Saturday, May 5, 2012

Actually reading Agenda 21, Part 2.

This is a pretty boring post because I am reporting on a really boring report. If you have absolutely no interest in Agenda 21, skip this post.

 After seeing some really scary but stupid-sounding, conspiracy-type stuff and after learning the force behind the anti-Agenda 21 movement was the wing nuts of the John Birch Society, I decided to actually read Agenda 21 for myself. I would not have even bothered reading it, but not only were the JBS warning of Agenda 21, but the Republican National Committee warned about the danger of Agenda 21 and our state legislature passed a Joint House Resolution warning of the dangers of it. I started actually reading Agenda 21 about two week few ago. To see my report on the first chapters I read, see Actually reading Agenda 21, Part 1.
I am trying to withhold judgment on Agenda 21 until I have actually read it.  When everything from reintroduction of  wolves, to sidewalks, to smart meters, to traffic roundabouts, and community policing are being denounced as part of the Agenda 21 conspiracy, it is hard to not conclude the critics are just nuts, but I am trying to read it objectively and withhold judgment to the end.

So far, I see nothing very alarming. I see a document that pleases me in many ways when it calls for free trade and end of agriculture price supports. When it calls for using labor intensive construction methods, I think it was written by idiots. I will update every time something new is added to this review with a new post. The next post in this summary will be "Actually reading Agenda 21, Part 3."

The scary stuff I am labeling "bad" and other parts I may label as "good" or "suspect" or "stupid" as the case may be. If you want to just skim my boring report, this may help you find the more interesting parts. Also, I will be using some underlining and bolding to help those who want to find the best parts. In the report, actual quotes will be in black type and my comments and summary in colored type. You can go hereand find the text and then go to the numbered section if you want to read my quotes or summaries in the document itself to make sure I am not misrepresenting it. If you are really interested in Agenda 21, I urge you to actually read the document as I am doing.

Reading Agenda 21, Part 2.

Chapter 3

This chapter makes the argument that an environmental policy that focuses mainly on the conservation and protection of resources must consider those who depend on the resources for their livelihoods. Productivity dependent upon natural resources must be "sustainable," says the report or sooner, or later those poor nations depending on their natural resources will run into declining productivity.  Somehow those on the right who on a campaign against Agenda 21 have come to think of "sustainability" as a code word for something else. I find nothing to object to in advocating sustainability. Advocating sustainability seems like a rational position to me.  

In 3.1 the report says, "The eradication of poverty and hunger, greater equity in income distribution and human resource development remain major challenges everywhere."  I know some people's antenna will go up when they read "greater equity in income distribution" is a major challenge.  There is nothing frightening in that statement. More capitalism and free markets bring about greater income equality. To recognize that income inequality is a challenge is not a call for confiscatory income distribution.  I do not find this a disturbing statement. 

In 3.2 the report says, "An effective strategy for tackling the problems of poverty, development and environment simultaneously should begin by focusing on resources, production and people and should cover demographic issues, enhanced health care and education, the rights of women, the role of youth and of indigenous people and local communities and a democratic participation process in association with improved governance." Again I do not see this as disturbing. Advocating "enhanced health care" is not a call for government nationalization. The report just says it is needed; not how it is delivered.

(Suspect)  3.8.(e) says, "Governments, with the assistance of and in cooperation with appropriate international, non-governmental and local community organizations, should establish measures that will directly or indirectly" .. "Set up an effective primary health care and maternal health care system accessible to all." While "accessible to all," may sound like a call to provide a socialist health care system, if you read the qualifies underlined above it is not that strong of a statement. There is a lot of wiggle room. I would have liked it better had they added "and the private sector" as a qualifier but the sentence is not that alarming.

(Good)  3.8 (n) says, "actively seek to recognize and integrate informal-sector activities into the economy by removing regulations and hindrances that discriminate against activities in those sectors." I am not really sure what that means, but "removing regulations and hindrances" sounds good to me.

The report says "Governments, with the assistance of and in cooperation with appropriate international, non-governmental and local community organizations, should "(p) Provide the poor with access to fresh water and sanitation;" and "(q)  Provide the poor with access to primary education." Again with the qualifiers, I do not have a problem with this. I think providing the poor with water and sanitation and primary education is a good goal. I am not alarmed.

3.11 says there is a cost to doing these things. A cost estimate is not a bill; nothing to get alarmed about.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 says the rich countries are consuming too much while the poor countries are not having basic needs met. However, the report does not call for a specific action and says "a better understanding of the role of consumption and how to bring about more sustainable consumption patterns" is needed. That does not sound that radical. A "better understanding" is not a bad thing.
This chapter calls for "encouraging," "reducing the amount of energy and materials used per unit in the production of goods and services." That sounds reasonable. It also calls for recycling, reducing wasteful excess packaging and other similar things, none of which sound unreasonable.

4.8 says "(a)  All countries should strive to promote sustainable consumption patterns;" and," (b)  Developed countries should take the lead in achieving sustainable consumption patterns." Again, it is not a radical call for action.

