Agenda 21 Facts And Conspiracy Based Narrativ
Agenda 21 is the name of the sustainability project developed by world leaders, NGOs, and activists at the 1992 Earth and Development Conference (commonly known as the Rio Conference or the Earth Summit). The conference focused on the creation of a worldwide program of sustainable development and environmental policy in order to prevent further excesses in use of resources and the creation of pollution ( United Nations Department of Public Information 1997). The conference had representatives from 172 countries with 108 “heads of state” attending the event. Further, the conference drew over 2400 NGOs and tens of thousands of other participants (journalists, business leaders, and individuals) resulting in “the most comprehensive and, if implemented, effective programme (sic) of action ever sanctioned by the international community” ( United Nations Department of Public Information 1997). In order to understand the conspiracy theory and conspiracy narrative associated with this UN plan one must understand the actual policy, how it relates to existing conspiracy theories, and how the
conspiracy theory has been adapted for use in current political context.
Agenda 21 addresses many issues concerning “eco-efficiency” and attempts to minimize environmental degradation that occurs due to development and industrialization. The main goal of the treaty is to encourage suitable and environmentally sound development in the coming century (the 21st century, thus Agenda 21) by focusing on local initiatives that worked within a global framework (United Nations Sustainable Development 1992). This includes but is not limited to planning land usage for business and homes, alleviating poverty and the many ill effects that stem from resource deprivation, and other top down efforts to change normative patterns of consumption in rich countries (United Nations Sustainable Development 1992).
Further, this is not just a fix for current ecological and economic issues. Many of these ideas are designed to consider environmental concerns as future policy is developed (United Nations Sustainable Development 1992). This is done by addressing issues such as industrial pollution, projected consumption patterns in rich countries, the use of fossil fuels for energy and transportation, and many other concepts related to ecology, and sustainability and poverty eradication ( United Nations Department of Public Information 1997). The result of this conference is the Agenda 21 document, a non-binding set of recommendations, that outlined suggestions for the future that do not exacerbate economic and environmental problems that have led to the worlds current state of environmental degradation (ICLEI 2013).
The Roots of the Conspiracy Theory: Malthus, the New World Order and the John Birch Society
Despite the information discussed above, this is not how many conspiracy theorists understand Agenda 21 and its associated sustainability programs. Instead, many conspiracy theorists view the United Nations’ plan as a political maneuver launched by collectivist elites in order to facilitate an authoritarian global government (Field 2012) (Snyder 2014) (Dickson 2014). Agenda 21 conspiracy theories3 can be understood as an evolution of New World Order and Depopulation (or Malthusian) Conspiracy theories. Although this work focuses on the Agenda 21 theory, it is important to understand that these ideas do not develop solely as a response to Agenda 21. Instead, like most conspiracy theories, they are part of a larger social narrative that draws from a preexisting ideological understanding of reality (James 2001). In order to understand how the Agenda 21 conspiracy is a product of longstanding conspiracy narratives that is now incorporating current social context, it is important to take a brief look at some of the major components of the conspiracy. The most important roots of the current Agenda 21 conspiracy theory is the “depopulation conspiracy theory” (also often referred to as a Malthusian Conspiracy) and New World Order conspiracy theories.
The concept of a Malthusian/depopulation conspiracy is related to the works of 19th century British philosopher Thomas Robert Malthus. Malthus wrote a philosophical essay on population limits and resource production entitled “An Essay on the Principle of Population” (Malthus 1798). This work discussed Malthus’ concerns about population increases and resource consumption in the future. Malthus believed that populations would eventually exceed our species capacity for food production and that “evils and suffering” such as famine, poverty, and violence would spread to endemic levels and cause massive hardships for humanity (Malthus 1798). His suggestion is that societies take steps in order to limit excessive population growth in order to avert disaster (Malthus 1798). However, conspiracy theorists have taken a different view on this philosophy that go far past warnings to keep the world population within sustainable limits.
