Is Global Warming NIMBYism a Double Edged Sword?

no gas

Des Pensable Copyright 2014

The word NIMBY an acronym of “not in my back yard” was originally devised by the US chemical industry public relations spin doctors after the Love Canal disaster in the USA to be used as a derogatory label to brand, shame and stigmatise any members of a community activist group that objected to any government or private enterprise proposal that would cause change in their neighbourhood.

They were considered to be “overly emotional, uninformed and unscientific in their opposition, motivated by narrow, selfish interests, and obstructive of policies that would provide for the collective good.”

The NIMBY label has been widely used in the mass media by industry, local and state government politicians but branding people with names has done little to stop people from protest action in their own communities.

In fact, academic studies have found that while many activists in NIMBY groups are acting partly in their own self-interest, many are more concerned about the collective good than private gain. They found that the NIMBY activists often believe that it is imperative for them to act on behalf of the community as others may not have the time, are disinterested or fear to do so.

Unfortunately, our democracy is not perfect. Most projects are contrived, discussed and planned behind closed doors with little community consultation. Profit is considered more important than people. Anti-corruption commissions such as the ICAC in NSW routinely investigate the web of corruption among private developers and our politicians showing that the system is functioning abysmally.

With distrust in our leaders, private developers and senior public servants NIMBY community activism is becoming more common and more necessary. Progress which considers “people before profit” is socially beneficial while progress which considers “profit before people” is being seen as harmful and destructive.

Green NIMBY activists are becoming the new community heroes while in the wake of the Global Financial Meltdown bankers, developers, and politicians are commonly seen as greedy, self -interested, anti-social traitors to the community and generally working against the collective good. NIMBYism is good for democracy.

Over the last decade, the world’s climate scientists have presented compelling evidence that Global Warming will threaten your property values, your lifestyle, your job, your health and quite possibly your very survival. These are all factors found in NIMBY actions with the one exception…you don’t generally consider the world as your backyard or local community.

Global Warming is happening in everyone’s backyards. We can’t escape to another planet. The scientists have assured us that we can do something to slow it down and that means moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

So it’s time for all of us to think of the world as our own back yard. It’s time to try and fix the Global Warming problem. While we obviously can’t fix the Global Warming problem ourselves in everybody else’s backyard, we can try to fix it in our own and that will flow on to help them.

We can make simple changes in our own lives such as divesting in fossil fuels, and having solar panels installed on the roofs of our homes.  We can also join in with others through NIMBY protest action in our own neighbourhood and encouraging other people in other neighbourhoods to do the same. By united action we can secure a safer future for ourselves and families.

The problem of course is that NIMBY action is a double edged sword.  It can and is being used to both help and hinder Global Warming energy mitigation projects. In my backyard, Australia, there are both types of NIMBY action groups and its worth having a closer look at both to examine what they have in common.

In my home city of Sydney, we have a problem that a predominantly foreign financed gas company wants to set up Coal Seam Gas (CSG) mines in the city’s water catchment area.  This was considered by the water catchment authority and many locals as dangerous as the process uses toxic chemicals which could readily contaminate the city’s water supply.

The state government was elected on a written promise that it would not allow CSG mining to happen in the state let alone the catchment area but immediately after being elected reversed its policy, overrode the objections of the catchment authority  and cut red tape to make it easier for the gas company to set up its CSG mines.

Several NIMBY groups involving hundreds of people were set up in and around Sydney (example) and have been successful so far in blocking the CSG mines. It could be argued that they were only selfishly worried about their own water supply but the activists stated that they were also worried about the GSG mines supplying fossil fuels adding to the Global Warming crisis.

The climate scientists have stated that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves MUST stay in the ground if we are to keep Global Warming under a safe 2 degrees C limit.

The state government is determined to press ahead regardless of what the people want. In this case the government blatantly lied to the people that elected it; is pursuing a profit before people project involving private vested interests; and is carrying out actions that threaten the health of the city. It is clearly NOT operating in the common interest of the community of Sydney or the world’s people in mitigating Global Warming.

It has been argued that some NIMBY groups have been set up to hinder Global Warming mitigation projects. Such is the case with small groups that protest about wind farms or large solar energy farms designed to replace fossil fuel power with renewable energy.

They argue that the windmills are noisy and a danger to their health even though medical studies can show no direct connection. They argue the windmills are unsightly, reduce the aesthetic value of the landscape and are concerned they might lower their property values.

In some states of Australia legislation has been introduced by conservative governments to limit where wind farms can and can’t be built and some senior conservative politicians including the Australian treasurer Joe Hockey, a Global Warming denier, has stated their opposition to wind farms.  In the UK wind farm development has become very partisan with the national and local conservatives fighting against their use while the Labor progressives fight for their use.

The clear suggestion then is that NIMBY anti wind farm activist groups are not necessarily fighting for the common good but for more selfish motives backed by a conservative Global Warming denier ideology.

In conclusion, we come back to the fact that the term NIMBY was manufactured by “profit before people” spin doctors to denigrate community activists. Many of the Global Warming activists genuinely fight for the common good but with some it’s less clear. What we do know is that community activist groups are a necessary and effective way to make democracy work in our favour.

With a Global Warming catastrophe looming community activist groups are currently our best chance at mitigating dangerous Global Warming. Join one near you and help fight back against the vested inaction by our hopelessly inept politicians and the criminally insane megalomaniacs that want to burn all our known fossil fuels which will create a mass extinction of most species of animal and plant life including humans on Earth.

Let’s be quite clear about this – your family and mine are DOOMED unless we all act. I’m already working on the problem – So what are you going to do about it?

Meet Bill the 92 yo war veteran turned environmental activist 

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Des Pensable

Des is a native of Sydney where he currently lives with his partner Joanne. He has a PhD in neuroscience and worked as a biomedical scientist where he published widely in several areas of science. Since retiring, he’s been a keen writer of poetry, stories and philosophy which appear on his web, blog site and on line literary publications. He is also a performance poet that appears regularly in venues around Sydney.

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