Not-In-My-Back-Yard!!! This is perhaps one of the most natural of human reactions. Sewage plant? I might poop but don’t put that upwind of me. Oil Refinery? I’ll drive as much as I want but don’t let that cancer-causing behemoth ruin my view or threaten my kids’ health. A hospital in the neighborhood? Sure, save my life but don’t to dare allow ambulances to use sirens to help save someone else’s. But natural and understandable doesn’t make right or correct.
The not in my backyard syndrome is best known as NIMBY and NIMBYites are battling to protect, often in misguided terms, their own little neck of the woods. Unfortunately, this is often to the detriment of others and of overall society. To see this one need look no further than the example of renewable power versus coal. While there is increasing opposition to coal-fired power plants, despite industry deception of “clean coal”, the ‘invisibility’ of coal’s massive pollution and the inability of most to connect that pollution to very real impacts (mercury in food, lowered IQs, asthma rates, acidification of the oceans and global warming) can make the opposition to the visible, but lower impact/higher benefit, renewable power options much greater than the passion aroused by the typically out-of-sight, out-of-mind coal plant…
NIMBYism is a real challenge when it comes to moving forward with clean energy systems. NIMBYites, backed by coal money and fossil foolish interests, have been fighting the Cape Wind offshore wind project for years while poll after poll showed that the majority of local citizens supported this project. While it looks like this project might finally be moving forward, their fighting delayed the project by years; raising the eventual cost of that wind electricity while enabling 100,000s of additional tons of carbon dioxide to be spewed into the air from polluting electricity plants. Rather than a (barely) visible sign of a clean energy future, local residents have been helping dig our hole deeper through out-of-sight, out-of-mind emissions from a dirty electricity plant.
While Cape Wind received national press it is far from the only misguided NIMBYite fight against sensible wind farm development.
To the extent people think ‘offshore wind’, they almost certainly think mainly about the oceans. In fact, the Great Lakes represent some of America’s best wind potential and, certainly, about the best offshore wind potential due to relative shallow waters and relatively milder seas (when was the last cyclone on a Great Lake?) along with being close to large population centers that are, in many cases, heavily dependent on coal-fired electricity. Great Lakes offshore wind offers cost-effective clean power that can directly offset some of the dirtiest electricity sources in America.
Unfortunately those outraged over the potential of thumb-sized wind turbines turning quietly on the horizon, spinning away clean energy, insist on NIMBY while they are perfectly willing to live with out-of-sight, out-of-mind polluting coal-fired electricity.
One of the relatively unheard of examples of NIMBYites fighting sensible clean energy progress comes with the Scandia Wind Offshore Aegir Project (supported by Lakeshore Wind) which would put up over 1100 megawatts of wind turbines in the Lake near not just major demand centers but major underground pumped power storage, enabling fitting the wind power generated electricity better to the actual demand curves.
Public opinion, there, spans the range from uninformed to misinformed to enthusiastic. Opponents cite threats to birds while proponents point out that the job could bring 3,000 local jobs along with substantial royalty and tax money for the local government.
It should be noted here that the bird threat is nearly uniformly exaggerated by wind power proponents, who conveniently seem to forget the real threats to bird life ranging from domestic cats to climate change irreversibly devastating habitats and species. As for “marine life”, offshore wind projects are proving to be rich environments for marine species, often providing protected breeding grounds. And, well, for the aesthetics, to each to their own, but polling suggests that the vast majority of people find such turbines attractive and actually boosting of tourism, rather than damaging of vistas.
Who is on the top of the list fighting this wind project? Non-resident owners of lakeshore properties, who descend on the community perhaps for a few weeks of prime summer time a year, who are fearful of their backyard (beachfront) views, unconcerned about the invisible coal-fired electricity pollution that twirling turbines on the horizon could prevent.
Simply put, this project is a particularly sensible one in terms of a good wind location, near good transmission lines, near storage capacity, near demand, in an area requiring jobs and desperate for local revenues to help pay for public services.
We need to move from NIMBY to SIMBY: Sensible In My Back Yard. Does the project make sense and will it work for the common good? Are there paths to ameliorate any ‘negative’ impacts? Will the project, net, help the environment or hurt it? Let’s figure out how to be sensible and get these critical projects moving forward.
For an example of a community successfully combating the NIMBY reaction, take a look at the recent sewage plant in Santa Clara. When the city needed to build a sewage plant, the local environmental organizations didn’t fight it. Rather, they sought to assure that it did the least damage possible. After all, “Every community should take care of its own waste, and we should also.”
When it comes to the oil refinery or that pesky little offshore drilling platform, the real answer is figuring out how to end our oil addiction while requiring safety standards be met through tough and serious inspections and oversight.
Amelioration and solution … not visceral rejection.
At a time when the United States should be accelerating our moves toward a prosperous clean-energy future, NIMBYites across the country are doing their share to throw sand in the gears of progress — whether enforcing housing association rules demanding 24/7 gas lights outside or prohibiting drying clothes with the sun or spending their dollars to delay and diminish wind projects. In their misbegotten efforts to protect their sightlines, these people are collaborating on the destruction of the nation’s and humanity’s future prospects.
Image Credit: By Harvey McDaniel from Naalehu, HI (South Point_Wind Farm 5_Aug_1_02) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons