NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard)

by Paul Biebel, Founder and President, Prudent Living, Inc.

Last summer, I attended an evening SEON (Sustainable Energy Outreach Network) conference in Brattleboro, Vermont. It was a Building Science Guild meeting where Representative Margaret Cheney was the keynote speaker. She had just returned from a visit to Europe and was sharing a presentation about the success of Germany’s Renewable Energy program. Being of German heritage, I was interested in what she had to say.

It was a good evening and very informational. There was no doubt about Rep. Cheney’s enthusiasm for what she had observed in Germany. But there was a bit of a lament in her tone, as well, and I could relate to it. She said (paraphrased) that, “When Germans make a decision they are only interested in two things. The first thing they want to know is ‘What are the facts?’ and the second is ‘What’s in it for me?’” She continued, “Germans don’t place a high emphasis on emotions when it comes to making decisions and they have no interest in junk science and political spin when it comes to advancing technology.”

That’s the gist of it. Then she gave a presentation that showed how innovative they have become in their Renewable Energy Program, attributing much of their advances to those two criteria.

In America, progress in terms of Renewable Energy is often hindered by a decision-making process that is affected by politics, bad science, and more than a small amount of emotion. NIMBYs exacerbate this problem. What are NIMBYs, you might ask? NIMBYs are people who say they believe in and support growth, expansion, promotion, and educational efforts related to Renewable Energy. Their bumper stickers often support “conservation” and protest the use of nuclear and fossil fuels. NIMBYs lead the charge with editorials, articles, and publications about the importance of a clean environment. NIMBYs preach it, teach it, write about it, and march for it. Some even get elected because of it.

But what makes NIMBYs so unique is that even while they loudly proclaim their support for the development and promotion of clean energy solutions, they won’t allow their own eyes to see it from their own back yards. Sometimes, they will go to great lengths to forbid it. Thus the acronym NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

NIMBYs are mystifying to a logically thinking person because NIMBYs “reason” outside of logic. Their reasons for rejecting the very technology they claim to promote, scientifically, are anything but scientific. For example, some of them claim that the technologies that produce renewable energy are “ugly,” so they shouldn’t have to look at them. And even though one of their fundamental values is “toleration,” they aren’t willing to tolerate the age-old wisdom that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Although some NIMBYs think that technologies related to renewable energy are ugly, it doesn’t occur to them that their own collection of shiny carbon-emitting chrome-plated cars, vans, and pickup trucks and shiny house and barn roofs and stainless steel chimneys are “ugly” to the eyes of some others. Some NIMBYs even use the junk science argument that a pilot might be blinded by the reflection of the sun off a solar panel, despite the fact that Denver International Airport has one of the largest solar arrays in the world. Even in industrial parks, where ground-mounted solar arrays have a very low profile, and every other industrial building in the neighborhood is higher and weathering and surrounded by dumpsters and forklifts, pallets stacks, and piles of salvaged materials, NIMBY neighbors express “concern” about having to see a brand new solar array that sits on the ground, well below the piles of junk around it.

The indisputable fact is that the use of Renewable Energy technologies offers a payback that includes not only hard cash savings, but peace of mind and a sense of contribution to a cleaner environment. Now there’s a logical array of facts, emotion, and motivation.