Who remembers Local Agenda 21?
On Sunday morning, during my Government sanctioned outing to the shop, I found an A4 sheet of paper crudely pasted to a noticeboard in our local park. On it was the first tangible evidence I had seen of the craziest of all crazy conspiracy theories going around. In summary (take a deep breath), apparently, Covid-19 is being caused not by a virus, but by the 5G network, in order to let Bill Gates/the Illuminati bring out a toxic ‘vaccine’ to murder people in order to bring down carbon emissions. Given the screed also implied climate science is a proxy for dictatorship, via Local Agenda 21, I’m not quite sure how that is meant to work – consistency is not the conspiracy theorists’ strong point – and Occam’s razor is clearly an alien concept (or that’s what they want you to think…).
It is quite something to add together reds-under-the-bed paranoia, anti-vax, climate denial and luddism with a sprinkling of implied anti-semitism. But the unexpected ingredient in the recipe that amused me was Local Agenda 21.
It’s the first time I’ve heard mention of LA21 in any context for many, many years. For those unfamiliar with the history, Agenda 21 was a non-binding agreement arising out of the original Earth Summit in 1992 setting out environmental protection targets to be met by 2021. Part of the implementation of Agenda 21 was Local Agenda 21 – Think Global, Act Local as the slogan had it.
In practice, every local authority appointed a well-scrubbed, supernaturally earnest young person to busy themselves helping community groups dig a pond or a school build a nature garden. The idea that these supremely nice kids in their spotless fleeces reaching kids about newts were the shock troops of a shadowy totalitarian regime is quite hilarious. Despite having been a Councillor with a role in Sustainability for 15 years, I can’t remember the last time I heard the term LA21 used, so I haven’t a clue why it is resurfacing now. In any case, Agenda 21 was superseded by the Sustainable Development Goals (aka Agenda 2030) in 2015 .
At the risk of winding up the tin foil hat brigade further, the problem with Local Agenda 21 was that it didn’t change much on a local scale and nothing on the global scale. Think Global, Act Local was interpreted as “lots of tiny incremental improvements will add up to massive global change.” In reality, the benefits of all the (admirable) little local projects facilitated by LA21 officers were swamped by the crushing momentum of business as usual all around them. This was the era of paying lip service to Sustainability by launching a few largely cosmetic projects which could be wheeled out at any time to show what “we are doing for the environment” – greenwash is not too harsh a verdict.
Today, things are quite different. Local authorities and other large organisations have declared ‘climate emergencies’ or set equivalent targets and are at least wrestling with the big issues even if the solutions are not yet emerging on the ground. This is what Think Global, Act Local should have meant – lots of step changes locally will add up to step changes globally – a wonderfully democratic, devolved, liberal way of delivering on global needs – and the antithesis of the New World Order totalitarianism lurking in the fevered minds of the paranoid.