Tuesday April 2, 2013

I love many things about Kansas -- from the tall-grass prairies in the Flint Hills where I’ve hiked through rolling hills overlooking grazing bison to the dramatic waterfowl migrations in the Cheyenne Bottoms region in the western part of the state. But a bill currently in committee in the Kansas Legislature makes me wonder whether these natural treasures will be around for future generations to enjoy. Reading about this simply left my jaw agape. At issue is whether the Kansas legislature should outlaw anything that even remotely encourages sustainability planning.

Kansas House Bill Number 2366, "An Act concerning the use of funds to promote or implement sustainable development," begins as follows:

"Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Kansas:

Section 1. (a) No public funds may be used, either directly or indirectly, to promote, support, mandate, require, order, incentivize, advocate, plan for, participate in or implement sustainable development. This prohibition on the use of public funds shall apply to:

(1) Any activity by any state governmental entity or municipality;

(2) the payment of membership dues to any association;

(3) employing or contracting for the service of any person or entity;

(4) the preparation, distribution or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, electronic communication, radio, television or video presentation;

(5) any materials prepared or presented as part of a class, course, curriculum or instructional material;

(6) any current, proposed or pending law, rule, regulation, code, administrative action or order issued by any federal or international agency; and

(7) any federal or private grant, program or initiative ...."

You can’t make this stuff up!

Defining sustainable
development

The sponsors of this legislation aren’t beating around the bush; they are explicit about what they oppose. The bill defines sustainable development as "a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come҆"

That sounds pretty good to me. I can’t understand what one would find to oppose in that definition of sustainability. Perhaps this illustrates just how much of a bubble I live in here in Vermont. That sustainable development can be seen as so evil that it needs legislating against simply boggles my mind. What’s wrong with providing for the needs of future generations?

Agenda 21

The radical right in this country has been gaining tremendous traction in vilifying Agenda 21, a nonbinding plan adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June, 1992.

Glen Beck and various Tea Party commentators (wrongly labeled as "conservatives") have fanned the flames of opposition to Agenda 21, painting it as an evil international conspiracy to deny Americans their property rights. The message seems to be taking hold. In 2012, for example, the Republican Party Platform included the statement, "We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty."

Kansas isn’t alone among states in seeking legislation opposing this supposed threat to our sovereignty. In June, 2012 Alabama became the first state to pass legislation related to Agenda 21 when both chambers of the state legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 477, referred to as the "Due Process for Property Rights" act.

Signed by Governor Robert Bentley, the law "specifically prevents all state agencies and local governments in Alabama from participating in the global scheme in any way," according to TheNewAmerican.com, a website owned by the John Birch Society.

A similar measure sailed through the Arizona Senate, but died in the Arizona House after that body failed to take final action on it before adjourning last year.

Is it evil to plan ahead?

To me, the irony of the Glen Beck/Tea Party opposition to planning for the future is that such planning should be at the heart of a truly conservative agenda. Conservative Americans should want to conserve resources so that their children and grandchildren will be able to benefit from those resources and enjoy the same comforts and wellbeing that they enjoy today.

Agenda 21 is a voluntary, non-binding action plan for addressing sustainable development. ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, an organization that’s being vilified almost as much as Agenda 21 by Beck and the Tea Party, provides invaluable resources to cities and towns that are seeking to become more sustainable. What could be wrong with that?

The fate of that
Kansas legislation

I don’t expect that House Bill 2366 in Kansas will make it into law. The bill was dealt somewhat of a setback when it came out in the national media that the chairman of the committee that drafted the bill, Dennis Hedke, is a consultant to the oil and gas industry. But even if this bill fails, the strong backlash against sustainability is clearly a cause for concern.

If such an extreme act is passed and signed into law, Kansas risks not only estranging itself from what should be the strongly conservative principle of sustainability, but it risks becoming a laughing stock of the nation.

Alex Wilson is the founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and the Resilient Design Institute (www.resilientdesign.org), both based in Brattleboro. Send comments or suggestions for future columns to alex@buildinggreen.com.