Tea PartyWith the Rio+20 Conference steadily approaching, leaders and diplomats around the globe are preparing for the world’s latest attempt to reach an agreement on climate change.  While the outcome remains uncertain, there is one group that will undoubtedly object to even the weakest of agreements: the Tea Party Movement.  Active since 2009, the Tea Party Movement has gained momentum across the United States.  Its strongly conservative and libertarian viewpoints have had an effect on the Republican Party as a whole, a fact which can clearly be seen in the current presidential primaries. 

One of the main targets of the Tea Party’s agenda is any measure that attempts to regulate the environment.  According to Tea Party loyalists, the sustainability movement is a just a cover-up for more government control, stemming from a broader UN plot to dominate the world. The plot in question is Agenda 21, the UN action plan passed at the original Rio Conference in 1992.  Among other things, Agenda 21 provides guidelines as to how countries can implement more sustainable policies at the local, national and international levels - although none of the guidelines are legally binding.  Since the text was published in 1992, a number of municipal governments around the world have adopted plans based on its broad principles.

Agenda 21Despite the fact that Agenda 21 lacks any legal standing in the United States, the Tea Party Movement has used it as the whipping boy for the environmental movement at large. The New York Times recently ran an article, profiling the Tea Party’s opposition to everything from emissions trading to building bike lanes.  According to Tea Party activists, such measures are all part of a UN plot to take Americans out of their cars and detached houses, stripping them of their individual freedoms.   Tea Party favorite and former Fox News anchor Glenn Beck hosted a segment on Agenda 21 in June of last year.  According to Beck, Agenda 21 is a "40 chapter document to control the world".  Likewise, he equates the notion that developed countries should assist developing countries in achieving sustainable development to communism, telling viewers that “green is red”.

Though it remains largely on the fringes of the US mainstream, the Tea Party Movement has managed to put several candidates in the House of Representatives and has swayed the Republican Party in a more conservative direction.  In January, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution, stating: "The United Nations Agenda 21 plan of radical so-called 'sustainable development' views the American way of life - of private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership and individual travel choices, and privately owned farm - all as destructive to the environment."

Republicans have also been successful in defeating a number of pro-public transit measures, including what would have been the first high-speed rail system in Florida.  The Republican-controlled House recently introduced a transportation bill that would eliminate dedicated federal funding for mass transit projects.  According to US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, it is "the worst transportation bill" he has seen in nearly 35 years of public service. While the bill seems unlikely to pass, it is a reflection of just how strong anti-environment sentiments have become within the Republican Party.

As one planner recently wrote, the Tea Party Movement should not be ignored, especially in its criticism of Agenda 21. If activists continue to gain ground, the work towards creating more sustainable patterns of development in the US will be jeopardized.  Not only will it become more difficult for planners and policy-makers to do their work, but the Tea Party campaign will undermine the work of the UN - a fact that could create a spillover effect in Rio.  A UN-hostile Congress is not likely to ratify any new treaty, especially if the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory persists. While the American Planning Association released a publication to help defend Agenda 21; perhaps it’s time that the UN followed suit.       

(Photo © DR)