OpEd: The Unsettling Attacks on Green Cities and Counties

By Michael Schmitz, Executive Director of ICLEI USA

An op-ed response to Feb 3  NYTimes article and attacks on local government sustainability and planning

Back in 2010, when Colorado gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes accused Denver’s bicycle sharing program of being part of an insidious United Nations conspiracy to take over America’s communities, a nation chuckled at the absurdity. “Cities Engage in Vast Biking Conspiracy (Shh!)” read a New York Times headline.

More than a year later, the same bizarre conspiracy theory is no laughing matter for anyone who cares about their community’s future. Across the country, a loud minority of protestors, many aligned with the Tea Party, have made it their mission to derail not only the green programs of cities, towns, and counties, but the broader planning efforts of local governments to improve local transportation, safeguard public health, and increase economic competitiveness. Last week the success of their efforts landed them back in the Times, only now on the front page.

Can We Talk About Local Solutions?

We should be concerned. As our nation attempts to recover from the economic crisis and a record-breaking year of extreme weather that cost us tens of billions of dollars, locally driven solutions are the key, and healthy community dialogue about them is more important than ever. Now is the time for people to ask, How can we attract more businesses to our town? How can we better prepare our communities for more frequent floods or droughts? What kind of community do we want to leave for our children and grandchildren? It’s a conversation for everybody to take part in: business leaders, environmentalists, labor leaders, neighborhood groups, Republicans, Democrats, Independents.

The problem is that the Tea Party groups and their allies seem intent on shutting down local dialogues, rather than discussing and debating ideas and solutions. Across the country, they attend city council and planning commission meetings, and too often resort to shouting and intimidation tactics. They protest the very idea of their local government running an energy efficiency program, preserving historic buildings, or creating a local plan to repair aging infrastructure.

A Conspiracy Theory Takes Hold

For the majority of Americans who support things like local clean energy jobs or planting more trees on city streets, the natural question has become, Why are extremists waging a war on common sense in our own backyards?

It’s not common sense, insist the protestors. Local initiatives to plan for the future or make a community more livable—especially when they mention the word “sustainability”—are all part of Agenda 21, which they believe is a vast UN conspiracy.  “Once they put their fangs into our communities, they’ll suck all the blood out of it,” said Glenn Beck. Most municipal staff had never heard of Agenda 21 before they were accused of being its accomplices.

Even with no evidence to back up their story, the activists see an Agenda 21 conspiracy everywhere they look:

  • In Santa Rosa, CA, Agenda 21 protestors shouted down speakers at a Metropolitan Planning Commission meeting to get public feedback on a regional plan to improve transportation. Police were called.
  • In Missoula, MT, police were also called to keep order at a city council meeting to discuss membership renewal in the organization I lead, ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability USA. (The council voted to renew.)
  • In Norfolk, VA, activists protested a regional plan to protect economic assets and natural habitats from sea-level rise due to a changing climate.
  • In Rutherford County, TN, a local zoning resolution was protested as a UN plot to take away private property. The list goes on.

Renewing the Sustainability Conversation

As more misinformation spreads, the problem is ultimately one of communications. My organization, ICLEI USA, is increasing its efforts to share the success stories of U.S. cities and counties who are reaping the benefits of smart planning and sustainability initiatives. We’ve got to take back the hijacked term, “sustainability,” which isn’t a secret plot but a mainstream concept embraced by everybody from local governments driving bottom-up solutions to countless corporations like IBM, Office Depot, and Intel, who agree that saving money through efficiency measures and reducing their environmental footprint is good for business.

And then there’s Agenda 21 itself, about which the greatest distortions are being generated. This 20-year-old voluntary action plan was developed by the United Nations and national governments at the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio. Agenda 21 presents a vision for how all levels of government—especially in the developing world—can take voluntary action to combat poverty and pollution, conserve natural resources and develop in a sustainable manner. One-hundred-seventy-eight nations adopted the agenda, including the United States during the Bush Administration.

Agenda 21 is not a treaty or legally binding document and does not infringe upon the sovereignty of any nation, state, or local government. Bottom line, it isn’t being forced on anybody, anywhere, by any organization.

If people and organizations started responding with those facts, we could skip the conspiracy theories and get back to the much-needed conversations on energy independence, economic vitality, and the future of our communities.

Michael Schmitz is the Executive Director of ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability USA, the leading membership organization of local governments committed to climate action, clean energy, and sustainability, with more than 550 members in the United States and 1,100 worldwide.

