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Sustainable development: Foe of freedom

By Henry Lamb
web posted May 12, 2008

Add the word "sustainable" to almost any project, and immediately, the project becomes politically correct and  therefore, acceptable.  The surge of "sustainability" or "sustainable development" in recent years is phenomenal.  Americans have been awed by the sales pitch and have bought into the idea of "sustainable development" - without looking under the hood to examine the engine.  Nor have Americans realized that "sustainable development" is a self-directing vehicle that is transforming a once-free society into sustainable communities where nearly every human activity requires the permission of government.

The principle of private property rights is an early victim.  Private property rights cannot exist in a sustainable community.  In a sustainable community, a property owner's rights are limited to whatever government decides is appropriate. 

Freedom rests upon the principle of private property ownership.  Ownership of property is the right to use the property, and to exclude others from it.  When the right to use one's property is restricted or diminished by government, so then is the owner's freedom diminished.

The concept of private property is incompatible with the concept of sustainable development.  Sustainable development is, by definition, a function of government that uses the force of law to balance resource use (the environment), with economic development, to achieve social equity.

Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution require government to balance resource use, or economic development to achieve social equity.  This idea arises from a socialist philosophy that dominates the United Nations which spawned the concept of sustainable development.  As early as 1976, the U.S. government signed a U.N. document that declared:

"Land…cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice;"

"A-1.  Redistribute population in accord with available resources;"

"D-1. Government must control the use of land to achieve equitable distribution of resources;"

"D-2. Control land use through zoning and land-use planning;"

"D-3. Excessive profits from land use must be recaptured by government;"

"D-4. Public ownership of land should be used to exercise urban and rural land reform;"

"D-5. Owner rights should be separated from development rights, which should be held by a public authority."

This document was signed on behalf of the U.S. by Carla A. Hills, then Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and William K. Reilly, then head of the Conservation Fund, who later became the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

These land use control ideas found their way into the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, which first defined the term "Sustainable Development."  The meaning of sustainable development here defined, was codified in another U.N. document called Agenda 21, which was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.  This document recommended that every nation create a national sustainable development initiative.

President Clinton eagerly followed this recommendation with the creation – by Executive Order – of the President's Council on Sustainable Development. This group of cabinet-level appointees, and heads of major environmental organizations, quickly translated Agenda 21 into Sustainable America: A New Consensus.  This document "Americanized" Agenda 21 and set forth hundreds of policy recommendations to bring the nation into compliance with what the international community defined as "sustainable."  Most of these policies have been implemented administratively.  In fact, Congress has never debated, nor approved either of these documents.

The agencies of government whose leaders constituted the PCSD, provided grants to non-government organizations, and to state and local governments to expand the concept of sustainable development to local communities.  The rash of "visioning councils" that spread across the nation in the 1990s were funded and coordinated by agencies of the federal government through what was called the "Smart Growth Network."  This is a network of dozens of NGOs, many of which were also funded by the federal government, and some of which served on the PCSD.

One of the NGOs, the American Planning Association, received nearly $4 million in grants to produce Smart Growth: Legislative Guidebook.  This publication provided three "model bills," and two "model executive orders," for use by state governments.  These "model" bills provided the legal language for the statutes and ordinances necessary to give the force of law to government in order to impose the principles of sustainable development.

In communities across the nation, individuals are discovering that their property rights have evaporated.  Government now routinely dictates such things as how tall grass may be allowed to grow, what color houses may be painted, where they may – and may not – be located, and what kind of landscape vegetation may be planted.  And this is just the beginning of sustainable development.

The more people learn about sustainable development, the more they realize that it is a tidal wave washing away their freedom.ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.






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