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Agenda 21, a wild conspiracy theory reignited by coronavirus
A conspiracy theory that 90 percent of the world's population will be killed off spreads widely on pandemic fears.
- The Agenda 21 conspiracy theory is spreading widely thanks to pandemic fears.
- The theory falsely claims the United Nations and governments are colluding to wipe out 90 percent of the global population.
- Agenda 21 is based on an actual UN resolution from 1992 and is aimed at the sustainability movement.
In an age drowning in conspiracy theories, Agenda 21, a tinfoil favorite that goes back to the '90s has been reignited by the coronavirus. The gist – a totalitarian world cabal is trying to depopulate the planet by 90 percent and the U.N. is in on it. As are numerous governments (including yours). The reason for the conspiracy theory's recent surge in shares and popularity? It can tie in vaccinations, Soros, Bill Gates, and 5G into a neat nexus of paranoid fantasies.
The conspiracy, spun out of a nonbinding UN resolution on sustainable development from 1992, actually envisions a whole New World Order that is supposedly being brought into existence by nefarious global operators. The "21" part of Agenda 21 refers to the target year of 2021 from the original UN plan. By now that goal post has been moved to 2030, by which date, the conspiracy claims, we would get a one-world government, subjugating the rest of the nations. The smörgåsbord of fears includes one world currency, one religion (if any), one military, no private property, no family units, mandatory vaccines, microchips for everyone, Social Credit System, 5G monitoring, and the government raising your children and controlling all the schools. People would not be able to own cars or businesses as everything will be managed either by corporations or governments.
Agenda 21, as it's currently presented in social media on accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, also attacks Universal Basic Income and purports people will be segregated into human settlement zones (a favorite of dystopian teenage fiction).
And there'd be no fossil fuels, a fact that doesn't necessarily sound so bad, but is part of a hyperbolic list of horrible things that attacks the environmental movement and certain progressive goals.
Of course, some parts of the conspiracy may not sound too far-fetched to us, as they draw upon the tensions of our current societies and have grains of truth to them. But taken as a whole, Agenda 21 is a collection of unproven and unprovable attacks on reason and truth that was "being used by extremists and mainstream politicians to stoke fears and stifle rational policymaking across the country" as concluded a 2014 report by the Southern Policy Law Center (SPLC). The same can be said of today.
How to shut down coronavirus conspiracy theories | Michael Shermer
As explained to BuzzFeed News by Heidi Beirich, who co-authored the SPLC report, "Fears are running rampant in the far right that [the coronavirus] is some part of a conspiracy, maybe by the Chinese government, other global actors, even George Soros, to do 'something' to conservatives or Americans." What does this lead to? "It's not surprising that Agenda 21 would pop up again in that environment," thinks Beirich.
Lest you think only fringe elements can believe such a modern anxiety hodgepodge, these beliefs find their way into mainstream conversations, with Newt Gingrich, Senator Ted Cruz, and Glenn Beck (who wrote a book about it) bringing Agenda 21 up in their speeches. And the 2012 platform of the Republican Party stated flatly "we strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty."
Over the years, fears of Agenda 21 found their way into opposing efforts by local governments to promote resource and land conservation or build bike lanes or public transportation hubs. Real-world impact caused by oversized reactions to an agreement that SLPC described as "a feel-good guide that cannot force anyone, anywhere, to do anything at all."
There is enough fertile ground for such ideas to spread, as evidenced by a published letter to the editor that maintains Agenda 21 wants to get the world population under 500 million. That means about 7 billion (or 90 percent of us) have to be eliminated somehow. And, of course, what better way than a pandemic?
The 1992 UN resolution that gave birth to this dangerous meme was a rather innocuous affair, not worthy of such continued attention. U.N. often comes across as a powerless and ineffectual organization and claims of such well-coordinated evil designs are highly farfetched. Of course, that's what they want you to think.
As it explains on a page of the UN Division for Sustainable Development Goals website dedicated to Agenda 21, the document is a "comprehensive plan of action" that is supposed to be carried out at every level – global, national and local. It is to be undertaken by all the organizations that comprise the United Nations System as well as the leaders of nations. In fact, the signers at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janerio in June 1992 included 178 governments.
The agreement was also to apply rather broadly to "major groups in every area" where humans impact the environment. The misinformation about Agenda 21 brings potential harm to millions of people, while the goals of the document itself are concerned with managing various types of waste, women's health, public transportation and encouraging sustainability cooperation that should start at the local level to be successful.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the globe, the wild spread of theories that will stop some people from taking necessary precautions, medicine, and eventual vaccines, is a tragic illness of its own.
Read the full text (comprised of 351 pages) of the Agenda 21 here.
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"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
David Schmidt, a geology professor at Westminster College, had just arrived in the South Dakota Badlands in summer 2019 with a group of students for a fossil dig when he received a call from the National Forest Service. A nearby rancher had discovered a strange object poking out of the ground. They wanted Schmidt to take a look.
"One of the very first bones that we saw in the rock was this long cylindrical bone," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "The first thing that came out of our mouths was, 'That kind of looks like the horn of a triceratops.'"
After authorities gave the go-ahead, Schmidt and a small group of students returned this summer and spent nearly every day of June and July excavating the skull.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"
Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about 8.2 feet long.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a Triceratops prorsus, one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the Tyrannosaurus rex. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made headlines after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.
Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the New York Times.
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
The Badlands aren't the only spot in North America where paleontologists have found dinosaurs. In the 1870s, Colorado and Wyoming became the first sites of dinosaur discoveries in the U.S., ushering in an era of public fascination with the prehistoric creatures — and a competitive rush to unearth them.
Since, dinosaur bones have been found in 35 states. One of the most fruitful locations for paleontologists has been the Morrison formation, a sequence of Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock that stretches under the Western part of the country. Discovered here were species like Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus, to name a few.
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
As for "Shady" (the nickname of the South Dakota triceratops), Schmidt and his team have safely transported it to the Westminster campus. They hope to raise funds for restoration, and to return to South Dakota in search of more bones that once belonged to the triceratops.
Studying dinosaurs helps scientists gain a more complete understanding of our evolution, illuminating a through-line that extends from "deep time" to present day. For scientists like Schmidt, there's also the simple joy of coming to face-to-face with a lost world.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "You don't ever think that these things will ever happen."
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."