In 2008, the presidential nominees of both the Democrat and Republican parties acknowledged the reality of climate change, although they understandably differed on how to address it: Arizona Senator John McCain had co-authored legislation on the issue (although he later stepped back from efforts to adopt a cap-and-trade bill), and Barack Obama continued to argue for bringing fossil fuel emissions under control after he was elected president (although his words and his deeds have been not enough for everyone who wanted to see action on the subject.)
Four years later, while President Obama's administration stands behind the science of climate change, the four men battling to be his opponent in November do not. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has moved from stating, in June 2011, that, "I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer … I believe that humans contribute to that," to asserting after three months in the cauldron of the primary process that, "My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once famously sat on a couch alongside then-speaker Nancy Pelosi in a commercial for (gulp!) Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection – a move he now describes as "one of the dumbest things I've done in recent years"; his view now, he says, is that evidence of anthropogenic climate change “is not complete and I think that we’re a long way from being able to translate a computer program into actual science." (He added for good measure that, "I, also, am an amateur paleontologist, so I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Earth’s temperature over a long time, and I’m a lot harder to convince than just looking at a computer model.")
In 2008, Texas Rep. Ron Paul stated that, "It is clear that the earth experiences natural cycles in temperature. However, science shows that human activity probably does play a role in stimulating the current fluctuations." A year or so later, however, he had changed his tune, proclaiming that, "The greatest hoax I think that has been around for many, many years if not hundreds of years has been this hoax on [...] global warming."
Earlier this month, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum took Paul's position one step further, describing the notion of human involvement in climate changes as "just absurd", and dismissing the theory as "an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life."
Santorum is not alone in proclaiming climate change as a great conspiracy rather than consensus science; but, at least among certain aspects of U.S. society, that conspiracy extends beyond climate issues, which are apparently merely the thin end of the wedge.
In August last year, Lloyd Alter wrote on Treehugger about a growing movement that apparently saw nothing but sinister, one-world-government motives behind, of all things, Agenda 21, a document that was one of the primary outcomes of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Anyone who was in any way involved with the Rio process or worked on environmental issues at the time would find laughable the notion of dark forces at play in a document that calls for "the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future," but Alter was adamant. He pointed to blogosphere claims that, for example:
Alter now seems quite prescient. In January, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution "exposing" Agenda 21 – which, remember, is 20 years old – as "a comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control". And earlier this month, the New York Times reported that activists across the country "are railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities."
In Colorado's gubernatorial elections, for example, Republican candidate Dan Maes argued that a Denver bike-share program was a "very well-disguised" part of a plot to convert the city "into a United Nations community." From Virginia to California, local council members have been shouted down, smeared as Nazis and fascists and accused of being United Nations dupes for committing such crimes, as, for example, preparing to use land as a dike for sea level rise. "It sounds a little on the weird side, but we’ve found we ignore it at our own peril," the Times quoted George Homewood, a vice president of the American Planning Association’s chapter in Virginia, as saying.
Alter is convinced that, weird as they indeed may seem, Agenda 21 conspiracies aren't going anywhere:
IMAGE: A US army Black Hawk helicopter flies over ISAF July 9, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo by Charles Ommanney/Reportage/Getty Images) The use of the term black helicopter in the title of this article is as a metonym.