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Published on February 24th, 2014 | by Michael Barnard


Calling Anti-Renewables Campaigners NIMBYs Is Often Inaccurate And Always Unproductive

February 24th, 2014 by  

NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard — is a nice crisp acronym and gets bandied about a lot when discussing opposition to wind energy and other renewables. But it is inadequate as a categorization of the various people fighting against broader penetration of renewables in energy grids worldwide.

More than just inaccurate, however, it’s unproductive. Calling someone a NIMBY labels and diminishes them, making them feel quite rightly as if they are not being listened to. And understanding where anti-renewable’s sentiment originates from in the person you are talking with is important to ensuring that you are addressing their actual concerns and overcoming them.

That doesn’t mean that a subset aren’t just against change near their rural properties, but this is also a universal impulse. After all, urban neighbourhood associations are fighting urban densification and change tooth-and-nail as well.

Image courtesy of Goodbye NIMBY, hello PIMBY

So, what are the categories worth considering as you are discussing renewables with someone who appears opposed to them, or who is voicing concerns? I’ve identified nine:

  1. NIMBYs
  2. True Believers
  3. Fossil Fuel Profiteers
  4. Libertarians
  5. Nuclear Advocates
  6. Anthropogenic Global Warming Deniers
  7. Misguided Environmentalists
  8. Armchair Economists
  9. Opportunists

While this categorization is useful, it is important to keep in mind that all of these people are human beings and that their opposition to or concerns about renewables is typically only a portion of their lives. They all love their families, give to charity, and are kind to stray animals. Treat them with respect even if they attack you personally, and limit your attacks to only their ideas and communications which are wrong and demonstrably so.

Note that I’m not talking about individuals who are mounting very site-specific campaigns based on valid concerns such as harm to specific endangered species, as is obvious from my comments on the proposed Ostrander Point wind farm in Ontario, but people who make broad comments across larger areas. No one really wants to put wind turbines in the middle of an endangered bird nesting area, but sometimes it takes a process of conflict to come to the best siting compromises.

1. NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard

A subset of NIMBYs are one of the most potent anti-wind energy groups in almost every jurisdiction around the world. These are well-connected, well-off urbanites with country homes. They have deep pockets and they deal with lawyers regularly. They are often fully capable of running large-scale campaigns to support their local fight to preserve their rural fantasy land.

wind NIMBYs

Image courtesy of Wind woes recounted

Local, rural working people who opposed wind energy solely on NIMBY principles do exist, but assuming that all opponents to wind energy are NIMBYs is insulting to everyone involved and ineffective as a basis for communication. In general, the local, working NIMBYs are pragmatic. They don’t want their view spoiled or their local area changed. Some may fight to the bitter end, but 95% will stop bothering if they lose early in the process and learn to live with wind farms without complaints. If NIMBYism is their primary motivation, they are usually reasonable people and amenable to having conversations. And of course the nice thing about true NIMBYs is that as soon as the specific local battle that concerns them is won or lost, they will generally lose interest, stop spreading disinformation and get on with their lives.

Examples of the more dangerous NIMBYs in the wind energy space include: Dr. Robert McMurtry (Ontario), Peter Mitchell (Australia), Kevin Elwood (Ontario) Michael Dickinson (Ontario) and Chuck Magwood (Ontario), Carmen Krogh (Ontario, retired Pharmacist and now a “wind health researcher”).

2. True believer

True believers are  people who have decided that wind turbines and other renewables truly are useless and harmful. They will believe anything which supports their world view and disbelieve anything which disagrees with it. They believe all of the negative health and wildlife impacts, and don’t believe the positive AGW avoidance and power generation values. They are usually the shock troops of anti-wind movements but many sensible people find them offputting due to their lack of reasonableness. True believers cannot be usefully engaged. They will often make the surreal claim that they are for wind energy despite the massive negative disinformation campaigns specific to wind energy they engage in.

Image courtesy of Page on www.lolwall.co

The more intelligent among them will create more and more elaborate refutations and alternative hypotheses supporting their world-view.

The less intelligent will throw out unreferenced facts that they believe support their claims. They will often claim that pro-wind people are heartless because they are ignoring health and environmental impacts. They will usually switch to another argument without acknowledging that they are changing the subject. As claims are refuted, they will become increasingly likely to attack experts’ credibility and the ‘hidden’ motivations of those they are speaking to.

