Crosslands Bulletin

Only One Earth

Author: Felix Dodds and Michael Strauss
Release Date: October 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 312
Binding: Hardcover

Publisher Information
Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park
Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
UK
Phone: +44 1235 400 400
E-Mail: book.orders@tandf.co.uk
Web: http://www.routledge.com/

Two books about Agenda 21 came out within a month’s time late in 2012.  They couldn’t be more unalike or more contradictory. 

Only One Earth’, which sounds like the title of a novel, is actually an historical analysis of Agenda 21, the comprehensive plan created during an intergovernmental process within the UN.  The 40-chapter blueprint covers everything people need to do and how they should act if they want to survive and protect the planet Earth.

Two unabashed multilaterists wrote ‘Only One Earth’.  Felix Dodds has been active at the UN since 1990.  He attended all the world environmental summits since then.  Michael Strauss is a consultant for international NGOs and a media advisor for UN agencies.  The foreword is by Maurice Strong, the founding director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP).  Strong served as the secretary general of both the Stockholm conference on the human environment in 1972 and the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

The other book is titled ‘Agenda 21’.  It is strictly a work of fiction.  The novel paints an Orwellian picture of what life could be under a government regime patterned on the UN formula.

Glenn Beck, the ultra-conservative American commentator and talk show host, wrote the 15-page epilogue to ‘Agenda 21’ explaining why and how the book came to be.  Beck  denigrates Maurice Strong in the afterword because he is (in fact) “a multi-billionaire who has taken up environmentalism as a cause.”  The novel, though, is actually penned by Harriet Parke, a registered nurse in western Pennsylvania.  She proves herself to be a creative writer with laudable talent.

Beck holds the view that Agenda 21 is “all about control.  Control over land, natural resources, and, ultimately, entire populations.” 

Beck writes: “Unsurprisingly, the language and objectives of Agenda 21 are the culmination of every Marxist/progressive fantasy developed over the last hundred years.  From education to transportation to food and water, there is literally no area of life that Agenda 21 does not attempt to regulate and control in some way.” 

Beck seizes on a remark Strong once made: “Frankly, we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse.”  So it has in Parke’s dystopian novel.

Parke mentions nothing about Agenda 21, nothing about international agreements, and nothing whatsoever about the UN.  The story is a spare and stark account, cold and tense, quite reminiscent of the 1971 science fiction film THX 1138 directed by Star Wars creator George Lucas. 

Parke’s central character is Emmeline, a teenager, living in a Spartan concrete dwelling in a bleak, fenced compound.  Her day-long job, monitored by enforcers, is to walk on a treadmill that pumps power into a central grid, and to breed for the benefit of an anonymous Republic.  She eats nourishment cubes rationed daily by gatekeepers.  She is paired with men selected for her by the Central Authority.  She has a baby, which is immediately taken away to be raised in a strictly regulated nursery in a separate area reserved for children.  

The rest of the story is about Emmeline’s struggle to understand and overcome the circumstances of her life.  Family relationships, meaningful social intercourse, and, indeed, knowledge about the past are prevented by the Central Authorities.  The inhabitants of the settlement are trapped by a remorseless Republic that dictates every aspect of their lives.  The preservation of nature counts more than the well-being of individual people.  This is the author’s imaginary view of what society could be in the extreme if Agenda 21 were to become a reality.

The publisher Threshold Editions is a new imprint of Simon & Schuster that specializes in conservative titles.  The publisher of ‘Only One Earth’ is Earthscan from Routledge.  The imprint features books about environment and sustainability.

Routledge has a scholastic tradition dating back to 1836.  The stable of authors includes Albert Einstein, Marshall McLuhan, and Jean-Paul Sartre.  ‘Only One Earth’ is not nearly of the same caliber, but it is undoubtedly the best volume ever to trace the history of sustainable development within the UN. 

The slogan “only one Earth” comes from a report commissioned by Maurice Strong at the UN from pioneering environmentalists Barbara Ward and René Dubois in 1972.  The passionate pair were among the first to sound a clarion about the impacts of human activity.

Part one — about half the book — covers in quite some detail the institutional developments, legal and voluntary policy frameworks, and outcomes of the UN negotiations over the 40-year period from 1972 up to and following publication of the UN’s Agenda 21 in 1992.  The authors are insiders.  They are especially knowledgeable and thorough in their reporting on the sessions of the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development.  Their account is revealing, credible, and very useful despite the dry, bureaucratic prose.

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development was created to coordinate “the implementation of Agenda 21’s sprawling constellation of efforts by governments, UN agencies, and civil society to integrate social, economic, and environmental policies.”  It has traveled down a rocky road.  The authors share many insights into the commission’s  toils, troubles, and downright bad luck.   

Part two describes frustrating roadblocks impeding the implementing of Agenda 21 and other commitments agreed on at the UN sustainable development summit meetings.   Part two also makes recommendations to reverse the situation.

The dominant chapter of part two is about “the implementation gap.”  In its 45 pages, the chapter reviews the status of Agenda 21 (and the principles in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which are the heirs to the Stockholm Principles agreed on in 1972).  Each chapter of Agenda 21 and each Rio principle is assessed using a “traffic light” rating system.  Many are found to have achieved “no progress or regression”, and more have “limited progress/far from target.”  A few have witnessed “good progress or are on target.”  

According to the survey, only five chapters of Agenda 21 are rated as “good”.  Not one is fully achieved.  Readers can only surmise that Emmeline has nothing to fear. 

A chapter in the second part of ‘Only One Earth’ is titled  “the governance gap.”  In this case, Glenn Beck is more than likely to get a serious case of heartburn.  The authors argue for much stronger global institutions.  They say influential UN agencies must get enough power to “ensure worldwide environmental protection.”  Among the newly empowered authorities they endorse are an international court for the environment, a world environmental organization, and a sustainable development council of the UN General Assembly. 

The authors admit: “This, frankly, will require some reduction in national sovereignty by individual countries for the sake of all the people living on our only one Earth.”  The authors declare: “The UN provides our best chance to all live together on this planet in a fair and equitable way.”

We’d like to ask Emmeline what she thinks of that.

At the end of the book, Dodds and Strauss expressed their hopes that the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) would be a significant step by governments of the world toward modifying economic and social behavior.  The conference would prove not to be a success in that respect.   

They covered their bets, however.  They wrote:

“For the roll-call vote that will determine the success or failure of sustainable development — and the survivability of modern cultures — will be the sum total of all the actions of all the members of all our countries for the next twenty years.”

Virtually everyone who was older than 30 when the UN convened the first Earth Summit in Stockholm will not be alive to know the outcome.     

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