By Kevin Mooney
Suddenly the concept of “sustainability” is very much in vogue in the run-up to yet another United Nations climate conference scheduled for June. But the idea that life on earth can only be sustained by limiting population growth is not new, it has actually been around for some time.
“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man,” wrote Thomas Malthus in his famous 1798 treatise An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus argued that population growth was harmful to the earth and a threat to human populations. His view continues to resonate today among the academics and political figures who are well-positioned to influence national and international public policies. “Sustainability” began to gain serious traction in America during the Clinton Administration.
Charles Battig, president of the Piedmont Chapter of Virginia Scientists & Engineers for Energy & Environment (VA-SEEE), notes that in the 1990s “sustainability” joined “smart growth,” “comprehensive planning,” and “growth management” as code words cited by local, national and international agencies to justify government regulations and orders. These terms, says Battig, were popularized in a 1999 White House policy document, “Towards a Sustainable America,” released under President Clinton.
The Obama administration is now codifying the concept. In June 2010, President Obama issued an executive order launching the Ocean Policy Initiative. It calls for imposing federal zoning rules on America’s waterways—rivers and bays, the Great Lakes, and ocean coastal waters—in the name of sustainability.
A year later, in June 2011, the President issued another executive order creating the White House Rural Council, which is charged with directing government agencies to “enhance the federal engagement in rural communities.” The order, which no doubt will be used to regulate agriculture and land use, declares “strong sustainable rural communities are essential to winning the future and ensuring American competitiveness in years to come.”
Last August the National Research Council (NRC) placed its seal of approval on the concept of sustainability when it issued a report laying out what it called an “operational framework for integrating sustainability as one of the key drivers within the regulatory responsibilities of the EPA.” (The NRC is administered by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineers and the Institute for Medicine.)
The NRC report, known as the “Green Book” inside Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), proposes the creation of a “sustainability impact assessment” that EPA regulators can use for rulemaking. NRC cites an Obama executive order (13514) defining sustainability as “to create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.”
Sustainability has become the latest slippery standard for letting government agencies monitor and regulate private sector decision-making.
Throughout American history, land use questions fell into purview of localities. This has changed in the past few decades as federal agencies have greatly expanded their reach. The idea now is for trans-nationalists within the United Nations operating in cooperation with U.S. federal agencies to seize control away from American property owners.
Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson is concerned, “Obama’s thrust has been a direct assault on private property owners and those who use the land, this is just one more giant step away from freedom.”
The overarching concept of sustainability was first outlined in UN Agenda 21, which was adapted during the Rio de Janeiro conference in 1992.
This coming June, twenty years after the 1992 UN conference, Rio de Janeiro will again host thousands of UN delegates and activists who will come together over the issue of global warming. However, the participants at the “United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development” (informally called “Rio + 20”) will be couching their alarmist concerns in the vocabulary of sustainability.
The change in terminology is significant, and it was signaled by none other than President Obama. After his party took a beating in the 2010 mid-term elections, Obama told reporters, “There’s more than one way to skin the cat.”
The remark was sparked by Obama’s failure to get Congress to pass a cap-and-trade law regulating the production and use of fossil fuels. Instead, the President argued that emissions from greenhouse gases were so endangering the public health that the EPA must regulate them. As we now know, that conclusion is unwarranted.
The EPA review process reaching this conclusion relied on a UN study whose findings were fabricated. And the evidence for this came from the release of emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain that showed politically motivated researchers gloating over how they had manipulated data to justify their global warming alarmism.
As the “climate scandal” unfolded in the news, opinion polls registered a rising skepticism about claims that human activity is responsible for climate change. A 2010 Gallup poll showed 48 percent of Americans believed the seriousness of global warming was exaggerated, up from 31 percent in 1997. Forty-two percent of Germans feared catastrophic warming, down 20 points from 2006. Only twenty-six percent of Britons believed in man-made climate change. Figures like these are the likely reason why global warming alarmists have become so eager to change the terms of debate and discuss sustainability instead.
In a revealing interview with Reuters, Ambassador Andre Correa do Lago, Brazil’s top negotiator at the Rio+20 conference, has admitted that it is easier to promote environmentalist policies under the banner of sustainability.
“Climate change is an issue that has very strong resistance from sectors that are going to be substantially altered, like the oil industry,” do Lago said. “Sustainable development is something that is as simple as looking at how we would like to be in 10 or 20 years.”
At least he’s not pretending.