(Suspect) 4.11. "Consideration should also be given to the present concepts of economic growth and the need for new concepts of wealth and prosperity which allow higher standards of living through changed lifestyles and are less dependent on the Earth's finite resources and more in harmony with the Earth's carrying capacity." While I am labeling that as "suspect," it is only saying "consideration should be given to."  I do not think it unreasonable to "give consideration". 
 (Very Very Good)  "Moving towards environmentally sound pricing."  "4.24. Without the stimulus of prices and market signals that make clear to producers and consumers the environmental costs of the consumption of energy, materials and natural resources and the generation of wastes, significant changes in consumption and production patterns seem unlikely to occur in the near future."  I am convinced that misallocation of resources occurs when government interferes in the market place such as subsidizing wasteful consumption. If companies could dump their waste into streams untreated, products would cost less. We know that , but we do not allow it. The cost of the product includes the cost of cleaning up the mess of production. If people can use water unmetered they use more. This a basic recognition of sound economics. We should celebrate this.

Chapter 5 Demographic Dynamics & Sustainability

This chapter is basically calling for more research and "Collaboration and exchange of information." Nothing alarming there.

A noticeable thing in this chapter is numerous references to "empowerment of women."  In the US we often hear complaints about the unequal treatment of women. This concern with "women" is used to advance a liberal agenda and used as identity politics to create a victim mentality and create wedge issuess. In much of the world however, especially the Muslim world, women are not much more than chattel and are terribly treated and  "empowerment of women" is genuinely needed.  The concern for the status of women worldwide should not be colored by how organization such as NOW and the Democratic party cynically use women for a political advantage in this country.

5.3. "The growth of world population and production combined with unsustainable consumption patterns places increasingly severe stress on the life-supporting capacities of our planet."  I am not alarmed by that statement. I think it is true. 

As population of the planet grows, we cannot do things the way we have always done them. I have a lot of faith in freedom and markets and technology, however, and do not think we have to give up our lifestyle to survive. As we progress, many problems will take care of themselves. With proper market signals people will voluntarily make the right choice as the market determines the price of various choice. Also, as a free market economy lifts people out of poverty, they will choose to have fewer children and population growth will level off. One can agree with the statement above with advocating a totalitarian system of government.

5.49.  says, "Reproductive health programmes and services, should, as appropriate, be developed and enhanced to reduce maternal and infant mortality from all causes and enable women and men to fulfill their personal aspirations in terms of family size, in a way in keeping with their freedom and dignity and personally held values." This is not a call for abortion or forced sterilization or a one child policy. Stay calm. Elsewhere in this chapter is calls for, "personally held values taking into account ethical and cultural considerations."

Chapter 6 Protecting & Promoting Human Health

This chapter calls for safe water and improved sanitation and control of communicable diseases and control of food contamination and the goals are established for the eradication of various diseases by certain dates. Goals are established for having solid waste systems, water pollution control systems and air pollution systems in place in major cities  There are few concrete calls for action. Things should be done "where appropriate" and policies should be "encouraged" and "promoted" and done with "respect for cultural, religious and social aspects, in keeping with freedom, dignity and personally held values and taking into account ethical and cultural considerations." How things are to be done is not spelled out. There is nothing too alarming in this chapter.

(Good) 6.3  says "it is the very lack of development that adversely affects the health condition of many people, which can be alleviated only through development." This is not an anti development document! Look, it recognized the positive contribution of development.

Chapter 7. Promoting Sustainable Human Settlement

(Suspect) This chapter observes that in industrialized countries we use a lot of resource and in the non-industrialized countries they do not.  And, "the environmental implications of urban development should be recognized and addressed in an integrated fashion by all countries, with high priority being given to the needs of the urban and rural poor, the unemployed and the growing number of people without any source of income."  OK, I don't like that, I would say, mind your own business. However it is just a report.

(Suspect) This chapter goes on to say that there should be "human settlement objectives" and then it list them, including "shelter for all."  I don't like the tone of this chapter. Leaving human settlement to be guided by an invisible hand of the marketplace can do more to provide shelter than the best planning.  I think this segment is based on a faulty premise but is nothing to be alarmed about. It is just a report based on a believe than planning is superior to market forces. Wrong? yes. Dangerous? I don't think so.

(Bad) 7.6 "The right to adequate housing as a basic human right is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights."  Saying shelter or healthcare or food is "right" is simply a different concept of what is a right. A right is a gift from God that extends from our basic humanity. It is not a claim against another. Freedom of Religion is a right; Adequate Housing is a claim against another.  There is a basic difference between rights and entitlements. 
This chapter observes that soon over half the world's population will be living in cities and that there is a need to "address urban management issues." It calls for "Adopting and applying urban management guidelines in the areas of land management, urban environmental management, infrastructure management and municipal finance and administration."  It calls for, " improvement and maintenance of urban infrastructure and services," for "the creation of social infrastructure in order to reduce hunger and homelessness," and some other similar things. It calls for "Strengthening urban data systems."  It calls for  "Encouraging intermediate city development" which means developing services in rural areas rather than encouraging everyone to move to the big city. And, cities should be developed along a "sustainable path."  It calls for promoting "the formulation of environmentally sound and culturally sensitive tourism programmes" among other things. 

