Readers of this column are aware that I am an optimistic advocate for the transition to the low-carbon economy in the private and public sector. Lately I have been focused quite a bit on resilient cities. Resilient cities are those that are promoting more sustainable, low-carbon development while also adapting their cities for the current and future challenges associated with climate change.
One of the organizations doing the most to promote resilient cities around the globe is ICLEI. ICLEI-Local Governments for sustainability was founded in 1990 to promote biodiversity, climate resilience, ecomobility, sustainable procurement, sustainable cities, and sustainable water management among others.
Today, ICLEI has more than 1200 local government members from 70 countries representing nearly 600 million people around the globe. Members of ICLEI are committed to sustainable local development.
With such a mission, it’s not a huge surprise that the organization has come under fire from the Tea Party.
I first started noticing the attacks on Twitter. To my surprise, there seem to be more anti-ICLEI tweets than any other reference to all the great things ICLEI is doing around the world.
I know that the Tea Party is ultra conservative and opposes action on climate change and of course even doubts climate change exists or that it is man-made. But I just had a hard time understanding why any organized group could be in such opposition to Local Governments for Sustainability. What would they prefer? As my friend, Guy Dauncey likes to say, the future has to be green because the alternative is brown, ugly and dead.
So I had to tweet inquiries to those making negative comments and see if they’d elaborate on their problems with ICLEI. Really, I just wanted to know what their issues were. The best answer came from @varight who’s profile reads: “World news with a Virginia Right twist. Exposing liberals with the light from the right.”
In response to my question about what issues do they have with ICLEI, he responded:
“Simple. ICLEI = Agenda 21 = UN = One World Government = Loss of Property Rights. ‘Sustained Development’ is code for UN control”
@varight’s response is that ICLEI is associated with Agenda 21 and the UN which to him and his Tea Party affiliates means that ICLEI is promoting government control of everything and taking away individual freedoms.
You have to at least give him credit for being succinct and effective in answering my query in 140 characters or less. However, my investigation had to go beyond this claim to get to the bottom of this sentiment.
The world-class beacon of balanced reporting, The Tea Party Tribune, summed it up this way in a July 2nd article:
Americans are so focused on Congress and Obama at the federal level of government right now that most are overlooking the socialism creeping in at the local level through Agenda 21…they are having great success convincing local governments in the U.S. to adopt their socialist and extreme environmentalist programs under the guise of feel-good buzz words. Left wing billionaire George Soros’s Open Society has provided $2,147,415 to ICLEI. Van Jones’ Green for All and the Tides Foundations’ Apollo Alliance are also reportedly ICLEI contributors.
This same article explains how ICLEI and Agenda 21 purport to promote sustainability “which can be interpreted to an extreme degree that would regulate and restrict many parts of our lives. When will the level of carbon emissions be low enough?”
In a recent exchange, a Tea Party activist was quoted as saying: “We don’t need none of that smart growth communism.”
So the Tea Party opposes any initiatives promoting sustainable development because there is an implicit assumption that such a program could impact their ability to drive Hummers without paying fuel taxes or to own McMansions in the suburbs, or convert their suburbs to embrace more smart growth and resilient city strategies like increased density and transit, more parks and district energy systems.
Heaven forbid. At least after completing my research I now know where they are coming from. Tea Party supporters abhor government intervention in their lives and businesses. To be honest, I am a capitalist at heart (with three degrees in business) so at one level I can understand the sentiment. But following any doctrine so religiously is usually unproductive at best and destructive at worst. That old invisible hand of the capitalist economy has led to the financial crisis and U.S. unemployment near 10%, wide scale health impacts experienced by residents near polluting (you pick the industry) industrial plants, deforestation and loss of biodiversity, exacerbated climate change and much more.
We have proven that humans left to their own devices cause damage to themselves and others by focusing on short-term outcomes to their long-term detriment.
For more than two decades, ICLEI has been at the leading edge of what is now becoming clear to anyone who is paying attention, that cities of all sizes are now the source of innovation and are inter-connected in what Jeb Brugmann calls the Urban Revolution. Federal and multi-lateral policy on smart growth and climate action has stalled but meanwhile, cities are leading the way around the globe. And ICLEI is a big part of that.
Please join ICLEI’s President, David Cadman and me this Wednesday, July 13th for a free webinar to learn more about ICLEI and my resilient cities ranking.
Boyd Cohen is the CEO of CO2 IMPACT, a carbon origination company based in Vancouver, Canada and Bogota, Colombia. Boyd is also the co-author of Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.
This series uses the hashtag #climatecapitalism