February 13, 2011

The nimbyism debate

Maria McCaffery, Chief executive of Renewableuk, wrote in The Guardian:
Last week, Alexander Chancellor declared himself in favour of nimbyism. In the debate on windfarms, this acronym, derived from "not in my back yard", signifies a state of mind of those who protest against windfarms in their residential area, almost entirely on aesthetic grounds.

Which is the crux of the problem. An aesthetic objector will start with a sense that a windfarm will in some way devalue the landscape and his property. Sensing that this is not a sufficient reason to object against renewable energy, he will then drag into the debate all sorts of cod-scientific evidence on why wind turbines don't work, often with a tilt at Brussels eurocrats and perceived environmental "political correctness".
In these two opening paragraphs, McCaffery exhibits a barrage of logical fallacies that are typical of wind proponents:
  1. She narrowly defines nimbyism as subjectively based ("aesthetics").
  2. She denigrates that aesthetic judgement as materially fearful and selfish.
  3. She broadens the questioning of large-scale wind to an attack on all renewable energy.
  4. She mocks arguments of fact as "cod-scientific" window dressing and questionable politics.
In fact, that is precisely the nature of pro-wind rhetoric:
  1. Wind energy is presented as a saviour of industrial society.
  2. It is highly profitable to it investors, who benefit from public subsidy.
  3. Sensing that this is not a sufficient reason to defend large-scale wind power development, it is linked to the ideals of renewable energy in general.
  4. Projections and sales hype are presented as scientific fact, without any follow-up with actual data about wind's impacts on other fuel sources.
In short, the argument against nimbyism, i.e., the reasoned defense of one's home, is a bullying "greater good" that has yet to be shown and seems only to benefit a few developers.

Updates, Feb. 14: What is environmentalism if not a matter of aesthetics? What is environmental degradation if not a matter of aesthetics? What is the very life we seek for ourselves if not a matter of aesthetics? Of course, life is a dance of compromise, but that does not negate what we know to be aesthetically good. It does not mean that we should not fight against the further senseless degradation of that good. Aesthetics is the distillation of what we believe and value, of who each of us is. You need a lot more than mere monied arrogance to convince me to look the other way.

And in Ontario, Sierra Club Canada has mounted a campaign to convince the Wainfleet Town Council to ignore the concerns of their citizens and listen to the reassurances of industrial wind developers only: "Health and other impacts of wind turbines have been studied in conditions similar to Ontario and have been shown NOT to be significant. Please look beyond the rumours and unsubstantiated claims being circulated. Those behind the rumours and misinformation have a vested interest in killing wind energy – don’t be fooled by them." Dare such a person who could write that to actually meet a victim of wind turbine noise. See the poster presentation, "Consequences: Truth is treason in an empire of lies" (click here to view on line).

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights