The Relief Report ®

A newsletter covering regulatory reform efforts in Washington and across America, published by The National Center for Public Policy Research

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Issue #79 * August 22, 2000 * David A. Ridenour, Editor


Treaty Grants the United Nations Control Over American Historical Landmarks

No Room for Science at the Union of Concerned Scientists


Treaty Grants the United Nations Control Over American Historical Landmarks

As Americans celebrate the 224th anniversary of our nation's independence and pause to remember the sacrifices made by our ancestors so that we may enjoy freedom today, perhaps no site evokes more poignant memories than Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Independence Hall is really where our nation was born. It is there that a young Thomas Jefferson was given the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence and where it was signed. It is there that George Washington was given command of the Continental Army - a move that made possible the American victory over the British. And it is there that the United States Constitution, the world's oldest and most successful federal constitution, was drafted and signed.

So why is it then that this hallowed symbol of American liberty is managed according to the will of the United Nations and not according to American laws? The reason: Independence Hall is an official United Nations World Heritage Site.

A U.N. World Heritage Site is an internationally-protected landmark of historical, cultural or natural significance that the U.S. government pledges the world body it will protect. When the U.S. signed the 1972 World Heritage Treaty, which established U.N. World Heritage Sites, the U.S. legally obligated itself to maintain our national treasures in accordance with standards set by the U.N., not the U.S.

The U.S. has also dedicated millions of acres of American land to U.N. Biosphere Reserves. Similar to World Heritage Sites, a Biosphere Reserve is an area set aside for conservation and scientific study which the U.S. promises to manage according to U.N. standards.

Independence Hall, designated a World Heritage Site more than 20 years ago, is not the only major American landmark governed under the auspices of the U.N. Other World Heritage Sites include the Statue of Liberty, Jefferson's Monticello, the Grand Canyon and several major national parks. But that is not all. At least 70 other sites have been identified for nomination as World Heritage Sites, including the Washington Monument, the Brooklyn Bridge and California's Sequoia National Park.

Defenders of the World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve programs argue that U.N. designations are symbolic and do not, in practice, infringe on the U.S. government's ability to manage the sites in accordance with domestic laws. It is true that - for the moment - the U.N. does not involve itself in the day-to-day management of World Heritage Sites. But there is nothing symbolic in the fact that the U.S., by signing the treaty, has legally bound itself to adhere to U.N. standards. This establishes an ominous precedent that could very well have major repercussions in the future if more intrusive U.N. treaties are negotiated.

Of special concern is that there is a serious lack of domestic oversight of the World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve programs because the Executive Branch can nominate any site it chooses without asking for congressional permission or even consulting with Congress. Likewise, political advocacy groups can directly petition the U.N. to list an area as a World Heritage Site or Biosphere Reserve without informing the localities that would be affected by the designation.

Not surprisingly, such semi-secretive maneuverings have caused major public backlash when exposed. For example, in 1995, an environmental advocacy group called the Catskill Center petitioned the U.N. to have New York's Catskill region designated a Biosphere Reserve. Although the proposal would have affected at least seven counties in the state, none of the officials in those counties were informed. It was only through the vigilant efforts of local citizens - already unhappy with state and federal land-use policies threatening property rights - that the Biosphere Reserve proposal was publicized. These concerned citizens contacted a state senator who was finally able to get some information as to what the U.N., located just down the Hudson River, was up to in their neighborhood. Wanting no part of the U.N. scheme, Catskill residents successfully lobbied to have their area removed from consideration. U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato and Congressman Gerald Solomon sent a letter to the U.S. State Department requesting that the Catskill region be removed from consideration as a Biosphere Reserve. The U.N. heeded the request and the site was not listed.

Americans may have thought that the Revolution of 1776 settled once and for all our sovereignty as a nation. But the U.N. World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve programs show that this is not the case. If you have any doubt, just go to Independence Hall and read the plaque on its wall: "World Heritage Site."

by John Carlisle


No Room for Science at the Union of Concerned Scientists

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an advocacy group of scientists based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, purports to recommend public policy solutions addressing a myriad of issues ranging from global warming to arms control on the basis of sound science.

But the reality is often different.

