Dear Virginia, Not Everything is a Conspiracy

Much to the chagrin of many of my colleagues that call DC home, I live across the Potomac River in Virginia.  While it may seem strange that I work in one “state” and live in another, this is not an entirely foreign concept to many people who live in major urban centers in the Northeast.  Yet to some DC urbanites, Virginia is a completely different planet even though it is only a short Metro ride from the District.

Sometimes, I must admit though, it does seem like a different world.  Several weeks ago, the Washington Post published a story about Virginia residents opposing the efforts of local planners in the Middle Peninsula region to reduce future threats from sea level rise by rezoning land.  These residents are convinced that the planning district commission is acting on behalf of an international conspiracy propagated by Agenda 21.  Some of those on the far right believe Agenda 21 is an attempt by the United Nations to eliminate individual property rights and establish a centralized world government, a so-called “new world order.”  In reality, Agenda 21 is the result of the 1992 Rio Summit on the environment and sustainable development—the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was also an outcome of this summit.    

Among the many “nefarious” components of the 300+ page Agenda 21 document are actions to address global poverty, improve public health, combat deforestation, promote renewable energy, and reduce industrial pollution.  How truly outrageous, right?  The more you read about this “conspiracy,” the more off-the-wall it gets.  If you believe these conspiracy theorists, “sustainable development” is really a ploy to steal your property and rob you of your constitutional rights.  In an attempt to stop this power grab, activists in Virginia have been verbally attacking local planners and disrupting public meetings.  While their motivations might be questionable, you do have to give them credit for taking an active role in local government decision-making. 

However, instead of attacking local officials for prudent planning, they should be supporting them.  For many coastal communities in the U.S., sea level rise will be one of the most damaging impacts from climate change.  As discussed in our Thirsty for Answers report, in nearby Norfolk, sea level rise and local land subsidence are contributing to severe flooding and putting many homes, businesses, and much infrastructure at risk.  As the earth warms further and sea levels rise higher, these risks will only increase.  To reduce these risks, many cities are beginning to require new development projects to consider and address threats from sea level rise.  By being proactive now, these communities are reducing potential loss of life, property damage, and economic losses associated with developing in hazardous areas.

A very vocal and fringe minority group in some Virginia communities is influencing local land use decisions that ultimately may end up affecting all residents.  Is the same thing going on in your community?  If your community is considering the impact of sea level rise in local land use decision-making, let your support be known.  If your city or town isn’t, you should encourage them to do so.  Don’t let a small, yet loud group dictate what happens in your community.