Maybe this should be labeled "suspect." Big cities in themselves are not evil. Hong Kong and New York City accommodate nicely a large number of people. However, it is just an opinion with which I may disagree. It is not an order. 

It calls for cities to cooperate: "7.21. Cities of all countries should reinforce cooperation among themselves and cities of the developed countries, under the aegis of non-governmental organizations active in this field, such as the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA), the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and the World Federation of Twin Cities."

"7.29. All countries should consider, as appropriate, undertaking a comprehensive national inventory of their land resources in order to establish a land information system in which land resources will be classified according to their most appropriate uses and environmentally fragile or disaster-prone areas will be identified for special protection measures."  I know many find this frightening. I do not. As population grows we must be concerned about protection of sensitive habitat and water resources. We must be aware that unwise development at the headwater of a drainage basin can have consequences downstream. I also do not want to see the habitat of endangered species destroyed. A natural habitat and balance of nature has practical benefits to mankind, in addition to the aesthetics of wanting to see God's creation preserved. I think to slow the rate of species disappeared is a good thing. This is not a new concept. Just because an Eagle or Deer is on your property we do not accept that you have the right to kill it. We already accept limits on our property rights in this regard. I do not support confiscation of property and repealing of private property rights but a good understanding of land resources can be important to proper management of resources. 

"(c) Develop fiscal incentives and land-use control measures, including land-use planning solutions for a more rational and environmentally sound use of limited land resources." This is calling for fiscal incentives; not confiscation. I support this.

The plan advises that we seek greater energy efficiency and renewable and alternate sources of energy. I do not think that objectionable but think markets will naturally lead to alternatives as fossil fuel becomes more scarce and expensive. I think nuclear energy use should be expanded. This study does not address that.

"Integrate land-use and transportation planning to encourage development patterns that reduce transport demand."  Some will be alarmed at this, but if the, soon to be, 9 billion people of the world all get automobiles and urban sprawl continues unabated, we cannot have highways large enough to accommodate them.  I do not think this requires draconian measures however. As population grows and reaches a critical mass people will choose mass transit and development nodes will naturally occur around mass transit station.  A little planning to anticipate the transition is not a bad thing.

"(c) Encourage non-motorized modes of transport by providing safe cycleways and footways in urban and suburban centres in countries, as appropriate."  Only if you are scared of sidewalks should this scare you.

There is also a call for promoting a "culture of safety" to better handle natural and man-made disasters and to do "Pre-disaster planning" and " post-disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation."

(Stupid) The plan calls for promoting,  "the use of labour-intensive construction and maintenance technologies which generate employment in the construction sector for the underemployed labour force found in most large cities."  In my view, that is not dangerous but just stupid and shows ignorance of basic economics. Society does not advance by doing things in a labor intensive fashion. Would they have us make brick by hand so we could employ lots of people? Do they want us to mix concrete by hand instead of concrete mixers? There are some other equally silly things in this report. A lot of this segment sounds like it was written by an idealistic but not very bright college intern. It is not so much dangerous as just silly.

Chapter 8.   A. Integrating environment and development at the policy, planning and management levels

This chapter calls for, "better integration among national and local government, industry, science, environmental groups and the public in the process of developing effective approaches to environment and development."  "To support a more integrated approach to decision-making, the data systems and analytical methods used to support such decision-making processes may need to be improved."
It suggest that laws may need to be changed to encourage sustainable development. An example is the "polluter-pays principle."  It says, "market-oriented approaches can in many cases enhance capacity to deal with the issues of environment and development. This would be achieved by providing cost-effective solutions, applying integrated pollution prevention control, promoting technological innovation and influencing environmental behaviour, as well as providing financial resources to meet sustainable development objectives.
It says we need to "reverse the tendency to treat the environment as a 'free good' and to pass these costs on to other parts of society, other countries, or to future generations." I agree with that.

This concludes my part 2 of my report on Agenda 21. I have covered 8 of the 40 chapters. If  you believe we should pollute without reservation  and use up the world's resource as fast as we can, then you will not like this report. If you are convinced "sustainability" is a code word for socialism and government control of our lives you will not like it. I am not yet frightened. So far, I see very little that alarms me. Some of it I think is misguided, but on balance I think it makes sense. 

I am going to continue reading and reporting, however, reporting in this much detail is time consuming and I am not sure anyone is even reading. So, unless I get some feedback that says this is beneficial to someone, I will do a much more limited analysis in future reports. 

If you have been to workshops that alarmed you about Agenda 21, I urge you to read it and judge for yourself.

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