The term NIMBYism may not be universal, so it is key for all readers to understand its context. NIMBY stands for “Not in my back yard.” It is often used in local discussions to countervent where cities or counties may place less than desirable (as interpreted by the critics) projects. The project could range from a mental health facility to a homeless shelter to a landfill. Usually, the argument follows the pattern of “I support that we need this project, I just don’t want it in my backyard.”
My friend Hugh recently published an excellent post called “Miss America Conservatism” at www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com. His thesis is to speak about how people will be more inclined to rally around causes, when they are personally impacted. Senator Rob Portman’s announcing his support for gay marriage because his son is gay is a good example. In my comments, I equated this to making legislators witness the pain of the issues and policies they deal with, so that they may be less inclined to vote for a detrimental action and more inclined to help. I cited two examples which I will repeat here.
The first example relates to the atrocious, unhealthy water that has existed for over forty years at Camp Lejeune, a Marine base in eastern North Carolina. The water had a yellowish color and reeked, but no one would listen to the complaints of the Marines and the families. The children and adults were impacted by drinking, bathing and being exposed to this unhealthy water. After many years of fighting uphill battles with the military and Congressional leadership, they finally got a meeting on the base. What got the leaders attention is when the plaintiffs served the water on the base to drink. They made it the problem of the leaders. Finally, Senators Burr and Hagen (a Republican and Democrat) got the issue addressed. Since it was not in the back yards of their predecessors or leadership, they felt no need to act. Burr and Hagen stepped up for their neighbors.
The second example relates to a letter to the editor I read yesterday. We have some legislators in NC who are hell-bent on fracking for natural gas. If you read non-industry data (or even if you do and actually read the reports), fracking is one of the worst things we could possibly due to the environment and people who live near the fracking site. The water is chemically laden for fracking and it must be kept out of the aquifers. Yet, water finds a way, as it always has, and the fracking water leaks into the drinking water supply. There are many other bad things that occur, but let’s stick with the water for now. The letter to the editor said, if these guys want to frack, let’s bottle the water and have them drink it.
Since the fracking does not occur in their back yard, they do not or would not feel the pain that results from fracking. So, if you are anti-environment in your policies, it is less a problem to the legislators as they don’t live there. It is “Anti-Environmental NIMBYism.” So, we need to make it an issue for them. The legislators need to know these decisions that wreak havoc on the environment are affecting people, the air they breathe and the water they drink.
Today, an article appeared in the paper regarding unusual groups of people coming together to combat the Keystone Pipeline. The unlikely constituents are ranchers, farmers, and environmental groups who are comprised of Republicans and Democrats. Why? Because the pipeline will run through their back yard. The pipeline will be laid close to very large aquifers that supply the ranchers, farmers and neighbors who live there. The industry says the pipeline will be perfectly safe, yet the same company who wants to build this pipeline has had over fifteen breaches in another pipeline they built in the past couple of years.
Being an Old Fart, when someone says something will never happen, my strong advice is to not believe them. Man-made things are not impervious to deterioration and will break if not maintained. They may break even if they are maintained. The breakdowns at the nuclear reactors in Fukushima Japan are clear evidence of nature finding a way. US companies said that those breaches could not happen here, yet Duke Energy has just shuttered a nuclear plant in Florida that it acquired from Progress Energy as they are having trouble fixing a fault in the reactor. And, Three Mile Island did occur in the United States.
I realize these are only examples, but they show we have to be ever-vigilant in our stewardship of the environment. When leaders make anti-environmental legislative decisions, they need to be made aware that they are affecting neighbors somewhere. The reason I encourage people to watch “Gasland” is it does not try to sensationalize the environmental devastation. It is one guy who lives near fracking sites in Pennsylvania who has gone out to talk to the neighbors in the US impacted by fracking. These people did not have enough clout to say NIMBY. They also were misled by the fracking industry that everything was safe. That was before they had illnesses, the water could be set on fire, their animals lost hair, and birds, fish and wildlife died from the toxic water leaking into the aquifers and arsenic, mercury and methane escaping into the air.
The frackers, like many developers, made their profits and got out. They left the problems for everyone else. They hoped to settle claims on the cheap and prayed that no one would come together to file a class action suit. Since it was NIMBY to the frackers, they did not care about the havoc they wreaked on the environment and people. We need to make them care. We need to let people making the decisions know that they are impacting people’s lives and livelihoods.
Let me close, though, with an even more fearful warning. Water is one of the two dearest resources we have on this planet along with air. Water is becoming more dear and there have been small and big fights over water. The frackers and farmers fought over water in Kansas this summer, e.g. and water debates are occurring in California and Georgia. These fights will get worse as we will have more droughts. Even without global warming, we would have these concerns. With the warming, it is going to accelerate the water concerns. We must be extremely careful where we place plants, pipelines, oil wells, fracking sites, etc.that use anything toxic. We can ill-afford to have leakage into our dear water supply. Fracking takes 4 to 6 million gallons per frack. With ten fracks per well, that is 40 to 60 million gallons of water. In Utah they are building, 2,000 fracking wells. That equates to 80 to 120 billion gallons of water.
Truth be told, the neighborhood being affected by these anti-environmental policies is much larger. If the water supply is compromised, it will be felt by many, even the legislators. If fracking is allowed in New York, it would be very close to the water that supplies metro-New York City. Folks, that should scare the crap out of those residents. And, there are tens of millions of them in that neighborhood. NIMBY will take on a whole new meaning, if we screw up our water.