Peter Knight despairs at the anti-environmental conspiracy theorists

A friend of mine strongly believes that vapour trails from aircraft are actually intentional emissions of “barium salts” being spread by the government to keep the populace in a state of mental submission.

You can, of course, dismiss such silly ideas as mere eccentricities of an overactive mind. But what about a sizeable minority of Americans who strongly believe that Agenda 21 is a United Nations plot designed to wrest civil liberties and private property rights from Americans?

Agenda 21? Remember that hopeful initiative launched 20 years ago at the Rio Earth Summit? This was when it was still fashionable to Think Global, Act Local.

Agenda 21 is a non-binding resolution that encourages countries to preserve open land and conserve resources. Agenda 21 groups were established around the world to promote local initiatives – the number refers to the 21st century, where we live now.

There was considerable passion at the time for these groups, but as things go, the early enthusiasm subsided and Agenda 21 has been mostly forgotten.

But the emergence of the Tea Party fanatics – who see unpatriotic greens under every bed – and the truly tough economic times hurting formerly comfortable middle class Americans have dragged Agenda 21 out of the political wilderness. And for all the wrong reasons.

Conservatives believe Barack Obama is trying to turn the US into socialist Europe where, they believe, Big Government controls your every move.

The financial austerity programmes of cash-strapped local councils in the US are being used by Tea Party activists who want to eradicate environmental regulations, which they see as socialist and damaging to the economy.

Among their targets are energy-saving initiatives, bicycle lanes and smart meters. They really hate smart meters, suspecting (like those barium salts) a government plot to spy on personal habits. How a radio transmitter can do this from the basement is not clear, but good science has never stood in the way of a good conspiracy.

Flat earth broadcasting

We also have Fox News, Rupert Murdoch’s hugely successful network, to thank for putting Agenda 21 back in the spotlight. Fox started frothing after Obama created a White House rural council to encourage better communications between rural communities and federal government.

An indignant Fox commentator (they do this really well) warned that the council sounded “eerily similar” to Agenda 21, which he described as encouraging a central agency that would be responsible for “oversight into all areas of our lives. A one world order.”

One non-profit group has felt the wrath of the backlash. Local Governments for Sustainability USA helps communities cut energy use and carbon emissions. This group is funded by small dues paid by local authorities. Police had to be called to a city council meeting in Missoula, western Montana, when activists got nasty about $1,200 in dues. The fact that the town was founded on the wealth of timber – long since eradicated – seemed to pass the hot-heads by.

The New York Times reported that at a council meeting in the tobacco country of Virginia an activist warned the town fathers: “They get you hooked, and then Agenda 21 takes over. Your rights are stripped one by one.” Sounds like the cigarette industry’s business model.

Given that even the United Nations itself has recognised that the progress of Agenda 21 has been “uneven” – which is UN-speak for abject failure – what’s really sad about the controversy is not the red herring of Agenda 21 but how divisive America has become.

Clint Eastwood could not be more wrong in his now controversial commentary on a TV advert for Chrysler. The ad was designed for half time in the Superbowl in February. This is the gladiatorial finals of the American football season when two brutish teams go head to head and advertisers pay vast amounts to get in front of a massive TV audience.

Last year Chrysler – now owned by Fiat and bailed out by the US government – wowed the patriotic crowd with its “Made in Detroit” ad featuring local hero Eminem. This year Clint Eastwood emerged from the shadows in a tear-inducing two minute Chrysler ad about how America is working collaboratively to fight its way back to prosperity.

“This country can’t be knocked down with one punch,” whispers Clint. “We get right back up, and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines.”

The only thing standing between a collaborative country and Clint’s Roar, it seems, is Agenda 21.

Please pass the barium salts.

Peter Knight is president of Context America.

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