Tea Party Opposes ICLEI and Sustainable Development in Cities

By Boyd Cohen, Ph.D., CEO, CO2 IMPACT and Co-Author, Climate Capitalism

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.

Twitter: boydcohen

This series uses the hashtag #climatecapitalism

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.Twitter: boydcohen

31 responses

  1. It’s a shame you “don’t get it”. Had you delved further you would find everything in the UN Agenda 21 charter to freak out even the most liberal of liberals. What this and ICLEI are working towards is to take away ALL of your rights ‘for the collective’. If this is YOUR idea of utopia perhaps living in Russia, India, Africa, etc would be more to your liking. It doesn’t not sound to me as though you have thoroughly researched this subject, sad to say.

    1. Like what? The UN offers a set of guidelines, that’s it. Nothing else. There is no phantom authority coming down on you. You guys are so paranoid it’s like a comedy act!

    2. Speaking of not knowing what you’re talking about – ICLEI has no authority to implement *anything*. They’re a non-profit organization that assists local governments to implement self-set goals. Agenda 21 (which is indeed nothing more than a set of guidelines) doesn’t enter into it – in the US it’s not referenced or used at all.

      Oh, and India is a democracy. And Africa is not a country, it’s a continent with every form of government known to man. Perhaps if you did a little research…

  2. I am going to go out on a limb and question whether more information / education around these issues will actually help to inform them about the benefits of sustainability and a low carbon word. In my opinion, the problems we are facing, climate change, acidification of the oceans, mass extinctions in the oceasn (especially), soil erosion, and the need to increase food production to meet the growing demands of an exploding population can only begin to be solved if we begin to look at them with a full systems lens. This means, a global effort to solve these problems. Working in silos will never solve problems with global implications.

    I am a pro-government progressive, and lately this perspective has been shatter by politicians so stuck on their own ideologies to see collaboration will be key to meet the challenges we are facing. Government will not solve everything, but as we have seen over the last few years, business left to its own will ruin us all. Go check your 401k.
    Sincerely, Denny

    1. Denny, you are not a pro-government progressive, you are a total idiot! You and I.C.L.E.A. can take tour so called 40,000 laws and cram them where the sun doesn’t shine! I will NOT comply with ANY of those laws! I will NOT live my life to suit idiots like you, you can live in a glass bottle if you want to, but I am not! All I can say is they better stay away from me and mine! George Bush Sr. and every President since are as you, traitors to this country! I will not comply to a foreign government! You idiot!!

    2. Sorry to rain on your parade, but the main reason 401Ks are in a sorry state right now is precisely because of the housing bubble/bust that was created and encouraged by guess who? Our own government.

  3. “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.”

    This is a very vague comment. So I’m an isolated suburban resident and don’t see it on an everyday basis. One thing that does come to mind is the BP disaster in the Gulf. Despicable and horrendous – long lasting: definitely! But the government okayed the drilling depths and management. The government corruption that runs rampant in this country fosters crony-capitalism which is anything BUT Free Market Capitalism.

    Denny you bring up our “401K”‘s. Had Washington DC not mandated everyone has a right to own a home, (aka The Community Reinvestment Act) private lenders would have held to long established criteria for lending and our economy, which has traditionally been reliant on a strong housing industry would not be in the shambles its in now. Local and national (not international!) banks most likely would have remained strong also.

    Deb is correct. Agenda 21 has an endgame. TOTAL CONTROL.

    I live in a small city on the outskirts of Denver. We have done little in our city to “Trash the Environment”, thank you very much. But for some reason the city has joined ICLEI and OD’d on Sustainablility.

    Sustainablility is nothing more than a political agenda. It engenders corruption on all levels – go along with “Sustainability” and you get all kinds of perks. Resist it and suffer the consequences.

    The model for “Live, Work, Play” comes straight from China and their factory towns. That’s right. UN Officials toured China with the purpose of learning how to get people into high density, highly controlled urban areas.

