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Case Study: Anti-Science Prevents Necessary Action

English: Hampton Roads, Virginia from space

Here’s a fascinating but sad story being reported by Mother Jones, The Washington Post and Alternet:

“We Don’t Need None of That Smart-Growth Communism”


Virginia residents oppose preparations for climate-related sea-level rise


How Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories May Pose a Genuine Threat to Humanity

In summary:

The Middle Peninsula of Virginia, particularly Hampton Roads, will likely sink in coming decades. The area is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The Washington Post explains:

Outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the biggest risk from sea-level rise of any area its size in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The water has risen so much that Naval Station Norfolk is replacing 14 piers at $60 million each to keep ship-repair facilities high and dry.

Enter the Tea Party:

When planners redesignated property as a future flood zone, activists said officials were acting on a hoax. They argued in meetings and on Web sites that local planners are unwitting agents of Agenda 21, a United Nations environmental action plan adopted in 1992 that the activists see as a shadowy global conspiracy to grab land and redistribute wealth in the United States.

The Tea Partiers first unleashed their fury at a February meeting to launch an oyster farming concern in Virginia’s Mathews County.

Throughout the spring and summer, they shouted down planners (most of whom had likely never heard of the Agenda 21 document) and got so riled up that planners started calling for police to be present at the meetings and hired consultants to help keep meetings moving and productive.

According to Tea Party lore, the notion of sustainability is part of the evil UN plot (Agenda 21 being the governing document) to install Socialism in America.


As reported by Mother Jones, the Virginia uprising is part of a national movement against Agenda 21, the 18 year-old document that advocates sustainable growth:

In the tea partiers’ dystopian vision, the increased density favored by planners to allow for better mass transit become compulsory “human habitation zones.” They warn of Americans being forcibly moved from their suburban dream homes into urban “hobbit homes” and required to give up their cars and instead—gasp!—take the bus to work. The enemies in this fight are hidden behind bland trade-association names like the American Planning Association or ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability).

The Tea Party intimidation has made local planners afraid of retribution by state legislators looking to curry Tea Party favor.

Consider the case of long-time municipal planner Lewis L. Lawrence:

“My professional credentials have been challenged,” said Lawrence, who holds degrees in municipal planning and provides professional and technical planning advice to municipalities throughout the peninsula. He said he has heard whispers behind his back after meetings: “I’ve been brainwashed. I’ve been called a dupe for the U.N.”

And the kooks seem to be winning:

Shereen Hughes, a former planning commissioner in James City County, worried that some officials are giving ground to fearmongers. The uprising against smart growth “is ridiculous” and “a conspiracy theory,” she said.

But it’s effective. Planners aren’t saying this is wrong, Hughes said, because “most are afraid they won’t have a job if they’re too vocal about this issue.” Tea party members have political allies who “might stand up” against planners who complain, Hughes said.

Lawrence is more gracious than I would be:

Lawrence, a native of Gloucester County, bristled at being accused of undermining the constitutional rights of Virginians.

“It’s driving public policy sideways,” Lawrence said. “It’s not advancing it. It’s not going backward. The voice of a minority is trying to assert itself as the voice of the majority.”

Nonetheless, he said he has to give a little to get a little. “I welcome them every time,” Lawrence said.

Sometimes I wish we could make the Tea Party live in the world they fondly dream of.



December 27, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

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