Upon closer inspection, the UCS is not so much a disinterested group of scientists volunteering their expertise to enlighten public opinion but rather a savvy activist group dedicated to mobilizing public support for political goals that many scientists cannot condone on the basis of sound science. The UCS demonstrates a pattern of misusing science to serve the organization's political agenda. Examples include mobilizing public support to cut greenhouse gas emissions to combat alleged man-made global warming and opposing a national missile defense system.

Nowhere is this political motivation more apparent than in the UCS's campaign to build support for Senate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. This treaty would require the United States to make economically-damaging cuts in greenhouse gases to stop global warming, even though many scientists dispute the very existence of man-made warming. The UCS attempts to frighten the public with claims that global warming, if left unchecked, will cause malaria and other dangerous diseases currently prevalent in the tropics to spread to the U.S. and other parts of the globe. According to the UCS, "warmer global temperatures will allow an expansion of the geographic range within which both the mosquito and parasite could survive with sufficient abundance."

But scientific opinion does not support the UCS's attempt to link the spread of malaria to alleged global warming. Dr. Paul Reiter, a chief entomologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), says global warming theory proponents ignore the fact that "malaria is not a tropical disease" and is just as capable of breaking out in colder climates like Alaska as in a tropical nation. In fact, CDC records "thousands of cases of malaria every year" in the U.S. Malaria doesn't occur as often in the U.S. as in tropical nations because of improvements in housing construction, the widespread use of air conditioning, insect repellants and other factors that reduce human exposure to mosquitoes. Dr. Reiter stresses that U.S. malarial outbreaks are not due to global warming, as the UCS might allege, but are usually the result of infected travelers returning from abroad. In Queens, New York, for instance, he noted that an infected traveler caused an outbreak of malaria just a few years ago. Concluded Dr. Reiter, "I wouldn't be surprised if we see more malaria cases [in Queens] but I wouldn't ascribe it to global climate change."

In the debate over the safety of foods genetically modified through agricultural biotechnology, the UCS seeks to give scientific credibility to some unsubstantiated claims of environmentalists who seek to ban this promising technology out of fear it could cause an environmental apocalypse. Agricultural biotechnology allows scientists to use genetic engineering to create, improve or modify plants. Already, it has produced plants capable of resisting insects and weeds without the use of costly and, in some cases, environmentally-risky pesticides and herbicides. But the UCS, repeating a frequently-voiced claim of biotechnology opponents, argues that such genetically-modified plants could transfer their genetic advantage to nearby weeds, creating "superweeds." The UCS warns that such superweeds, impervious to attempts at control, could relentlessly spread over the landscape and upset natural ecosystems. However, the mainstream scientific community rejects this science-fiction scenario. In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Basic Research, Dr. R. James Cook, Professor of Plant Pathology at Washington State University, stated, "I am not aware of a crop plant having become invasive because of plant breeding." Dr. Cook testified that "just the opposite occurs" because, through plant breeding and selection, humans have improved their ability to control potentially invasive weeds.

The UCS's criticism of agricultural biotechnology stands in sharp contrast to the enthusiastic support that a large majority of scientists have expressed for the technology. A petition organized by Dr. C.S. Prakash, director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University, endorsing the safety of agricultural biotechnology has been signed by nearly 2,300 scientists from around the world. Signers include Nobel prize-winners Dr. James Watson, the discoverer of the DNA's structure, and Dr. Norman Borlaug, considered the "Father of the Green Revolution." Commenting on the motivation for the misinformed opposition to biotechnology voiced by groups like the UCS, Dr. Borlaug concludes, "It's political. It's not scientific."

Indeed, politics and not science seem to determine the UCS's position on the environment and many other issues. Whatever the UCS's expertise at political activism, which is admittedly considerable, its qualifications to serve as a voice for unbiased scientific opinion are seriously in question.

by John Carlisle

Editorial correspondence to The Relief Report should be directed to: The National Center for Public Policy Research * 20 F Street NW, Suite 700 * Washington, D.C. 20001 * (202) 507-6398 * Fax (301) 498-1301 * E-mail [email protected] * Web Copyright 2000, The National Center for Public Policy Research. Coverage of meetings, activities or statements in the Relief Report does not imply endorsement by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints of material in the Relief Report permitted provided source is credited. To receive all National Center newsletters free by e-mail, visit or send an e-mail to: mailing [email protected].

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