Jan 032013

I haven’t previously thought much about the attitude of NIMBY (“not in my back yard“), except to recognise the term as pejorative. I’m not currently threatened by developments close to my house. (Even the nearby  A6 to Manchester Airport Relief Road proposals which I’ve studied and responded to). Then I saw this on Twitter:

James O'Shaughnessy tweet about hypocrisy

What a nasty attitude! There is nothing hypocritical about defending your own property from deterioration and devaluation. (And I’m sure James O’Shaughnessy would defend his own lifestyle against deterioration; his job once didn’t exist, so is that a reason why young people can take over some or all of it?)

It is important to note what NIMBY is not: it is not the same as NIABY (“not in anyone’s back yard“). It is defence of your own patch, not an attempt prevent developments elsewhere. (Sometimes even NIABY can be good: for example “don’t build wind turbines in areas of natural visual beauty“!).

There was a weird lack of logic in some ensuing arguments:

James O'Shaughnessy tweet about rights to home

It is obvious from its definition that NIMBY is not about thwarting someone else’s rights in general, but only about preventing encroachment on one’s own patch. And it cannot be claimed that other people have similar claims to my property as I do! They don’t have the right to own or even use my cameras; they have to get their own (which I don’t object to) and not interfere with mine. If they want their guests to park on my drive because they are having a party, they ask me beforehand and not just do it.

A problem, of course, is that as resources get increasingly limited there is conflict over any item. Typically at least there is a queue, perhaps waiting for someone to die. I have written about the problems of population growth and the intergenerational problems it will cause. Here is my tweet and James O’Shaughnessy’s ridiculous response:

James O'Shaughnessy tweet about Malthus

When someone responds with ad hominem attacks like that you can assume they have run out of serious arguments. And it ignores the arguments and evidence in my article. The continuation of this discussion invented a bizarre new “right”:

James O'Shaughnessy tweet about rights of unborn

James O’Shaughnessy is just one person, and perhaps he has more nuanced views that he wasn’t expressing. But I am confident that many people really do have the sort of views expressed there. In order to meet objectives that may well be worthy, (perhaps even to me, but especially to them), screwing up others to some degree is considered OK and it is thought wrong (and hypocritical) to resist them.

It is precisely the existence of this attitude that makes NIMBY important; if you don’t defend your own patch, others will damage it or take it, and not care enough about how much that matters to the people concerned. (Perhaps they will do the damage anyway, but at least it is sensible to make the attempt).

Critics of the NIMBY attitude may want it to be easier than it is to achieve their worthy objectives. But however worthy they are, it must always be hard to to screw up other people. The critics are certainly not the best ones to make a judgment about the impact of being screwed up. It is typically inaccurate to claim “there is no alternative”. I’ve seen that claim many times, and it is interesting how often sufficient pressure causes people to find an alternative!

Further reading

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