Although it only had a mere three hours of prime-time network coverage, Boston’s Democratic National Convention drew a high point of about 20 million viewers to hear John Kerry’s acceptance speech and watch the balloons and confetti fly.  Then, after Americans join a few billion other viewers to watch the Olympics from Athens this month, millions more will tune in to see the GOP do its thing from the Big Apple in late August.

But while election politics and the international quest for athletic gold are drawing the bulk of attention these days, an event recently took place in Reno, Nevada that – although it can’t boast anywhere near the same level of attention – has the potential to affect the global community for the better for generations to come.

What event could that possibly be, you might wonder?  How about the fifth annual national conference of something called “Freedom 21.”   Never heard of it before?  Well if you follow these kinds of issues, you no doubt will, because this is a growing movement of concerned citizens here and around the world who are working like the dickens to make sure that the principles of freedom aren’t just the legacy of centuries past, but the cornerstone of political, social and economic discourse for centuries to come.

Freedom 21, of which CFACT was a co-founding organization, is a coalition of groups that came together, quite literally, in the waning days of the last century, to build a domestic and international movement that could promote freedom as the guiding principle for the 21st Century and beyond.  Concerned that the overall direction of policy makers, academia, NGO’s, and government leaders here and abroad all seemed to be heading down the road of more, and not less, centralized management, Freedom 21 was created to reaffirm and promote the wildly successful but no less wildly maligned notion that free individuals, not powerful ruling bodies, are the best hope for a prosperous future for all the earth’s inhabitants.

At the annual conference in Reno, attendees got together from more than 30 states to exchange ideas, broaden their networks, and hear from powerful speakers including two Congressman, one former state supreme court chief justice, one huge country-western star, and a host of policy experts and movement leaders.

But it was the enthusiasm and energy of the more than 350 committed souls in attendance – a number more than three times that of previous gatherings – that is reason to believe the Freedom 21 movement is here to stay.

Among the most significant efforts of Freedom 21, and the one gaining the greatest amount of international traction, is its effort to provide the world with an alternative to the U.N.’s  “Agenda 21” plan for sustainable development.  That U.N. plan, designed to be an international roadmap for the 21st Century, was first released at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, and as expected, calls for greater government oversight of land, resources, industry, agriculture and population.

By contrast, Freedom 21’s alternative, which was released at the World Summit on Sustainable Development that took place in South Africa in 2002 to mark the 10th anniversary of Rio, takes a careful look at the underlying premises for many of these environmental and social “crises,” and offers principles and policy recommendation in each of these areas based upon, surprise, surprise, the principles of freedom.

Freedom 21’s alternative opens with a broad discussion concerning principles of governance, comparing and contrasting the philosophies of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.   It argues that Locke’s emphasis on individual rights, which was a cornerstone of the founding of the United States of America, is far superior to that of Rousseau’s emphasis on the “general will,” and has led to unparalleled prosperity and freedom.  It further discusses how environmental policy in the United States and at the international level is closely following Rousseau’s model of top-down governance, and undermining the very foundation of freedom in the U.S. and abroad.

The document then discusses five broad areas of human and environmental concern: namely, 1) population and poverty issues; 2) land issues and property rights; 3) air and water issues; 4) chemicals and management of waste; and 5) energy and food.  Each section offers a factual overview of the particular issues, followed by specific principles and policy recommendations.

Among the key principles:

  • A vibrant free market economy, not big government programs, reduces poverty. The true pillars of wealth, as noted by many scholarly experts, are property rights, fully transferable and secured by a legal system free of corruption and over-regulation.
  • Population growth does not necessitate depleted resources, and there are currently no shortages of food, raw materials or energy.  Nor is there anything to prevent increased production.
  • Current land use solutions contained in various international treaties and United Nations goals are often based on incorrect biological principles and will threaten rather than help species and ecosystem heath. This is because they depend upon a central command and control system of protection and management that is diametrically opposed to time proven application of private property rights.
  • The biggest obstacles to greater crop yields in the developing nations are poverty, war, corruption, restrictive societies that stifles creativity and initiative, and an absence of private property rights and legal institutions that enable and encourage entrepreneurship. Yet Agenda 21 proposes a controlled society, exactly the opposite of what is needed.
  • Global warming is poorly understood, and human factors are likely to play an insignificant role.   Contrary to assertions by the United Nations and many environmental groups, there is no scientific consensus that global warming is caused by human activity, and it may simply represent a recovery from the Little Ice Age in the 1700’s.

When the Freedom 21 alternative was first released at the Johannesburg summit, it wasn’t done in the middle of a conference room, or in the banquet hall of a fancy hotel.  Rather, it was done as part of a march by more than 600 workers, farmers, students, and citizens from South Africa, India, Kenya, and several other developing nations who were demanding that international policies actually help them rise above their current economic and environmental condition.  They were marching on behalf of freedom.  And from the looks of it, the Freedom 21 brush fire that started five years ago, picked up heat in South Africa, and became a roaring flame in Reno, is not likely to be extinguished anytime soon.

The Freedom 21 alternative is now undergoing its second major review, and will soon be available to read and endorse at



    CFACT, founded in 1985 by Craig Rucker and the late (truly great) David Rothbard, examines the relationship between human freedom, and issues of energy, environment, climate, economics, civil rights and more.