Thursday, August 4, 2011

First They Came for the Light Bulbs

Few issues get Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) going quite like light bulbs. At campaign stops across the country, she has repeatedly denounced a 2007 law that required manufacturers to develop energy-efficient light bulb varieties. Bachmann sees the law as an affront to American values. "I think Thomas Edison did a pretty patriotic thing for this country by inventing the light bulb," she told a New Hampshire audience in March. "And I think darn well, you New Hampshirites, if you want to buy Thomas Edison's wonderful invention, you should be able to!"

In reality, no one's stopping New Hampshirites (or anyone else, for that matter) from buying any kind of light bulb they please—even the incandescent variety that Bachmann warns will be outlawed unless we pass the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act that she co-sponsored. (BULB would repeal the energy-efficiency rules.) But Bachmann's crusade is about much more than energy-conserving bulbs: the Minnesota congresswoman is part of a movement that considers "sustainability" an existential threat to the United States, one with far-reaching consequences for education, transportation, and family values. If Bachmann is right, light bulbs will soon be the least of our worries.

Bachmann's concerns may have been best articulated in an interview she gave to the American Family Association's OneNewsNow in 2008. As Republicans in Washington revolted over the rising costs of gas, the then-freshman congresswoman outlined the stakes:

"This is their agenda—I know it's hard to believe, it's hard to fathom, but this is 'Mission Accomplished' for them," she said of congressional Democrats. "They want Americans to take transit and move to the inner cities. They want Americans to move to the urban core, live in tenements, [and] take light rail to their government jobs. That's their vision for America."

Although she didn't say it right then, Bachmann likely had something specific in mind: Agenda 21, a two-decade-old United Nations agreement that has taken on a life of its own on the far-right. The agreement, forged in 1992, nominally committed signatories to a set of shared values designed to mitigate the environmental impact of human development. Member countries agreed to a range of sustainability goals, from preserving the ozone layer to ensuring that forests are managed so they'll be around for future generations. (The US is a signatory, but the treaty has not been ratified by the Senate.)

But to some conservatives, Agenda 21 became something far more nefarious—a gateway to a global government built on a radical doctrine of secular environmentalism.