I’ve been a bit busy for blogging lately. It happens. One of the things I’ve been working on is this film produced for the EFD group, starring UKIP chairman, Steve Crowther.
The Lost Horizons website is here.
One of the criticisms that the film got elsewhere (amongst much more support, I should add) is that it reflected some ‘Nimby’ concerns. I have to say, I don’t recognise this criticism at all.
I’ve never been particularly moved by arguments against wind farms about protecting the countryside. I think turbines are ridiculous machines that need policy to make them ‘work’, and I think they’re unsightly. But I’m an urbanite, quite content in concrete carbuncles (though I certainly enjoy the occasional stroll and stay in the great outdoors). That’s not to say I don’t care about what happens in the countryside or to people who live there. It is a sufficient argument simply to observe that so many people don’t like turbines, and that to make any significant contribution to the energy supply, so many turbines will be needed. Of course, however, sometimes things need to be built where people don’t want them to be built. But the value of wind farms is so questionable, I don’t believe the ‘greater good’ argument counts in the wind energy debate. Few people would be over the moon about a new coal-fired power station being built near them, but as is pointed out in the film, just one such power station could do the job of all of those wind farms. A power station like Drax can produce double the amount of electricity that all of the UK’s onshore wind turbines can produce. Such are the benefits of centralised power generation and a distribution grid. It means we don’t all need to burn stuff in our houses. Clearly, the current and previous governments have been more terrified by the possibility of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth protesting as turf is cut for a power station than they are concerned with meeting the UK’s energy needs.
The ridiculousness of wind turbines is simply the manifestation of ridiculous policies, which are in turn the product of a ridiculous form of politics. Over-emphasis on wind farms, I believed, missed the point of what happened ‘upwind’. Then I began to meet lots of wind farm campaigners a few years ago. I’ve now met many. To date, I don’t think I’ve met a single ‘Nimby’.
Nimbyism is a reactionary impulse, concerning a given development, regardless of the wider benefits that it will bring. In fact, however, each of the people I have met have asked precisely the question that is necessary to overcome selfishness — what is the greater good that wind farms are supposed to serve. People discover for themselves that the benefits are not as claimed. The depth of knowledge that wind farm campaigners demonstrate about their subject — knowledge of the law, of policy, of generating electricity and of climate science — is phenomenal. Criticism of policies and policymakers cannot be waved away with such a cack-handed pejorative as ‘nimby’. And far from protecting their own, many wind farm campaigners sacrifice a great deal of time and resources.
But what about nimbies? If we cast our mind back to the roads protests of the 1990s, it was the environmentalists who teamed up with nimbies against the development of roads. It’s a curious thing that as the environmental movement grew, the establishment absorbed it. It heeded protests not just against roads, but against power stations too. Being a nimby is good when the nimby is against a road or an airport, and bad when it’s against a wind farm. An absurd level of self-contradiction was reached a few years ago, when the then government’s plans for ‘eco-towns’ was being challenged by nimbies, their complaint being that the proposed developments weren’t sustainable enough.
Perhaps this all points to the inadequacy of the word ‘nimby’. If you don’t want to live near a road, power station or wind farm, surely that’s as good a reason as you need to challenge the argument for their construction near you — to ask why it was necessary, rather than take the claims that it is necessary at face value. And it should motivate better arguments in favour of such developments. But the debate about the UK’s energy supply has never happened. Policies were dictated at the UN and EU, and the MPs who represent us in Westminster deferred responsibility to technocrats in quangos like the Committee on Climate Change, which were stuffed full of believers. Rather than confronting opposition to wind farms, DECC ministers like Ed Miliband decided it would be better to engineer values, to make being against wind farms as ‘socially unacceptable’ as not wearing a seat belt.
Meanwhile, many anti-wind campaigners actually still share much of the green agenda. I’ve had long discussions with many of them about it, in which nobody has tried to force the point by making the other ‘socially unacceptable’. Many campaigners are concerned about climate change. But the installation of wind farms has opened their eyes to the strange politics that lies behind their construction, and to the alarmist excesses of the environmental movement. Wind energy companies are meeting a political demand, not a demand for electricity. These are the things wind farm campaigners talk about. The wind farm debate is about much more than what happens in people’s backyards. Hence, resistance to wind farm developments is portrayed as preoccupation with one’s own interests. To admit otherwise would be to admit to the debate that there is a problem with UK and EU policies, and the politics behind them. There is no such thing as a ‘nimby’ in the wind farm debate.