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The Tea Party's Newest Target: Sustainable Development

J. Mijin Cha

There is crazy and then there is this: Tea Party activists have taken to calling local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy a vast UN-led conspiracy to deny property rights and create “A one world order.” Uh, what?

The Tea Party claims that the U.S. is using the UN’s sustainable development plan, Agenda 21, to create an alternative world where people are spied on by smart meters and rights are stripped away because of improved public transportation and open space preservation. One Tea Party member stated at a Board of Supervisors meeting in Roanoke, Virginia, “They get you hooked, and then Agenda 21 takes over. Your rights are stripped one by one.” She went on to say, “The real job of smart meters is to spy on you and control you- when you can and cannot use electrical appliances.” Not surprisingly, there is not even one iota of truth in her statement.

To begin with, Agenda 21 came out of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 1992, attended by the first President Bush, and is non-binding. Agenda 21 is a broad range of voluntary actions that can make development socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable. The Agenda, and the Summit, were a product of the realization that resources and development practices were putting the livelihoods of future generations at risk. Indeed, as we’ve pointed out, our current consumption rate requires the resources of five planets. Not to mention that in addition to Agenda 21 being non-binding, the U.S. is notorious for ignoring international obligations and has ratified few environmental treaties.

As for smart meters, it’s not spying -- it’s progress. Smart meters allow people to see how much energy they use and when. The benefit of smart meters is that they let people change their energy use patterns to relieve pressure from the energy grid, which lessens peak loads and saves money. So, for instance, if you can wait to run the dishwasher or washing machine, you can avoid peak load times and their accompanying pricing. In words, smart meters offer individuals more autonomy and control in how they use energy, not less. This small adjustment can prevent brown-outs and result in better management and use of energy. A detailed analysis by the Department of Energy in 2010 (when the second President Bush was in office) showed that this kind of technology could reduce energy use and carbon dioxide emissions by 12 percent.

The great irony, of course, is that there is a real attack on civil liberties and rights, including indefinite detention of U.S. citizens and the use of drones for domestic spying, yet the Tea Party remains largely silent on these issues and instead focuses their energy on organizations like ICLEI, which provides local governments with sustainable development assistance. They also ignore the fact that improving transit options particularly helps rural communities by stimulating economic development through planning pedestrian walkways to bring traffic to main streets in small towns and connecting dispersed communities.

With America hostage to foreign oil supplies and consumers beholden to large energy interests and utilities, sustainability measures seek to give citizens and communities more control over their future. You'd think the Tea Party, with its supposed commitment to liberty, would be cheering these steps -- not bashing them.