Sustainable Communities

By Henry Lamb
(From eco-logic, March/April, 1997)

Throughout the nation, a massive, coordinated effort is underway to transform America's cities and towns into "sustainable communities," designed to be "islands of human habitat" surrounded by government-managed buffer zones which surround huge areas of wilderness, off limits to humans. If the ideal plan is realized, as much as half the land area in North America will be restored to "pre-Columbian" wilderness and protected forever from human activity. Most of the remaining land must be "managed" for conservation objectives with only islands of human habitat, says the plan's primary author, Dr. Reed F. Noss.

When the plan first appeared in a 1992 special edition of Wild Earth, almost no one took the bizarre scheme seriously. Of course, only the insiders knew that the United Nations Environment Program was developing an 1140-page document which embraces the scheme and says that it is necessary to protect biodiversity for future generations.

Only the insiders knew that Agenda 21, developed for Earth Summit II at Rio de Janeiro, already contained the master plan to implement the scheme. Only the insiders knew that the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development had already been planned, with provisions for implementing Agenda 21 in every nation.

Only the insiders knew that the U.N. Conference on Human Settlements would present a Plan of Action that would detail the structure of "sustainable communities" at Habitat II in Istanbul. The insiders knew. And they knew full well that Americans would never accept such a bizarre plan if it were presented in all its glory.

That's why the full-blown plan has never been presented. That's why the Convention on Biological Diversity calls for "a system of protected areas" rather than for the Wildlands Project called for in the Global Biodiversity Assessment. That's why the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development was created as the mechanism through which the plan could be implemented incrementally, rather than to face an up-or-down decision by the U.S. Senate or the American people. Thats why, in almost every community in America, the plan is being presented as sugar and spice and everything nice, rather than as the "wrenching transformation of society" that it really is.

As prescribed by Agenda 21, the President's Council on Sustainable Development has recommended financial incentives to communities that engage in the sustainable communities process. It also recommends financial disincentives for those communities that do not participate.

Consequently, the following notice appeared in the Federal Register, July 1, 1996:

    "EPA and its state and local partners are reinventing the way environmental protection is accomplished in the United States. The Agency recognizes that environmental progress will not be achieved solely by regulation, but also requires individual, institutional and corporate responsibility, commitment and stewardship. The Sustainable Development Challenge Grant program is consistent with other community-based efforts EPA has introduced, such as Brownfields, Project XL, and the Community-Based Environmental Protection Approach, which stimulate broad community participation. The Sustainable Development Challenge Grant program is also a step in implementing Agenda 21, the Global Plan of Action on Sustainable Development, agreed to by the United States at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992."

The federal government offers grants to communities to begin what is called the "visioning process." The grants may go to a unit of government or to an NGO (non-government organization). Typically, a local NGO will initiate the activity by contacting selected local government officials, a few business leaders, and other NGOs and develop an agreement to begin the process. The group will then create a "stakeholder council" consisting of carefully selected individuals from across the community, or frequently, across communities. The next step is to identify the coordinating NGO. It may be the initiating organization, or a new organization may be formed. But the coordinating NGO becomes the grant recipient and oversees the development of the community's visioning process.

In cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, Chattanooga, Racine, and many others, the process is well underway. In more remote locations, such as Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, for example, the process is also at work. The Maine Sierra Club provided the funding for Michael Kinsley of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, to come to Maine to explain why the Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Plan needed to be improved. In what was called an "Economic Renewal" seminar. Kinsley laid out an eight-step process to make the community "sustainable."

The Piscataquis County newspaper reported that "The process is carried out by a small team of residents with the help of a larger group of volunteers, and sometimes with a professional facilitator." According to the newspaper report, Kinsley said "The first ER step is to mobilize a community by actively recruiting participants for the process, people who represent a wide range of interests. After that, participants are asked to envision the community's preferred future..." The process utilizes the "consensus-building" method.

Across the country in Washington state, the Discovery Institute is continuing its efforts to develop "sustainable communities" within Cascadia, a rapidly developing Bioregion stretching from Oregon to the Yukon. The Institute sponsored a Conference in January in which Bill Ruckelshaus stressed sustainable development and stricter environmental regulations. He was chosen to chair a special committee of more than 100 influential people to build a consensus and make recommendations for change.