    Harvey Ruvin, a one time Vice President of ICLEI in the US said: “individual rights will have to take a back seat to the collective” in reference to sustainability. Mr. Ruvin is or was the Miami-Dade Clerk and Recorder.

    Guess his oath to the Constitution has taken a back seat to the collective too.

    Personally, I don’t trust people who take oaths so lightly.

    Wake up. Mr. Cohen.

  4. This anti-sustainability backlash seems to be responding to a perceived conspiracy with a counter conspiracy. Tea Partiers talk a big game about olden times, Founding principles, traditions, etc., but fail to observe that life during those agrarian times-and the social context in which our great Nation’s founders conceived our Republic – bore a striking resemblance to the sustainability “Agenda.” It takes only a very brief look at rural and urban life, agriculture, energy and what we would call environmental stewardship in the 18th and 19th Centuries to see that our righteous forebears in fact did “live, work, and play” (as well as worship, learn, and even govern!) together in ways We cannot fathom in our McSuburban condition. The Chinese Reds didn’t invent these ideas; they are basic human needs and activities, and they must be done together, and we DO them together, even if it requires an insane amount of energy and vehicle miles to do so.
    Ironically, there has never been a settlement pattern more dependent on the State than automobile-oriented Suburbia. It was invented by Modernists, the kissing cousins of Marxists, and fomented only by a Federal project that was shot through with the command-and-control policies that Tea Partiers rightly find so problematic.
    As evidence, I offer the fact that such a pattern never existed before 1900, the age of Marx et al, and that the urban/agrarian settlement patterns touted as sustainable today were the worldwide norm until then.

    1. Great reply, Frank. That’s one of the best I’ve read on this subject. It’s a pity that “sustainability” has somehow been connected to “government control” in these people’s minds … even if regulations on environmental matters are sometimes part of it, folks are seriously missing the big picture if that’s all they see.

      1. Open your eyes there is no nebulous vague connection to “sustainability” and “government control”. It’s not vague. You must be those people that spend their time playing virtual reality games. It’s obvious you haven’t even done any personal research on what all this is leading to. You probably haven’t even plotted-out what the REAL REALITY of all this means. You probably haven’t looked around you that things are changing right before your eyes. Yea, it’s you that’s missing the BIG PICTURE…You will wake up some morning to findout we don’t call ourselves AMERICANS anymore. Our politicians are saying in their results that the Founding Fathers made a mistake and they are correcting it. If that’s the world you want yourself and your children to wakeup up to some morning..Then, you will have yourself to blame. You had a chance to get out of your comfort-zone and you DID NOTHING..not even educate yourself…GOOD-LUCK in the “Brave New World”.

        1. Exactly. The scary thing is, if there are enough of those types of people who just don’t see what is happening right before their eyes, then world tyranny wins, and we live in an Orwellian society where there is no privacy, no liberties, only effectual enslavement.

    2. Sorry, but there is a world of difference in what is being implemented today. There were no big central federal and state and local governments telling people what they could and could not do. Self-reliance was the foundation then, apart from government interference. Personal responsibility was the norm, everyone taking action based on common sense, and through personal decision, not through government intrusion and force. The “sustainability” agenda IS collectivism, it DOES take away individual liberties for the good of the “whole”, it IS a globally implemented strategy which forces compliancy little by little. And the only reason our society is so dependent on the state now is that we have allowed the state to become bigger and have that control.

