Beyond NIMBYism

So what drives the “Not in my backyard” (NIMBY) mentality when it comes to renewable energy development? British researchers have received a grant to study the phenomenon from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to develop a study entitled “Beyond “NIMBYism”: a multidisciplinary investigation of public engagement with renewable energy technologies.” The study will take place at DeMontfort University’s Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD), and will involve researchers at Lancaster, Loughborough, Northumbria and Surrey Universities.

Principal Investigator for the research, Dr Patrick Devine-Wright, an environmental psychologist of De Montfort University’s IESD, said: “To have any chance of meeting these targets, we need to better understand the reasons why renewable energy projects in the UK frequently lead to local controversy and antagonism between members of the public and other stakeholders including developers, local authorities and regional bodies.

“It’s crucial that the UK develops a sophisticated understanding of public responses to renewable energy technologies. Currently, the most popular way of thinking is the “NIMBY” concept, and we want to investigate what impact it has had upon pathways of development of different renewable energy technologies. The significance of issues of public acceptability, including public perception and engagement, are increasingly recognised by policy makers, the research community and other stakeholders as a vital part of technology development.

“But whilst recent planning guidance recommends consultation with members of the public in the early phases of development, developers are unsure how to proceed, as it is often suspected that informing people earlier just gives them more time to resist unwanted development. Through systematic, multi-disciplinary research and case studies of public engagement in renewable energy projects, this research will enable us to better understand the determinants of public perceptions, manage uncertainty in renewables development, and help contribute to government targets for increasing the amount of electricity generated by renewable energy resources.”

This should be a very interesting study, though, at one level, an obvious answer comes to mind: it’s environmental racism/classism, stupid! While I doubt anyone would consciously list “living away from power-generating facilities” as a sign that one has achieved economic success, we all know that poor people of color traditionally have been the ones located closest to these structures. I tend to think it’s a holdover from that, even if renewable facilities aren’t “dirty” (both in terms of pollution and aesthetics).

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