Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Unusual Reading in Buffalo: From John Birch to Glenn Beck

In summer, I like to put aside an hour or so each work day to read various articles and books that I have stumbled across during the busy semester but lacked time to review. Today, the top of my stacks were an article from The New American and a book by Glenn Beck. It was really just coincidence that these two hit the top of my piles today,  but it has made for a surreal afternoon.

First up is an article from The New American (the publication of the John Birch Society) by Tom DeWeese, entitled Conservation Easements and the Urge to Rule. You know an article is gonna be good when the first sentence mentions the Green Mafia. DeWeese's piece argues that conservation easements are the biggest threat to small family farmers out there. I don't want to spend too much time on his article, because it is just so chock full of problems and errors that it would take too long. He conflates conservation easements and zoning law and seems to rest everything on one case study whose facts are unclear in his piece. My favorite line though is where he compares land trusts to commodity traders buying and selling conservation easements at a significant profit. That sentence on page 2 is where he really lost any credibility he might have had with me. While not an adherent of the John BIrch Society, I have been a vocal critic of the uses of conservation easements. It is always surprising to me when I see them attacked from the right. In many ways, they embody fundamental conservative ideals of promoting and protecting private property rights. Instead of saying landowners can freely enter into any contract regarding their land that they like (a clear libertarian approach), DeWeese seems to be suggesting that any limitation on property rights (even voluntary ones) should not be permitted. Without giving too much credence to DeWeese's writing on this, I am just generally befuddled by the lack of consistency in the property rights movement.

I wish I could also share an interview with Becky Norton Dunlop of the Heritage Foundation on Fox News from February 2010 where she amusingly asserts conservation easements are akin to eminent domain, but the clip no longer appears available.

After zooming through that little article, I picked up Agenda 21 by Glenn Beck. Wow is this a crazy book. Now I don't have cable tv (and would unlikely be tuning into FoxNews if I did), so I have a general understanding of who Glenn Beck is but haven't really seen much more than clips. This may explain why I had no idea what I was in for. I was looking for a book to give me the conservative take on Agenda 21 conspiracy. I gave a talk at the Western New York Land Conservancy earlier this summer, and the Conservancy chose not to advertise the talk in the Buffalo News for fear of Agenda 21 protesters. I am super a bit embarrassed to admit that I was unfamiliar with the conservative Agenda 21 battle cry. My take on Agenda 21 thus far is that it is pretty toothless. Lots of big ideas with little action. So I was pretty surprised to hear that some radical right groups appear afraid of it. Clearly they must fear what it symbolizes rather than what it actually does. Enter Glenn Beck. Someone told me that Glenn Beck wrote a book about Agenda 21 and it is a fast read. What that person failed to mention is that it is a 1984-esque sci fi novel set in a future where Agenda 21 has led to a dystopia. Wanna hear my secret? I kinda love it. It is completely ridiculous, of course, but a great beach read ... if you were willing to let people see you reading it in public.

Jessica Owley






Beaches, Books, Conservation Easements, Eminent Domain, Land Trust, Planning, Property Rights, Sustainability, Zoning | Permalink

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Wow oh wow. I just finished the book. I am a sci-fi fan and enjoy books about dystopia (want higher quality than The Hunger Games? Check out Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake followed by The Year of the Flood). Glenn Beck's book is a page-turner but not well written. The characters are shells without real depth or interest. This all makes sense when you get to the afterword.

The afterword asserts that this novel could become real if Agenda 21 is carried out. He seems particularly upset about possible land use changes and uses the phrase "walkable cities" as though it were a dirty word and plan to enslave Americans. He asserts that we should be worried anytime we hear some one use the "equity" because that leads to suffering .. or something... I shouldn't actually present myself as understanding his arguments, because they make no sense. Thinking about how our actions impact each other and the world around us shouldn't be viewed as evil but as common sense.

(and of course there is nothing consistent here... if you read his afterword and his concerns about Agenda 21, they don't seem like they would lead to the world he describes in the book where people are obsessed with energy production and preventing social interactions).

for consistency and common sense, I'll have to look elsewhere. Anyone have a good book to recommend (bonus points if it is a novel that talks about sustainability or climate change)

Posted by: Jessie Owley | Aug 9, 2013 11:34:41 AM

Oh wait! I can't believe I forgot to mention the conservation easements!

Glenn Beck asserts that conservation easements and indeed any efforts "to preserve existing scenic views and vistas" is "classic Agenda 21-speak"

but he doesn't explain why? Or why these are bad things? Perhaps just because they are potential limits on private property rights? I'd be happy to have any one chime in and try to explain it to me.

Posted by: Jessie Owley | Aug 9, 2013 11:40:02 AM