Ruckelshaus is the former EPA Administrator who banned DDT, despite recommendations to the contrary from his own 300-member scientific advisory commission. He is a member of the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD), and is also the Chair of The Enterprise for the Environment, a new group created by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The group's work is coordinated by an assortment of think-tanks including the Aspen Institute; Resources for the Future; and the Keystone Center. The Keystone Center conducted the dialogue sessions which resulted in the current "consensus" understanding on both ecosystem management and biodiversity. Keystone also provided facilitators for the PCSD as well as for the "visioning council" of Racine, Wisconsin. Keystone's work is funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Interior.

In central Florida, the Center for Construction and Environment at the University of Florida recently concluded its 2nd Annual Sustainable Development Seminar entitled "Sustainable Community." A promotional brochure sent to selected community leaders says:

    "How can the Alachua/Marion County region, inclusive of the City of Gainesville, insure a sustainable future? To find out what other areas and communities throughout the U.S. have accomplished...speakers will present case studies and practices of sustainable community development. The talks will help our community synthesize its own understanding of the realistic principles and methods of sustainable community practice...and will 'kick-start' the formal beginning of Sustainable Alachua County's focus team deliberations in April."
Sustainable Alachua County is the sponsoring NGO and is supported by the League of Women Voters and the United Nations Association.

Similar activities are taking place all across the country. Most local residents are totally unaware of the activity until a news report appears about a past event. News reports inevitably present the events as another economic renewal, or community improvement effort. Rarely, if ever, is the activity associated with Agenda 21, or with the U.N. Even the participants are rarely told that the seminars or visioning sessions are, in fact, a part of the implementation of the U.N.'s global agenda.

Neither the process nor the technique is accidental. Both are well-designed to mesh with the on-going restructuring (masquerading as reforms) of the United Nations. The U.N. system is seeking to by-pass national governments and become the provider of "security for the people." Our Global Neighborhood, the report of the U.N.-funded Commission on Global Governance, discusses in detail how this major conceptual shift is to be brought about (See: eco-logic, January/February, 1996).

One important mechanism is the creation of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). Another is the elevation of state and local government officials as "civil society" participants in U.N. negotiations. Rule 61, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly accomplished this elevation, and was implemented at Habitat II in Istanbul last year.

The last two steps have not yet been realized: (1) the creation of the Petitions Council and (2) the creation of the Peoples Assembly.

    (Editor's note: The first meeting of the "Peoples Assembly" was held in conjunction with the Millennium Assembly and Summit, in 2000, and was called the "Millennium Forum.")

The Petitions Council will receive petitions from local NGOs for screening and routing to the appropriate U.N. agency for disposition. Local NGOs, such as visioning and stakeholder councils, along with established, accredited NGOs. are to be the watchdogs, or stated in U.N. language, the monitoring service for measuring the effectiveness of implementation of the U.N. agenda. The Peoples Assembly is recommended by the Commission on Global Governance to be an assembly of 300 to 600 representatives of "civil society" which will meet annually immediately prior to the U.N. General Assembly to provide recommendations for consideration by the assembly.

On a broader scale, the wrenching transformation of society is being implemented across national borders and in other nations. A little - known provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), included what is called the "La Paz Agreement." It surfaced in January, 1997 and calls for a 60-mile strip north and south of the U.S.-Mexican border from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico which is to be called "Border Region 21." The project creates a new NGO called the Border Environment Cooperation Project (BECP) and is funded by the North American Development Bank. Information about the project is scarce. Arizona news reporter, Mike Allen. and California investigative reporter, Karen Bixman. have reported that the agreement gives the coordinating NGO extraordinary authority over education, land use, and resource management throughout the area, in order to achieve sustainable development.

In India, where the sustainable development agenda is more deeply entrenched, a petition filed by M. H. Mehta, advocate for the Taj-Trapezium Zone, an area which encompasses four World Heritage Sites, the Supreme court ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The court's ruling begins with: "There is no longer any contradiction between development and ecology and that the principle of sustainable development is accepted the world over." The decision required 292 industries in the area to stop using coal within 120 days. Industries had to switch to natural gas, move out of the area, or shut down. Industries that switched to gas were ordered to pay workers full salary during the transition, even if the industries had to stop operations. Industries that chose to move were ordered to pay workers full salary plus one year's wages as a "shifting bonus." Industries that chose to shut down were ordered to pay a full year's salary plus six year's salary as additional compensation. The suit alleged that emissions from coal-burning industries were degrading the World Heritage Sites.

The World Heritage Treaty requires member nations to "protect" the sites. There are 20 World Heritage Sites in the U.S.