Doomsday Every Day.


Sustainable Economics, Sustainable Tyranny

What will be the Clinton "legacy" is an intriguing question that comes up in various contexts. Certainly there have been unprecedented political and sexual scandals. The last American administration of the twentieth century will also be remembered for its devotion to feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, and one-worldism. Less well known, but arguably more world-changing in its effects, is the administration's dedication to the concept of sustainable development.

"Sustainable development" was the galvanizing theme of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Based on the work of the Brundtland Commission in 1987, the goal of sustainable development has been enthusiastically promoted by the World Bank, the U.N. Development Fund, the U.N. Environment Programme, and the United Nations agencies promoting "world governance." It inspires President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development. It has precipitated an avalanche of World Bank publications, such as the fourteen volumes of the Environmentally Sustainable Development Proceedings series of the 1990s, transforming untold acreages of forest into official paper. The phrase occurs frequently in the Chinese Communist press, usually in conjunction with news about the progress being made in the family planning program (Hong 1998). The two topics--sustainable development and "family planning"--are linked throughout the literature.

Economists have struggled, without much success, to reconcile the various definitions that have been offered for "sustainable development." Herman Daly, an economist who has been involved since the beginning, says not to worry--lots of good ideas can't be defined (1996, 2). Daly, long associated with the World Bank, has written the seminal works in the field and is now joined by a host of authors producing textbooks for the college generation. Instruction in "sustainable economics" suffuses or replaces introductory economics courses at a number of institutions.

Whatever it is, sustainable development promises to transform life on this planet. The Rio conference produced agreements on everything from land-use planning (including "sustainable mountain development") and greenhouse gases to, of course, birth control. There were agreements on "human settlements," "sustainable agriculture," "biodiversity," and on and on in its "Agenda 21" and its Climate Convention and its Convention on Biological Diversity (Agenda 21 1992). Though Congress did not adopt the program, the Clinton administration proceeded as if it had, adopting new federal regulations and appointing a President's Council on Sustainable Development, made up of federal officials and prominent environmentalists, to pursue the agenda with vigor.

The Clinton Council on Sustainable Development has issued its own version of Agenda 21, declaring that we must "change consumption patterns," "restructure" education, "conduct a high-visibility public awareness campaign ... to adopt sustainable practices," "create a network of conservation areas for each bioregion ... based on public/private partnerships" (so much for private property), "realign social, economic and market forces ... to embrace conservation," "use building codes [to secure] ... environmental benefits," have "local ... community planning ... to develop a common vision," create "a council of ... key stakeholders to ... achieve sustainable management of forests," and "promote development of compact ... neighborhoods" (good-bye, suburbs) (President's Council 1995).

Moreover, it decreed that "population must be stabilized at a level consistent with the capacity of the earth to support its inhabitants," whatever that capacity might be (President's Council 1995). The definitions may be elusive, but the program is uniform throughout the literature. It is to create massive, new bioregional conservation areas; control land use, consumption, and markets; re-educate the masses; and control population.

The Sierra Club announced at the U.N. Population Conference in Cairo in 1994 that "local activists" of the club in the United States were working "in a consensus-based ... process to establish ... thresholds for ... population and consumption impact on the local ecoregion.... Addressing local carrying capacities will improve the quality of life for all and help develop sustainable communities" (Sierra Club 1994). The club didn't specify what action those local activists would take if it turns out that local populations exceed carrying capacity, but, as will be shown, other devotees of sustainability have done so.

Since the Rio conference, more than 130 countries have created new bureaucracies to implement Agenda 21 and its requirements for sustainable development, according to the Earth Council, whose head is Maurice Strong, director of the Rio conference and now assistant secretary general of the United Nations (Earth Council 1997). Many local and regional compacts for sustainable development exist in the United States, stretching from Florida through Missouri to Santa Cruz and Humboldt County, California. Henry Lamb of the Environmental Conservation Organization has described some of them, including the statewide plans for Florida and Missouri (1998).

Sustained by foundation money and federal grants, rarely mentioning Agenda 21, salaried environmental activists are convening unsuspecting local citizens to engage in the "visioning" process to plan for the sustainable community in their future. Vice President Gore's Clean Water Initiative and the administration's American Heritage Rivers Initiative are nurturing the process by encouraging local "watershed councils" to make comprehensive plans for their regions.

Herman Daly's Apocalyptic Vision

Probably not many of these souls have read the works of Herman Daly or Maurice Strong, the Rio documents, or the modern college textbooks in sustainable economics. If they had, they might be less eager to help. Daly, an economist, first came to national attention during the 1970s when the Joint Economic Committee of Congress published his plan for reducing births by government licensing. As in China, the government would issue the licenses in the restricted numbers requisite for achieving its population targets, and persons attempting to give birth without licenses would be punished. Unlike the Chinese system, the licenses could be bought or sold, as in the modern schemes for emissions control (Daly 1976).

People of common sense hearing such schemes tend to find them fantastic and amusing. But the World Bank was so enchanted by Daly's notions that it gave him a job as a senior economist in the Environment Department. In 1990 he and a theologian co-author, John B. Cobb, Jr., published their comprehensive plan for the salvation of the world, For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy towards Community, the Environment and a Sustainable Future. Disputing major teachings of economics, the authors called for university "reform" to reduce the influence of economics and increase attention to the "social and global crisis" (357-60). That reform, of course, is now going forward. Like other leaders of mass movements, they argued that logical reasoning is greatly overdone and called for "a conscious shift toward ... relativisation" (359). Such a shift also is rapidly occurring. Daly's hostility toward economics is not unique; many aspiring world-changers have seen economics, with its emphasis on logical reasoning based on fact, as the enemy of their plans.

Daly and Cobb called for the conversion of "half or more" of the land area of the United States to unsettled wilderness inhabited by wild animals (255), the abolition of private land ownership (256-59), a giant forced reduction in trade and a change to self-sufficiency at not only the national level but at local levels also (229-35, 269-72), government controls to reduce output to "sustainable biophysical limits" (whatever those might be) (143), and the resettlement of a large portion of the population to rural areas (264, 311)--remember Cambodia and Poi Pot, who has been called "the ultimate deep ecologist."

Moreover, they wanted a prohibition of the movement of private wealth (221, 233)--so much for any escape from the sustainable paradise--the abolition of direct elections, except for local officials who would in turn elect higher officers of the government (177), and, of course, complete population control by means of birth licenses. The intent was to promote the "biospheric vision" in the spirit of "deep ecology," which sees the need for a "substantial decrease in the human population" to promote "the flourishing of nonhuman life" (377). They added that this necessary reduction in the "human niche," a phrase echoed in subsequent United Nations documents, might be achieved either by a fall in population or by a decline in resource consumption (378).

Daly and Cobb understood that these vast changes would require some readjustments in attitudes, to say the least, and saw hope in the "influence of ecological and feminist sensitivities" (377). Not only have those attitude adjustments materialized, but academic economics, identified by Daly as the enemy, has also been remarkably helpful, producing quantities of new books and courses on sustainable development and related topics. Generous grants from government, foundations, and international agencies have encouraged this outpouring.

The justification for these massive changes in human life on the planet lay in what Daly and Cobb called "the wild facts"--that is, the alleged extinction of species, the ozone hole, the greenhouse effect, acid rain, and the imminent exhaustion of oil supplies. The last, of course, has disappeared from the current list of portending calamities; but never mind, we now have deforestation...

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