Posted: May 31, 2003
1:00 a.m. Eastern
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The term "sustainable development" has flooded both the media and public policy since it was introduced to the world in 1987, by the U.N.'s World Commission on Environment and Development. At the time, the term was defined to mean:
Policy makers and wannabe policy makers struggle to interpret this meaningless definition. Nevertheless, there are currently more than 50 bills working their way through Congress to implement some facet of "sustainable development." Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., has introduced a constitutional amendment to guarantee all citizens "the right to a ... sustainable environment."
Stephen Viederman, president of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, writes in his article, "Knowledge for Sustainable Development": "It is not so much about what is, but what should be." The question arises: According to whose vision? Viederman continues to offer perhaps the most succinct and honest interpretation: "sustainability is a community's control of capital, in all of its forms – natural, human, human-created, social and cultural. ..."
This interpretation begs for a definition of "community." If community means the collection of individuals who have chosen to invest their capital in a particular place where they live, then we have had "sustainable development" since long before the term was ever coined. This, then, cannot be what Viederman means by community. "Community control" must mean something else. (Here note the similarity of Viederman's idea to Webster's definition of socialism: "The system of ownership and operation of the means of production and distribution by the community rather than by private individuals...").
The definition of "community control" is discussed extensively in Chapter 8 of Agenda 21. In particular, 8.3 says, "The overall objective is to improve or restructure the decision-making process. ..." This recommendation was amplified in the U.S. by the President's Council on Sustainable Development declaration: "We need a new collaborative decision process. ..."
Through the PCSD, during the 1990s, the federal government transformed the policy decision process into the "collaborative" process used throughout the U.N., and now, throughout all federal agencies and in most communities.
Before the "sustainable development" enlightenment, any citizen could request any elected official, or any elected government body, to consider any policy recommendation or initiative, at any public meeting. Before any government body, or government agency, implemented a new law or policy, every citizen had the right to speak his piece in favor, or in opposition to the proposal. Finally, the elected officials voted, in public, to adopt or reject each proposal. This is an untidy, inefficient, slow, and cumbersome process. It is participatory democracy, in which the governed express their desires and through which the governed hold their representatives directly accountable.
The enlightened process speeds things up and shields elected officials from accountability. It is, indeed, an ingenious win/win design for the advocates of change, and for the elected officials.
The enlightened process avoids the unruly public, and focuses on "stakeholders" to participate in the decision process. The initiators of the proposal decide who the stakeholders are, and choose those who are inclined to support the particular proposal to serve on some kind of "visioning" or "stakeholder" council. Note the similarity to the U.N. procedure that allows only NGOs (non-government organizations) that have been "accredited" by the U.N. to participate in their meetings.
These "selected" councils typically consist of government employees and NGO professionals and are often in place and functioning, long before the public is even aware of their existence or purpose. When they are presented to the community, their work has been mostly completed, they are often presented with great media fanfare for some grand and glorious purpose, and they often employ a few local dignitaries to provide the "Day-Glo" necessary to achieve credibility.
In recent years, organizations such as Alabama's Alliance for Citizens Rights, or Freedom 21 Santa Cruz, and many others, have learned what these selected councils are about and have demanded a seat at the table. Typically, while publicly welcoming their input, dissenters are often ridiculed, circumvented and ignored in the development of policy proposals whose objectives were determined long before the first meeting was ever held.
Policy proposals developed through this process, presented in the press as a wonderful road map to a sustainable future, are rarely challenged by elected officials, who don't want to be seen as bucking the trend toward sustainable development. Consequently, elected officials are bypassed, and power is conveyed to the various selected councils, which, effectively, control and operate the public policies of the community.
This is what Viederman means when he says "community control." This is the transformation that is taking place in communities all across the country, and the world. This is what Al Gore meant when he said in his 1992 book, "Earth in the Balance," that sustainable development will require a "wrenching transformation" of society. The transformation is from a free society, to a controlled society.
Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization and chairman of Sovereignty International.
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