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37 responses

  1. I’m really pretty baffled by all this.  Given that Agenda 21 is nothing more than a bunch of suggestions, then following the suggestions (or some of them, or none) is still entirely up to the local communities in question.   Even if some national policy is enacted to, say, fund bike lanes, it’s got nothing to do with an “authority” from outside the United States, regardless of whether or not the UN approves.

    At the end of the day this is all driven by a combination of ignorance, paranoia, and desperation.  Not bad people, just the ill-informed looking for something other than themselves to blame for things like high commodity and gas prices and increasing pressure on open spaces.

    1. Nick, read about it.  It is supposed to seem innocent and helpful.  You can be green and live smartly w/o the UN influence which is not positive for the U.S. – democratsagainstagenda21.com  (plus they use the delphi technique expertly)

  2. Agenda 21 and ICLEI and One Bay Area are not a bunch of suggestions.  Local governments will only get their Federal Transporatation Funding if they comply.  This is blackmail.  The patronization in the previous comment is so typical.  This is a socialist take over of this country. This is a huge PR Machine.  The ‘workshops’ are propaganda.  They do not care at all about your voice.   They have already decided to take you prroperty and your freedom.  Get ready.

  3. I suggest that you take the time to read Agenda 21.Should that prove to time consuming read the synopsis of President Clinton’s renaming of it for this country. Please try a little critical thinking if you do decide to educate yourself on these issues.


      1. Niobe, did you not know that American’s have the right to own property?  Perhaps, you forgot that, or have you been led to believe that the collective is the way to go?  Perhaps, you have not been educated with regard to American history or read the Constitution?  It’s kind of what makes America ….special!  Americans really aren’t interested in distributing their wealth or interest in government via ICLEI taking our property to share!  Why should we?  It’s ours…we worked hard for it!  We don’t care about the 3 E’s….equality, environment or economics being globally instituted!  It’s called…freedom (making decisions for ourselves about our property), sovereignty (holding onto the land that belongs to us) and free markets (capitalism).  It does sound like you have been brainwashed, or taught from the get-go (our educational system has been at it for the last 30 years!) some principals that have led you to be so willing to accept this pap….

        1. You do not read very well… Did you read what they consider “not sustainable? They are shutting off over 50% land to give to worms and creatures plus “buffer zones” with little human travel, then we get tiny land with stack em and pack em housing, (that is why they are excitingly talking about 200-300 sq ft apts and how to arrange furniture in them. That is the future. Oh, and only sustainable is 5 gallons water per day per person, no air conditioning (except for the elites of course) Why don’t you really research the facts? What you go along with will cost you and family everything. “they” will feed you your allowance for the day, you will have a job, but not one you want, and national healthcare for those who do “contribute” by working (slavery), and those disabled, old etc… will be costly so you will see end of life rationing, i.e. cutting off food and water, to die a “peaceful” death. I wouldn’t do that to my dog!!!

        2. “It does sound as if you have been brainwashed”
          Funny I was thinking that of your anti community rant. You are only a little while on the planet why should you be able to destroy it so that no one else can enjoy it in the future?
          When you pollute your land you pollute your neighbors and make their children sick. No wonder you have no friends.

  4. ICLEI’s charter commits that organization to fulfilling the “suggestions” of Agenda 21.  Until recently, ICLEI USA’s website did the same.  Included in those suggestions is the proposition that wealth needs to be redistributed at a global as well as local level. 

    The “3-E” concepts found in Agenda 21 and ICLEI documents have been repeated verbatum in EPA regulations.  They have found their way, verbatum, into the proposed New Jersey State Strategic Plan as well as in the various “Sustainable Jersey” programgs around the state.

    The Tea Parties are vigorously fighting these intiatives.  In contrast to OWS, I have NEVER seen dirsruptive behavior by Tea Parties at any public sessions.  We have always been polite and respectful while remaining firm in our beliefs. 

    Intereestingly we support the need for local governments to make local decisions.  We are with ICLEI in that regard.  However we do not wish to have our wealth redistributed, our property rights taken, or to have economic planing be decided on the size our our carbon footprint or on the concept of social’/environmental justice. 

    Local governments can make up their own minds without the support or influence of ICLEI.  ICLEI should be happy that local activists are active…isn’t that democracy in action?  Or is democracy good only when it goes ICLEI’s way?

