Queensland Senator Malcolm Roberts might seem like a conspiratorial buffoon, but Roberts’ influence shouldn’t be underestimated.

In his debut speech to the Australian Senate in 2016, Roberts ardently disparaged the UN’s Agenda 21 action plan. In a no-holds-barred attack, Roberts characterised the non-binding sustainable development agreement as a threat to Australian sovereignty.

Under the guise of biodiversity, Agenda 21 exists to “steal property rights,” and “push foreign control using unlawful agreements like the Paris sham,” said Roberts.

Malcolm Roberts photograph by Mick Tsikas/AAP

At the time we thought we could laugh him off, along with the rest of the One Nation party. But given climate change deniers are now running the country, it’s not as easy to perceive Roberts and his crackpot conspiracy as a joke.

The conspiracy theory gathers steam on popular social media platform

Roberts didn’t come up with the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, and its circulation goes way deeper than his speech to parliament in 2016. As News Corp reports, hundreds of Australians have been outspoken in their support for the theory on popular social media platforms.

“Only a handful of these posts take place on fringe sites such as Gab and 4chan,” write news.com.au’s Ben Graham and Peter Bodkin. The theory has become so mainstream that people have no scruples posting about it on Twitter and Facebook.

The conspiracy circulates on social media

What are they on about, anyway?

To quickly summarise the conspiracy, it dates back to the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The summit birthed the “Rio Declaration”, a nonbinding, voluntary agreement entered into by 178 countries. Its primary aims were to combat poverty, disease and overpopulation and foster conservation, pollution controls and biodiversity.

It all sounds like good stuff, right? Not according to Roberts and his far right disciples. They believe the UN is using Agenda 21 to deprive countries of their sovereignty and take away individual property rights.

The Rio Declaration

What’s scariest about the conspiracy theory is that, with the effects of climate change now devastating major parts of Australia – and causing similar environment disruption around the world – it’s gaining renewed support.

“[The conspiracy theory gives climate change deniers] a narrative in their mind when they spend years trying to find a way to discredit something that’s based on overwhelming evidence,” said ANU lecturer Dr Will Grant.

May Greta have mercy on us all.

Watch Greta Thunberg’s speech at UN Climate Action Summit

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