Environmentalism and NIMBYism: a changed equation

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Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing you hold down the adjoining.

– Saul Bellow

A few weeks ago Cumbria county council rejected proposals for Cumbria to host an underground depository for the UK’s nuclear waste, a decision which appears more likely to result in far deadlier, and un-buriable, forms of waste being pumped into the atmosphere from fossil fuel plants. This decision naturally has been cheered on by most environmentalists, but with some notable and wise exceptions.

So, here we have an example of NIMBYism that works in complete harmony with the more misguided aims of current environmentalism. This example however is unique. Where are new nuclear power plants planned to built? Beside existing ones. Nuclear power in these areas is the status quo, and most people there see the benefits, and are perhaps more informed than most about the risks.

Wind farms, on the hand, are built where people are not used to them, and often resist them. A few days after Cumbria decided to reject hosting nuclear waste the Telegraph and the Daily Mail ran rather typical headlines:



The language being used in this case is almost indistinguishable from that being used by opponents of burying nuclear waste, and reminds me that the only thing that distinguishes an anti-nuclear article in the Guardian from an anti-wind article in the Telegraph is swapping the word nuclear for wind. Many of the tactics, and claims, of the anti-wind movement are taken directly from the anti-nuclear playbook. For “wind-farm syndrome” read Leukaemia in children around nuclear power plants. James Delingpole and Helen Caldicott really ought to trade notes, or perhaps already have.

NIMBYism then is no longer something that environmentalists can rely on. If you wish to decarbonise the UK without nuclear power then you are going to have to cover a lot of the UK in wind farms, and I  mean a lot. That will involve putting a lot of turbines in a lot of back yards. It also involves a deep challenge to the belief that wilderness should be kept pristine. The basic arithmetic of how much power you can generate from wind farms, combined with how much energy we use in the UK make it clear that we are looking at the large scale industrialisation of the natural world. If you reject nuclear power, then this is something you must accept and argue for.


4 thoughts on “Environmentalism and NIMBYism: a changed equation

    Decarbonise SA said:
    February 24, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Robert, great work. That truth remains, there is no such thing as a free energy lunch.

    It is high time that people learned to first ask “What’s in my backyard?” before saying “Not in my backyard”, because the answer is definitely “something”, and it may well be killing you slowly already. We just need far more maturity than these situations, but hopefully the circular pathway leads to a short circuit.


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