    1. What I will never get to understand is why you and your fellows are so anxiously looking at ICLEI – a large association of American local governments (that voluntarily joined together to exchange information, experiences and best practices) with a small budget and staff. When you are afraid of this organization, how poor is your self-confidence, how much angst do you have? And if you are honest, what causes your angst? The dwindling role America has in a globalized world – ICLEI’s fault? Hahaha. The Subprime Mortgage Crisis – caused by ICLEI? Hahaha. The overmighty influence of the coal and oil industry over individual freedom, community interests and our elected politicians – ICLEI’s power? Hahaha. My recommendation: open your mind, open your eyes, and start analyzing what causes your angst …  

      1. Its alright Max its best if you ignore them as they are carrying out another agenda. It is the agenda of the billionaires who fund them. The main points of their agenda is to reduce wages, reduce environmental protection, get access to resources where they cannot mine because of environmental safeguards and so on. Their motto is greed and selfishness is good.

    2. I agree with you.  However, the sense that control is local is deceptive.  In actuality, ICLEI helps to initiate GLOBAL objectives at a local level using local officials, moneys and legal infrastructure.  They are warm and fuzzy about it and use grant money, software and international recognition for  ambitious county execs as carrots.

  5. It has seeped in slowly so even very intellectual people have succumbed to the enactors delphi-ing.  Now U.S. citizens who even speak out on these plans are being ridiculed as antiquated.  If you are an urbanist and want to live under these guidelines please do, it is a free country supposedly, but not with my property taxes.  We are waking up to this bogus initiative. The progressives who support willingly or unknowingly are also pushing in bigtime in public and private schools, even in K-garden.  Ecoliteracy.  Textbooks will be if not already are becoming universal so they can condition kids in their image.  If you behave outside of their framework, to independent or individualist, you will be marginalized.  – democratsagainstagenda21.com – tell all your friends and family to attend your local town mtgs – listen for the language – learn how to recognize the delphi technique.  Once you know, you will see it everywhere. 

  6. Why when the situation becomes very dangerous why do these strange people have so much energy to stop even innocuous and very uncontroversial things – the minimum we can do. I am very worried for my children and just want to leave something for them. These guys on the comment lines talk in some strange code language which is basically meaningless. Sometimes it makes me very frustrated and depressed. What is motivating them? There seem to be so many of them and mostly older guys that are too unhappy in their own lives. Why do they have to attack the future of everyone else, even children and animals. They are just shameful and they have no point, no point at all. Very foolish people.

    1. Ignorance is hard to counter when it is matched with a refusal to learn. These people are like the Taliban they shut out any ideas that are new or different without examination because it threatens their mediocrity and mindless existence.

  7. What do those opposed to living sustainably know about the state of our planets life support systems?
    From the nation where politicians permitted and subsidized Hummer, many look at the result of corporations having fooled many that begin negligent of resource management, dead zones in the oceans, mountain top ecosystem destruction,  carbon footprint legacy and addiction to squandering the world oil resources with dismay. But there have always been those who are easy to fool. Gangster capitalist profits from fooling and eventually robbing them of their health, and financial well being by manufacturing epidemics of illness with tobacco, sugar, salt and fat contaminated foods.
    But millions have seen through those lies and trillions of dollars is going into energy efficiency in every produce and service imaginable. 

    1.   trillions of dollars is going into energy efficiency in every produce and service imaginable. 

      My GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      You’re RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      It is soooooooooooooooooooo much better to waste!





  8. The U.N. is anti-American. This is very dangerous.  I voted for Obama, so it’s not all Tea Party people.  I am an American who has doen a lot of good for this country and many people.  

    Read about Consititution 2020.  This country is being taken over by Socialists and it’s working.  This is serious.  Agenda 21 and ICLEI is their way in.  Get ready to get rounded up and put in a small box of an appartment, have no car, never travel, and be fed what they want to feed you.  If you have any money it will be re-distributed.  This is where it’s headed. 

  9. This is not about local government sustainability.  It’s about control and re-distribution of America’s ‘wealth’.  It will be zoned and taxed and regualted and policy driven and decided for you.  It’s all on the ICLEI and Agenda 21 websites.  It’s all right there. 

    1. Hey, this is funny. Looks like written by someone who has angst – what I can understand. Much in our country doesn’t look too promising because we have slept in while the world has moved on. We have been looking inward while the world faces the future. So, what shall we do? The most stupid attitude would be to blindfold ourselves or to miss out on identifying what the root causes of our situation are.

      Let’s make scenarios. (a) Eradicate ICLEI. Do you believe that this would save America, make it return to global leaderhip, give people their homes back that they have lost because of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, …? If you you believe it, you must either have no facts & figures at all, or be stupid. So ICLEI is not the problem. (b) Chase Obama out of his office. Do you believe that backward-looking Republicans in the grip of the oil and coal industry would make America return to global leadership while the world moves to low-carbon economy? (We would sleep the future away while other economies would make the race because they innovate and rush towards post-carbon economies.) Would the growing number of poor American more secure livelihoods or would the rich be awarded for their richness by tax reductions for the high-income class? Be honest – this would lead us nowhere. (c) Be smart. Look at facts & figures. Analyze why we suffer, why Americans have angst. – This would be the most successful approach. Let’s face the reality, not bury our heads in the sand. And not find satisfaction in attacking a tiny, almost irrelevant target such as ICLEI. Who would know about ICLEI at all if the you guys didn’t give them so much attention?

