Monday, November 26, 2012
Reading List: Agenda 21
- Beck, Glenn and Harriet Parke. Agenda 21. New York: Threshold Editions, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4767-1669-5.
- In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (“Earth Summit”) in Rio de Janeiro, an action plan for “sustainable development” titled “Agenda 21” was adopted. It has since been endorsed by the governments of 178 countries, including the United States, where it was signed by president George H. W. Bush (not being a formal treaty, it was not submitted to the Senate for ratification). An organisation called Local Governments for Sustainability currently has more than 1200 member towns, cities, and counties in 70 countries, including more than 500 in the United States signed on to the program. Whenever you hear a politician talking about environmental “sustainability” or the “precautionary principle”, it's a good bet the ideas they're promoting can be traced back to Agenda 21 or its progenitors. When you read the U.N. Agenda 21 document (which I highly encourage you to do—it is very likely your own national government has endorsed it), it comes across as the usual gassy international bureaucratese you expect from a U.N. commission, but if you read between the lines and project the goals and mechanisms advocated to their logical conclusions, the implications are very great indeed. What is envisioned is nothing less than the extinction of the developed world and the roll-back of the entire project of the enlightenment. While speaking of the lofty goal of lifting the standard of living of developing nations to that of the developed world in a manner that does not damage the environment, it is an inevitable consequence of the report's assumption of finite resources and an environment already stressed beyond the point of sustainability that the inevitable outcome of achieving “equity” will be a global levelling of the standard of living to one well below the present-day mean, necessitating a catastrophic decrease in the quality of life in developed nations, which will almost certainly eliminate their ability to invest in the research and technological development which have been the engine of human advancement since the Renaissance. The implications of this are so dire that somebody ought to write a dystopian novel about the ultimate consequences of heading down this road. Somebody has. Glenn Beck and Harriet Parke (it's pretty clear from the acknowledgements that Parke is the principal author, while Beck contributed the afterword and lent his high-profile name to the project) have written a dark and claustrophobic view of what awaits at the end of The Road to Serfdom (May 2002). Here, as opposed to an incremental shift over decades, the United States experiences a cataclysmic socio-economic collapse which is exploited to supplant it with the Republic, ruled by the Central Authority, in which all Citizens are equal. The goals of Agenda 21 have been achieved by depopulating much of the land, letting it return to nature, packing the humans who survived the crises and conflict as the Republic consolidated its power into identical densely-packed Living Spaces, where they live their lives according to the will of the Authority and its Enforcers. Citizens are divided into castes by job category; reproductive age Citizens are “paired” by the Republic, and babies are taken from mothers at birth to be raised in Children's Villages, where they are indoctrinated to serve the Republic. Unsustainable energy sources are replaced by humans who have to do their quota of walking on “energy board” treadmills or riding “energy bicycles” everywhere, and public transportation consists of bus boxes, pulled by teams of six strong men. Emmeline has grown up in this grim and grey world which, to her, is way things are, have always been, and always will be. Just old enough at the establishment of Republic to escape the Children's Village, she is among the final cohort of Citizens to have been raised by their parents, who told her very little of the before-time; speaking of that could imperil both parents and child. After she loses both parents (people vanishing, being “killed in industrial accidents”, or led away by Enforcers never to be seen again is common in the Republic), she discovers a legacy from her mother which provides a tenuous link to the before-time. Slowly and painfully she begins to piece together the history of the society in which she lives and what life was like before it descended to crush the human spirit. And then she must decide what to do about it. I am sure many reviewers will dismiss this novel as a cartoon-like portrayal of ideas taken to an absurd extreme. But much the same could have been said of We, Anthem, or 1984. But the thing about dystopian novels based upon trends already in place is that they have a disturbing tendency to get things right. As I observed in my review of Atlas Shrugged (April 2010), when I first read it in 1968, it seemed to evoke a dismal future entirely different from what I expected. When I read it the third time in 2010, my estimation was that real-world events had taken us about 500 pages into the 1168 page tome. I'd probably up that number today. What is particularly disturbing about the scenario in this novel, as opposed to the works cited above, is that it describes what may be a very strong attractor for human society once rejection of progress becomes the doctrine and the population stratifies into a small ruling class and subjects entirely dependent upon the state. After all, that's how things have more or less been over most of human history and around the globe, and the brief flash of liberty, innovation, and prosperity we assume to be the normal state of affairs may simply be an ephemeral consequence of the opening of a frontier which, now having closed, concludes that aberrant chapter of history, soon to be expunged and forgotten. This is a book which begs for one or more sequels. While the story is satisfying by itself, you put it down wondering what happens next, and what is going on outside the confines of the human hive its characters inhabit. Who are the members of the Central Authority? How do they live? How do they groom their successors? What is happening on other continents? Is there any hope the torch of liberty might be reignited? While doubtless many will take fierce exception to the entire premise of the story, I found only one factual error. In chapter 14 Emmeline discovers a photograph which provides a link to the before-time. On it is the word “KODACHROME”. But Kodachrome was a colour slide (reversal) film, not a colour print film. Even if the print that Emmeline found had been made from a Kodachrome slide, the print wouldn't say “KODACHROME”. I did not spot a single typographical error, and if you're a regular reader of this chronicle, you'll know how rare that is. In the Kindle edition, links to documents and resources cited in the factual afterword are live and will take you directly to the cited page.
Posted at November 26, 2012 23:18