Damn Right, NIMBY!

“Not in my back yard” campaigns directed against industrial projects are thought to be fundamentally different (progressive) from those against renewable-energy projects (regressive). It’s not so. (Photo by blakophoto/Flickr)

The NIMBY (“Not in my back yard!”) movement bears the contemptuous brand assigned by the industrial media to people who oppose things such as power plants, refineries, power lines and urban sprawl. NIMBYans contradict the relentless logic of industry — “You gotta have electricity, right? Gotta have a place to live.” — with demonstrations and signs that complain about aesthetics, pollution, the danger of increased cancer rates, the ruination of quality of life or, to use the industry’s term, trivia. Now, to the bemusement of the uninformed who see a conflict here, NIMBYans are turning their wrath on so-called renewable-energy projects. [See The New Look of NIMBYism” -- The Daily Climate] And so they should.

“Look at’em,” gloat the industry flacks and their wholly-owned and -operated politicians, “They didn’t want nuclear plants, they didn’t want coal plants, now they’re having cows about solar. Whaddayagonna do?”

Actually, the flacks should check with their bosses. Tsunamis of industrial money are flowing into industrial renewables, which, as I have written here many times [“Solar ‘Farms’ Keep Us in the Dark;” “Biodiesel: Not Sustainable if it’s Industrial”], is an oxymoron. It’s the same money — or at least the same kind of money — that used to flow to dot-coms, sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps and is now sloshing around Kansas farm land, “renewables,” “organic farming” and other industrial shell games that offer profit. So the first point to recognize is that when NIMBYans go up against a solar “farm,” they’re going up against the same people — or at least, the same kind of people — they were facing when their enemy was a refinery.

Secondly, doing so does not (contrary to conventional wisdom as summarized on Fox News) invalidate their credentials as tree-hugging liberals, or reveal them to be hypocrites. There is nothing renewable about a solar energy “farm” when its operation requires the destruction of thousands of acres of fragile habitat, the consumption of millions of gallons a year of scarce and irreplaceable water, and the creation of a city of mechanics and attendants. There is nothing “renewable” about the manufacture of battleship-sized steel wind turbines, their transport, erection, operation and eventual replacement.

The irony is that when the NIMBYans take aim at a wind “farm” or a solar “farm,” they do not invalidate their core beliefs and they do not change their enemies.

I know very well that many NIMBYans are fighting solely to preserve the view from their picture windows. These are the folks that hit the streets to prevent someone who lives in their tony neighborhood from putting a solar panel on his roof. That they are shallow does not invalidate the deeper point: providing for the public good should not require the destruction or degrading of individuals’ homes or quality of life.

If any of us are to survive the approaching, inevitable constriction of industrial energy supplies, it will not be with other industrial means. It will be because we have learned, in the nick of time, to make our energy from renewable sources where it is needed. Decentralization of energy is not the main thing that will make possible a transition to a world without cheap oil: it’s the only thing that can make the other requirements of transition possible.

So the next time an unruly mob of NIMBYans says “NO!” to a wind farm, don’t think for a minute that they are saying anything different than when they went up against an oil refinery.

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[For updates on this and other Daily Impact stories, and for short takes on other subjects, check out The Editor’s Log.]

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2 Responses to Damn Right, NIMBY!

  1. SomeoneInAsia says:

    My heart is all for the NIMBYans, but my fear is that they’re fighting a vain battle and deluded humanity today may just have to learn its lesson the hard way.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I agree. But the NIMBYans who spend at least as much time installing their own solar panels and cultivating their gardens have a chance to be okay. Deluded humanity — not so much.