    2.  It’s about control and re-distribution of America’s ‘wealth’.

      Ah. You are with the OWSers then, protesting about the new Gilded Age and the transfer of our country’s treasure upward into the hands of a few.

      Good for you! You can think!



  10. More conspiracy theories from the far right that would be funny if people didn’t believe every stupid thing they read or hear that lunatic Alex Jones spout off about. Rush Limbaugh meets the National Enquirer. I’ve been following for amusement and depression a blog run by a detestable old crank who loves puppies and roses and Jesus and jumps on every nutty theory right of Hitler he can find, from wanting to spit in the face of Malihi, the Atlanta judge who refused to take Obama off the Georgia ballot for being a foreign born secret Muslim Manchurian Candidate (someone got to him!) to garbage like this. I’m not saying give up autonomy to green do-gooders, but for the love of God don’t not preserve a local wetland or historical building because it might help the red Chinese alien robots from Pluto (who hate Jesus!)

  11. This is dangerous.  Again with the patronization, the maligning, the bulllying. 

    Agenda 21 is being implemented through Local Agenda 21.  This is being done through blackmail of your local City Council. ICLEI is providing the software and tools to show local cities how to COMPLY.  It’s all about compliance, regulaltion, policy, fees, and making everything equitable under the guise of Climate Change.  It’s a way to seize global power and it’s real:


    If you are an American who has worked hard and saved money, you will lose your home, your car, your ability to travel, (forget about Tahoe), your water pressure, you will be told what you can eat (no more meat, not equitable – too hard on the environment – no sugar – leads to diabetes) whether you get healthcare, how many kids you can have, you will have your money taken.  We are much closer to this than people realize.  A couple of mandates and executive orders with the EPA and you can say goodbye to freedom in America.  

    1. My god, can you think??? Who has burnt the money of Americans, ICLEI or Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae? Who has caused so many Americans losing their homes? Staring at ICLEI is so easy, but this is a tiny, powerless organization. Why are you not looking at the true root causes of our trouble?  Why are you not addressing the big power players who play with our billions that we have worked hard to earn and save? Who play lottery with our earnings? Who want to make us believe that climate change doesn’t exist while increased occurrence of extreme weather events  (think of the floods last year) is washing our houses away – those that have survived the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.

      And what freedom are you talking about? The freedom to smoke until you have got lung cancer? The freedom to stuff yourself with fast food until your are obese? The freedom to drive oversized cars for which we send American Dollars to the Saudis? The freedom to get blindfolded by Fox so that we don’t see the real world around us?

      I see no value in closing the eyes and rampaging around – open your eyes, watch and analyze, and attack the true enemies of us American people.  

    2.  Again with the patronization, the maligning, the bulllying. 

      Again with the perceived victimhood and persecution.

      you will lose your home, your car, your ability to travel, your water pressure, you will be told what you can eat …

      That’s a good parody of an irrational, paranoid conspiracy theorist. Well done. Well done, I say.



    1. Sounds like irrational fear is preventing you from thinking clearly. Yesterday the Agenders wanted us out of the UN because they were so incompetent and incapable of coherent action. Today they are controlling hundreds of thouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuusands in a secret GLOBUL conspiracy to take your property and tear down your house and force you into a small apartment so your dog will cr*p all over the kitchen when you are on the train.




  12. How ridiculous. ICLEI was created by United Nations. This is stated in a “paper” on the ICLEI website. There is another “paper” stating that local governments have a whole wealth of tools to use in order to get the citizens of said local area to comply with ICLEI requirements for sustainability, mainly raising property tax on everything a citizen owns to either force him to move, stop driving a vehicle or more. This is unconstitutional and undeniably anti-american. Rather than posting about conspiracy rigamaroo on a plainly biased article, I would do some research if I were you. By ridiculing very valid concerns the author of this article has drawn you away from the real “agenda”.

  13. The new environmental book, Green Illusions, shows the importance of addressing green cities as a first step in combating our broader energy and environmental challenges. The author argues that green cities is a better project to pursue than new energy technologies, which have many negative side effects and limitations.
    This book has a behind-the-scenes exposé on the life, death and afterlife of the hydrogen
    You can read reviews here: http://tinyurl.com/GreenIllusionsBook

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