  5. Yes, somehow “sustainable” has been connected to “government control”, but Agenda 21 was signed by Bush, Executive Order 12986 and Executive Order 12852 signed by Clinton along with Executive Order 13575 signed by Obama. It seems the “guidelines” handed down by the UN’s Agenda 21 is closely adhered to by these executive orders and initiated by ICLEI which has been spread by various corporate names under then titles of “sustainable environment” I was at the Pasco County vote on Tuesday 7/11/2011 and watched the complete presentation by the consultants. It assumed that high density population living, playing and working in and near high rise construction is the way of the future. Sounds kinda like 1984? What it left out was TDR, transfer development rights, assuming the collective rights usurp the individual rights, property ownership should be viewed differently, rather than an asset,accumulation of wealth, but social justice, property should be for all. Much of the presentation did not show the final presentation from the TDR workshop from 2010 which this vote approved. Tea party has a problem with government control? Yes, I guess that is true? I would contend that the majority of the Tea Party members are more environmentally aware than most “regular” people, but do not wish to have their rights slowly given or taken away. This will be an expensive venture and by contract with the consultants, if people are not willing to live in high rise, high density urban dwellings (I smile a lot here), this will cost all the taxpayers much. I believe in a systematic growth with utilities and business in a futuristic eye on positive development. Future settlers in our area, where they want to live with positive impact in the beauty and sustained environmental impacts will bring business. It seems business follows population?

    Perhaps you, many perhaps wish to live in a 14 story apartment house. I don’t and I believe most people really don’t either. Look at the cities with most living in high rise buildings. Is that what is to follow everywhere? This is the “sustainable” living that has been introduced and guidelines to where it ends. With this concerted effort to follow the Agenda 21 guidelines, it will be this way and your individual rights will be given to the collective. Common good? It is in the Constitution, yes. But common good does not mean government has all encompassing rights over your liberty because a few elected officials or educators say it should be this way. Kinda sounds like 1984? Shouldn’t you have the right how you want to live?

    Before you brand the Tea Party as just fanatics about government control, I would think you would be thankful there is someone that is there to protect your liberties, too. The Constitution limits governmental authority, and obviously it should.

    1. You guys remind me of Frank Chu

      Seriously though. Where do you get the idea anyone wants you to live in a 14 story tower? You think “density” means Hong Kong? No, it does not. It means having the ability to walk to the store or giving your kids the chance to bike to school.

      Today’s suburbia is far more tyrannical than what you guys seem to fear. You are required to own a car and forced to use it for pretty much everything. You are forced to buy your children cars even if you can’t afford it. If you wanted to exercise your right to walk somewhere you’d quite possibly be killed.

      Lastly, if I wanted to open a store in a subdivision today – so people would have a place to walk to – it would probably be illegal because zoning restrictions are so tyrannical, so you’re forced to drive 5 miles to a strip mall with a 10 acre parking lot.

      I dunno, I welcome a bit of “density”!

        1. Okay. I just read this on Cornell’s website.

          Doesn’t seem very controversial to me. What’s the problem?

      1. From your link:
        Should local governments worry about TDR and ‘takings’ law?

        The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Traditionally, a taking was defined as a physical seizure of property by the state.

        However, in 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that governmental interference in the form of excessive regulation may be so burdensome to a landowner as to have the same effect as an actual physical invasion thus establishing the regulatory taking. (Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon). Land use zoning falls under this broad legally-murky category of regulatory takings.

        To complicate matters, the High Court has ruled that a landowner must lose total use of the property before the government pays compensation. A partial taking need not be compensated at all. Consequently, the state has every incentive to have its actions deemed partial rather than full takings. Some municipalities view TDR programs as a way to achieve this goal.

        In Penn Central v. City of New York, the Supreme Court seemed to indicate that TDR credits have a value that could prevent a total taking of property – and thus require compensation. However, in the more recent Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, this attitude seemed to change. In a concurring opinion, Justice Scalia wrote that “TDRs… have nothing to do with the use … of the land to which they are attached. The right to use and develop one’s own land is quite distinct from the right to confer upon someone else an increased power to use and develop his land.” However, Scalia goes on to praise TDR programs as a valuable land use tool, but not as a way for the government to avoid a takings claim.

        It must be noted that the Suitum case concerned only the legal outer bounds of the issue – situations in which parcels in a given sending area are stripped of all rights to build. So long as a bare minimum of development is permitted on a particular set of landholdings, there may be no ‘takings’ issue. Montgomery County cleverly kept within the bounds of this loophole because it rarely zones land as zero-growth. It implemented a baseline minimum of one dwelling per 25 acres in its sending areas. (The result has been a proliferation of overpriced rural ‘estates’, which may be less desirable than maintaining agricultural land, but may be more attractive than the sprawling alternative.) (Pruetz, 1998)

        Also, the Suitum case heard by the Supreme Court might have been deemed a ‘just compensation’ if Lake Tahoe had some sort of TDR bank in place, whereby the owner could have quickly and easily sold TDRs at a fair minimum price without having to enter the marketplace. A TDR bank ensures liquidity and bridges the time gap between when an owner wishes to sell rights and when a developer needs to purchase them.

        Transfer development rights can be taken according to this directly determined by political agenda.

        You might want to read more, a lot more.

        1. That link is a bunch of complete hocus pocus baloney. What the heck is wrong with wildlife corridors or wilderness areas?

          Sorry, but as interesting as that map is, there is NO WAY it’ll ever fill out like that. It’s a crazy paranoid exaggeration of the worst case scenerio.

          Half the state of Virgina will NEVER be wilderness. ALthough, frankly, I wouldn’t mind if it were!

        2. The government is placing more and more land on restrictions so that NOONE can set foot on it (except the government, of course). This land is your land, this land is my land – NOT the government’s!!! That is the bigger issue here. And believe me, it will not stop. The government will take away the rights we have to freely travel on OUR lands until there is nothing left!

        3. The United States constitution will not be the governing guidlines with Agenda 21. You will be living in a world governement and subject to the world court system. Travel will be restricted and you will have to have your papers…. sounds like a Nazi regime on a bigger scale to me.

  6. I am not in any way, shape or form a Tea Party supporter, but I’m not sure how you arrogant and condescending attitude toward ICLEI skeptics adds to the conversation at all. They may sound like they came straight off a Fox News set, but you sound like an MCNBC viewer, which is even worse. I agree that some of their comments are over the top, but that doesn’t mean ALL skepticism of ICLEI is off base. Healrhy skepticism of government used to be the foundation of liberalism, but that apparently ceased to be true decades ago.

  7. If you have read the Agenda 21 document, you can clearly see that it’s about “population control” (getting women more rights and to work more so they don’t have as many babies, educating them more so they voice their rights to get abortions), government control over property rights, etc. Read it!

    1. Sawyer, the term “Population Control” sounds scary. This has nothing to do with “controlling” anyone. But yes, it has to do with stabilizing our population – which is totally out of control and spells our doom if we don’t do anything about it.

      Educating women and giving them opportunities means less babies. That is a good thing for everyone and it’s not about control, it’s about choice.

      Most importantly Agenda 21 does absolutely nothing to the US government. It’s a bunch of guidelines that’s all. No one is coming for your land, dude.

  8. Clearly the author is a disinterested party with no agenda to push… right? RIGHT?!?! As if free market capitalism was the cause of our current economic problems… laughable to say the least. Poor economic policy and crony capitalism is what go us here, free market capitalism is what will bring us back.

  9. ICLEI and Agenda 21 are one in the same. It’s a land grab to force everyone into high density living while the very rich have the world to themselves. It’s about population control for you, not them. It’s about taking away property and parental rights, for you, not them. Stay ignorant and find yourself being their slave. Read it all before you drink the whole pitcher of kool-aid. Global warming is a scam to further their agenda. Use your brains. You can pollute all you want as long as you buy carbon credits? Clearly that alone tells you it’s all about money and control. If it was about saving the planet you could not buy a pass. Only the completely ignorant or completely indoctrinated would buy into this scam.

  10. ICLEI is a violation of the Constitution. No foreign entity is allowed to usurp local authority city or state. The U.N. is an international Marxist Gangster organization. ICLEI is a spawn of the U.N. No good comes out of the U.N. The One World Gov. is pushing this. ICLEI is a part of Agenda 21 which seeks to limit and redistribute energy, transform education, attack rural property rights and transform cities.

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