beware of the NIMBY: a threat to green infrastructure

Words by Angus Chambers with image courtesy of Clemson University

In his spare time, professional idiot Brendan Clarke-Smith serves the people of Bassetlaw as a Conservative Member of Parliament. As one of the fabled 2019 intake he has accused the National Trust of sharing ‘Cultural Marxist dogma’, decried the England football team for taking the knee at Euro 2020 and campaigned (and voted) against providing free school meals for school children. Now, in perhaps his bravest move yet, he has successfully crusaded against the building of solar panels in his constituency. And they say politics can’t be a vehicle for meaningful change!  

Amongst other things, Brendan Clarke-Smith is a NIMBY. NIMBY is an acronym for the phrase “not in my back yard”, and refers to the opposition put up by local residents against nearby development projects. Such projects vary in nature, as do arguments against them. The core principle of nimbyism remains, though: ‘we do not want that built or done near us, as it is harmful, inconvenient or simply unwanted!’ 

Nimbys have traditionally opposed projects like (often low-income) housing, homeless shelters, social services, transport links and waste disposal. Some of the most notable nimby campaigns have been against the development of high speed rail in parts of the shires or California, for example. More recently, nimbyism has extended to the opposition of new green energy projects, particularly solar panels and wind farms.  

To be clear, nimbyism shouldn’t be viewed as purely left vs right. Labour MPs have offered defences of it, and research suggests that conservatives and liberals in the US are equally likely to oppose certain local developments. Having said this, NIMBYs are mostly ‘white, male homeowners acting in their financial interest’. Furthermore, land and nature conservation does have its place in green political discourse, and nature should never be needlessly exploited, especially without local people being consulted and involved with the decision making and practicalities of these projects. We do need to respect the intrinsic value of certain parts of nature, whether that be trees, plants or wildlife. Finally, it is important to recognise that often the projects which NIMBYs oppose are done by private-sector developers who have no regard for local people. Developers also spin narratives against local people opposing these projects and we need to be wise to that: local people and communities must have protection from exploitation by more powerful actors! 

This does not detract from the fact that we need to transition to green energy, and we need to build a sustainable future for the environment and our society. Green energy projects are essential to this long-term goal, and we need to find ways to make them work. Considering his rhetoric and dodgy voting record on the environment, I struggle to believe that someone like Brendan Smith-Clarke is acting out of love for the environment or conservation. A lot of people (including MPs) in this country either do not care about net zero and sustainability or won’t be around long enough to see their precious fields wilt, fade and burn. They will continue to turn their nose up at anything innovative, positive and progressive, especially when it means they’ll have to take a different route on their Sunday morning walk.  

As young people who do care about sustainability initiatives, we cannot sit idly and wait for these people to die before building a better world. We need to use our votes and voices to back candidates who will deliver on net zero, and support projects that will help us get there. We need to be the ones harassing councils and launching campaigns in favour of green projects. While there is some fair opposition regarding the practicalities of these projects which must be respected and managed, the aesthetic preferences of a regressive minority must not hinder the collective desire for progress of an entire generation.  

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