This is perhaps one of the most natural of human reactions.
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 dare allow
ambulances to use sirens to help save someone else’s.
Natural and understandable doesn’t make right or correct.
syndrome is best known as NIMBY and, let us be clear, that NIMBYites
are battling to protect, often in misguided terms, their own little neck
of the woods to the detriment of others and of overall society.
When it comes to the sewage plant, when Santa Clara needed to build a
sewage plant, the local environmental organizations didn’t fight it …
but 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 (well, that was out-of-sight, out-of-mind, so it
really didn’t matter — it wasn’t in my backyard, was it in yours?), 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.
And, when it comes to public services, we all need them and we all
need to share the burden … thus, balancing the hospital with LED
lighting to reduce glare into neighborhoods and directional sirens to
wake fewer children when transporting a critical patient to the
Amelioration and solution … not visceral rejection.
NIMBYism and NIMBYites have, for a long time, weakened the societal
framework and contributed to social and environmental injustice when
they move from amelioration and solution into red-faced visceral
is a real challenge when it come to moving forward with clean
energy systems. Whether it is homeowner associations blocking solar
panels or solar dryers (e.g., clotheslines) or manufactured outrage over
offshore wind turbines that would be barely visible from shore,
often uninformed but passionate clamor derived from issues of “views”
can delay and, sometimes, derail renewable energy systems — and wind
power faces the NIMBYite challenge globally. 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, oh yeah, 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.
NIMBYites, backed by coal money and fossil foolish interests, have
been fighting the Cape Wind offshore wind projects for years. Note that
poll after poll showed that the majority of local citizens supported
this project. While this looks like it might finally be moving forward,
their fighting kept this from moving forward for 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
While Cape Wind received national press, a lot of national press,
over the years, 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.
scream those outraged over the potential of thumb-sized wind turbines
turning quietly on the horizon, spinning away clean energy, while they
are perfectly willing to live with out-of-sight, out-of-mind polluting
One of the relatively unheralded examples of NIMBYites, resting on
the thinnest of reeds, 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. For
Grand Haven’s Karen
Murvin said she was curious about the suggestion of
having a wind farm six miles off the Grand Haven pierheads.
“I’m not happy with the prospects,” Murvin said. “I guess I’m
concerned about the birds and marine life and the aesthetics.”
Muskegon’s Robert Jennings, who lives close to Pere Marquette Beach,
said he is interested in repeating Denmark’s development of wind energy
“We have to be promoting employment,” Jennings said prior to the
event. “If we can do it this way, I’m all for (offshore wind). I am not
all that distressed with generators offshore.”
Well, the project
Jennings is speaking of projects 3000 local jobs along with
substantial royalty and tax money for the local government (teachers’
As for Murvin’s concerns, 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 … perhaps each to their
own, but the 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
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 (remember, teacher’s
We need to move, ASAP, this nation 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? Lets figure out how
to be sensible … and get these critical projects moving forward.
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 prospectcs.