A remarkable exchange on the topic of NIMBY and the impact of industrial Wind on communities. (thanks to Jon Boone for alerting us)
July 15, 2010
To: Brent Harold, Cape Cod Times
Dear Mr. Harold,
A friend of mine was kind enough to send me a copy of your recent column, “Not in Anybody’s Backyard,” and I am writing to thank you for this gift.
As you know, a diverse, disorganized, unrelated and sometimes unruly group of people who all harbor a deep and long-standing emotional attachment to Wellfleet have struggled for months to document the shortcomings of the Wellfleet wind turbine proposal and to help persuade others of the tragic and irreversible damage to the heart and soul of this cherished place that would inevitably ensue if the project were brought to fruition. Most of us were not even acquainted with each other at the outset of this event and our only universally shared characteristic is that we are all Wellfleet NIMBY’s — at least in spirit if not by virtue of actually owning property in the town.
Along the way, many of us have been brought into close contact with like-minded people from all over the State of Massachusetts and throughout the United States – indeed, all over the world – who have contributed an incredible amount of time and effort in attempting to raise awareness of the physical limitations and the severe adverse consequences of wind energy, a badly misunderstood, but rampantly popular, technology which currently enjoys such unfathomable support and uncritical acceptance.
More recently – in the last few days and weeks, really, along with a dedicated contingent of Wellfleet NIMBY’s — I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with a group of individuals from diverse points all over Massachusetts who have spent months attempting to help Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives understand the ominous implications of the proposed Wind Turbine Siting Reform Act (“WESRA”), a radical piece of legislation which will essentially: a) deny any realistic opportunity for local discussion, debate and discovery on this complex issue; b) nullify a large body of established law that protects towns and citizens from unregulated abuse; and c) sharply curtail – and in practice, virtually eliminate – any reasonable appeal process that might enable parties that suffer harm to appeal to an impartial arbiter for relief.
I have been only marginally involved in this campaign, but I can tell you from my brief exposure that the dedication and the efforts of this selfless group have been nothing short of heroic.
Some of them told me their tragic personal stories of livnig in close proximity to wind turbines. Others have spent years resisting planned projects that are shockingly irresponsible and will surely makeFalmouth pale in comparison. Virtually all of them have been routinely denigrated as “NIMBY’s” – even though some of them cannot possibly do undue the damage that has already been done to their homes and to their quality of life; and even though these same people are essentially motivated by an intense conviction that no one should have to suffer the misery, and the profound sense of loss, that they have experienced. At this point, they are trying to spare others, not themselves. It is a miracle that they retain enough faith in the system to think that they can make their voices heard if they are sufficiently persistent in presenting the facts to policy makers.
Needless to say, we were all devastated by the passage yesterday of the House version of the WESRA legislation. But, miraculously, within moments of learning of the decision, the leaders of this effort immediately began discussing potential next steps to limit the damage and avert disaster for an untold number of communities and individuals who will suffer the fallout.
We had all fervently hoped that we could get legislators to appreciate the serious adverse consequences of these projects by some means other than by their implementation on a statewide basis. As we’ve learned from personal testimonials from around the world, including Newburyport, MA, Vinalhaven and Mars Hill, Maine, and now Falmouth, such careless experimentation is a brutal way to learn.
I am writing to thank you, Mr. Harold, first, for keeping an open mind – as you know, we have had our earlier differences of opinion on this issue; and, second, for having so eloquently articulated a very difficult idea – that NIMBY’s often deserve our respect and admiration – and our boundless thanks – for their attempts to educate others in their community to the unseen implications of such momentous proposals.
I think you will find that all of the people that I mentioned above, rather than being motivated by selfish interests, are in fact motivated by precisely the altruistic sentiment that you express in your column: namely, that these industrial power plants do not belong in anybody’s backyard.
Again, my sincere thanks to you from all of us.
Below is Mr. Harold’s letter as found in: http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100713/OPINION/7130333/-1/NEWSMAP
Not in anybody’s backyard
By BRENT HAROLD
July 13, 2010 7:00 AM
The Wind Energy Siting Reform Act, up for a vote this week in the Massachusetts House, seems to be taking dead aim on the NIMBY factor.
“Not in my backyard” was invented to discredit opposition by stigmatizing it as selfish. You want and need that halfway house, that nuclear-waste-disposal site, that 400-foot wind turbine, but not in your own backyard. You want it but prefer someone else to put up with the undesirable side effects.
After 10 years (and counting) of the Cape Wind debate, we should now have a more sophisticated perspective on this negative acronym, which has played such a key role. We should be more willing to see the opposition as more than just small-minded selfishness. We may or may not end up with the industrialization of Nantucket Sound, but we are certainly less naive about the real objections (aesthetic, spiritual, financial, ecological, etc.) to this ideal-sounding technology.
All the world is someone’s backyard. And the people caring most for a backyard are those living in that backyard. The evaluation of a technology includes the costs as well as the benefits and if you want to know the costs, you need to consult those who will be living with that technology and paying the costs.
What’s good about NIMBY is that it is only humane and logical to respect the experience and of those living in the relevant backyard. As Wellfleet, after an overwhelming, idealistic town meeting vote, developed second thoughts about three large turbines in its backyard, we were hearing stories of theFalmouth guinea pigs who were finding out the hard way the price of wind turbines in sleepless nights and emotional upset.
A member of the Wellfleet Energy Committee, although originally an advocate of wind turbines in Wellfleet, said of the Falmouth backyard: “I realize if you go there for a day it is hardly like living there … the fact remains that they are living there and I am not. They have to listen to whatever the sounds are every day and I do not.”
The actual experience of the Falmouth backyard has made many here in Wellfleet happy none of our citizens will have to pay that price.
What’s not OK about NIMBY is assuming that those in other backyards will be happier paying the price that seems too high in your own backyard. Some of those who have not wanted Nantucket Sound spiked with all those turbines have suggested that this spiffy technology might work a lot better off a less cherished, less touristed shore. Or how about inland, since there’s so much more of it than there is off our coast?
But it turns out that everywhere you look there are backyards with people living in them, many of whom don’t want to pay the price for this so-called green technology: Harwich, Wellfleet, Falmouth. In villages in upstate New York there are a lot of people who don’t want turbines on their mountaintops and ridges. There are, it turns out, treasured views from most places on Earth.
The humane, fair thing to do is to apply local backyard knowledge of the effects of wind turbines to all backyards. If the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t work for here, it’s likely not to work anywhere (unless for those who stand to make big bucks).
In other words, NIMBY with a golden rule twist: NIABY: Not in anybody’s backyard. This is a flawed technology, with too high a quality-of-life price tag. We should put more emphasis on solar and conservation.
Local towns are right to fear a bill that will produce siting decisions from an overarching entity, which will force turbines on backyards. In World War II, governmental boards dictated sacrifices, such as rationing, war job assignments, and of course the draft. When and if we come to react to climate change as such an emergency, when every backyard on Earth is exploited for every sort of energy technology, the sacrifices associated with living cheek-by-jowl with large-scale wind turbines may come to look necessary and acceptable. We obviously aren’t there with climate change.
Jon Boone adds: “You might share this quote from Plato: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
The WESRA exemplifies policy animated by nonknowledge imposed by nontalent imposturing as public good. Why not consider, at the next rally, painting scarlet Ws on your foreheads, encircled by the international negative sign?“