel hogging ways of the past can’t continue. 


It’s also a realization that the result of refusing to take a sustainable, equitable approach to the resources of Earth will be war and death.  To some, that is clearly an acceptable alternative.  Our nation has been consistently governed by the philosophy that the death of a few thousand Filippinos or Iraqis is necessary to bring the glorious consumerism of the New American Empire to the hinterlands.  Many people are content to allow the little fat bellied stick limbed Black kids to die, or let the, to us, indistinguishable factions in Somalia rape and kill each other. To some, there is a kind of anti-Darwinian evolution to letting people kill each other over a sack of flour or a gallon of potable water. 

But, if morality and ethics can’t convince you, consider that, like ancient Rome, the United States is served daily in restaurants and hospitals and construction sites by minorities, people who immigrated or are the children of immigrants from places of great poverty.  They outnumber us dozens to one, and in the world more than that.  They won’t all be satisfied to die of starvation, and enough will realize the source of their relative poverty.  Eventually “share or die” will become a battle cry.  To offset that, it might be a good idea to begin sharing now.


If you take your task of designing a sustainable world seriously, war and death shouldn’t appear on your pallet of options.  Birth control and family planning education, yes, but genocide and famine and unnecessary disease, no. 


We can be guided by our beliefs against our rational minds, and then we don’t have to understand the complex ideas of carrying capacity, or peak oil, or global climate change, or income disparity.  We can cover all those hard ideas with one blanket: junk science.  Science that is too complicated for us to understand is junk science. 


Or, we can accept that the Earth is small, that those who live far from us deserve a share of the planet, and that those who come after us do.  Once we accept that, Agenda 21 isn’t a conspiracy, it’s a rational, though unpleasant, plan for a world populated by a species that takes care of its own, and takes care of its home.


Once you decide on a course, how to you get the nations and people of the world, over whom you have no authority, only the mandate to somehow inform. 

In sustainable development, everyone is a user and provider of information considered in the broad sense. That includes data, information, appropriately packaged experience and knowledge. The need for information arises at all levels, from that of senior decision makers at the national and international levels to the grass-roots and individual levels.” Agenda 21


Do I Like the New World

Personally, your Fringe Editor hates the new world, the tiny, niggling globe that the future must inhabit.  I remember the giant globe, the one where the mountains were endless and the rivers cleaned themselves magically.  I hate the mass urban and suburban environment that will continue to spread, as it has since Lewis and Clark wandered the West. I will have no place in a world populated with urban unisex vegan latte sellers with a cell phone implanted in one ear and a bag on their butt to catch their gas to run their little teeny tiny cars. 


But, if the future is fair, that’s who will inherit the Earth.  Besides, the Fringe wasn’t all that comfortable in the last century, either. 


My plan for Agenda 21: live as well as I can until I finally die of something.


Here’s to the next billion people!


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