Within conspiracy narratives, the term “Malthusianism or Malthusian” are used as negative terms that do not refer to the externalities associated with overpopulation, or long-term planning that would ensure that an overpopulation problem does not occur. Instead, this term is laden with negative assumptions about population control that involve subjugation and mass murder (Klenetsky 1992) (Maessen 2009). In the context of most conspiracy theories, the assumption is that controls on population will be done in a manner that is violent, secretive, and for the purpose of increasing the power of some type of shadow government in pursuit of an extreme leftist political agenda. (Klenetsky 1992) (Maessen 2009). This last part concerning a shadow government helps link this conspiracy theory with New World Order conspiracy theories.
The other relevant pre-existing conspiracy approach that factors into the Agenda 21 theories is the New World Order (NWO) conspiracy. The NWO conspiracy theory is one of the most recent iterations of what Pipes would classify as a “secret society” conspiracy (Pipes 1997, 28-29). This incarnation of secret society conspiracy is based on a paper from the John Birch Society and is named after a statement on world peace and global governance by George H.W. Bush during a post-Cold War speech4 (Stewart 2002, 147). However, The John Birch Society’s use of the term does not carry the same meaning as was originally intended by Bush. Bush’s speech was a hopeful prediction that the end of the Cold War would lead to peaceful, democratic globalization (Stewart 2002, 147). The John Birch Society used this term as a label for an authoritarian global government. The changes to how the idea is used fits into a conspiracy narrative that voices fears about the loss of sovereignty and the destruction of the American way of life by outside forces.
Unlike the roots of many conspiracies that are difficult to track to a single source, this specific incarnation of the secret society conspiracy was constructed by the John Birch Society5 (Stewart 2002, 426). At the end of the Red Scare period of the early Cold War, the group found themselves in a period of decline. During this period the group worked on a new theory in order to ensure that “collectivism and internationalism” were still seen as ultimate evils, the group constructed their “master conspiracy” (Stewart 2002, 426-430). The result of this attempt of a mysterious group seeking a New World Order. In this “master” conspiracy theory, the Cold War, the wars in Vietnam and Korea, and many other trade deals and treaties are minor parts of a
larger nefarious plan (Stewart 2002, 430-435). It is because the John Birch Society conspiracy viewed communism as only a small part of a larger scheme that the idea of global collective rule is still considered a threat (amongst conspiracy theorists), even after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union (Stewart 2002, 434-435). Within the narrative constructed by the John Birch Society, communist movements were just a different tactic used by the same groups that had been working against humanity for centuries.
The Malthusian and NWO conspiracy theories can be traced further back to other conspiracy theories, such as narratives that focused on ideas of European monarchs, Freemason, Jews, or the Catholic Church had secret plans intended to rule the world and destroy America (Pipes 1997, 77-79). If one were to follow these ideas to their actual creation (not just the current form), a long running narrative of conspiracy appears that creates agents and scapegoats with which societies blame their anxiety over social change, trauma, and fears of the “other” (Pipes 1997, 128-153) (Parish 2001, 2-10). However, this analysis does not require that we follow each of these ideas to their roots in some ancient or medieval history. Instead, with the data presented, one can understand that these ideas are simply the current evolution of a consistent narrative based on conspiracy theories that assign agency to instances of social anxiety By analyzing conspiracy theorizing as a form of narrative that explains an ideological understanding of events, much can be understood through the basic logic of the theories. If one believes that a group is able to control and depopulate much of modern civilization, then it follows within that logic that there must be a powerful enough political entity in existence that can perform such an action. Instead of understanding conspiracy theorists as people with an odd view about one aspect of politics, one can understand that conspiracy theories as a complete narrative that describes and explains the whole world. Within a “normal” understanding of human power relations Agenda 21 conspiracies do not fit into common paradigms of governance, the limits of human agency, or the limits on how societies work. However, the people constructing and spreading these ideas have an entirely different understanding of political reality, human agency, and social relations than those who accept official explanations of events. Further, by understanding this narrative structure we can understand how these ideas (much like any other social narrative) adapt to the contextual changes in society in order to remain relevant.