Examples of anti-wind True Believers: Sarah Laurie (Australia), Jane Wilson (Ontario), Eric Rosenbloom (National Wind Watch, Vermont), Wayne Gulden (US and Ontario), the Wrightman clan (Ontario), various pseudonymous online types (Valewood, myview1872, rucio, cowcharge, vindpust), George Papadopoulos (Australia), Lorrie Gillis (Ontario), David Norman (aka Rogue Primate of Bloomfield believe it or not, Ontario), Shellie Correia (aka 1957chevShellie Correia, Ontario)

3. Fossil Fuel Profiteers

These people are amorally pragmatic. They are likely executing strategies related to AGW-denial as well. They will spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt of any kind to advance their cause. Typically, these are the most sophisticated at PR. They cannot be usefully engaged because their goals are solely spin and PR aimed at preserving their bottom line. They take advantage of true believers mercilessly.

Image courtesy Jeff Stahler

If countered, they will follow one or more of the following tactics:

  • Shift PR focus to another delaying argument.
  • Buy an expert to testify on their behalf.
  • Support more astroturf organizations.
  • Fund studies and research that ‘prove’ failure of wind and renewables and promote them heavily.
  • Attack the credibility of opponents, possibly by funding background investigations.

Examples: Heartland institute (USA), Gina Rinehart (Australia), Koch Brothers (USA), Lisa Linowes (Industrial Wind Action Group, USA), Rick Coates (Ontario)

4. Libertarian

These people are economic ideologues who believe that any market distortion is necessarily bad. If pressed, they will agree that fossil fuel subsidies must go, but will return to ‘green subsidies’ as the primary problem despite evidence to the contrary. They often have no qualms about significant exaggerations and other means in aid of their ends. They can be engaged, but only on subjects other than market distortions such as health, capacity factors etc, but they will return the subject of FIT, PTC, RET, etc rapidly.

Image courtesy of CARTOON/COLUMN: The myopic selfishness of libertarians

If countered, they are likely to drag out more and more factoids about negative impacts of market distortions. Solyndra will be mentioned in the USA even though as an R&D subsidy, it is irrelevant to deployment of existing wind energy and solar generation with PTC support; counter-examples of Tesla paying off it’s equivalent government investment years early will be ignored. Poke them a bit and they are likely to reference Ayn Rand in positive terms.

Examples: Robert Bryce (USA), James Delingpole (UK), Kevon Martis (USA), Tom Adams (Canada)

5. Nuclear Advocates

These people may or may not believe that global warming is real, but they are invested heavily in nuclear energy as the answer to almost all of our energy needs and often have a poor understanding of grid management. They tend to be smart but ignore human dynamics of problems, and have a blind spot about the effort and time required to develop nuclear engineers and maintenance workers. Their greatest challenge to renewables campaigns is that their arguments are leveraged by others who are just against wind energy, although some links have been found between anti-renewables campaigns and major nuclear producers and unions. Nuclear advocates are frequently zero-sum game thinkers, but do present a good opportunity for useful discussions of balance between low-CO2e and low-health-impact energy sources such as nuclear, wind, and solar. Some leading lights in the environmental movement are in this camp, sadly, without understanding that their efforts will not lead to social license for nuclear and that their efforts are solely being used to delay moving off of fossil fuels.

nuclear-power-plant-smileyImage courtesy of IEA Report Advises Governments to Embrace Renewables and Nuclear

If countered, the average nuclear advocate will drag out more and more factoids about nuclear energy’s value and wind power’s lack of value. They will likely reference amateur and professional studies which look good until you dig in and realize the biases. Generally they are a time suck, so avoid digging into their arguments in too much depth.

Examples: Willem Post (USA), James Lovelock (sadly, UK), Barry Brook (Australia), Eric Jelinski (Ontario), Robert Cywinski (UK, and a member of the sub-group of thorium nuclear advocates), David MacKay (USA)

6. Anthropogenic Global Warming Denier

These people for their own reasons ignore the scientific consensus around global warming and man’s contribution to it. They tend to focus on carbon reduction aspects of renewables to exclusion of other factors and deny the value proposition on that measure alone. While the majority of mainstream religions embrace the science of global warming and consider stewardship of our earth an important element, it’s worth noting that there is a small subset of evangelical Christians who believe and preach the opposite; unfortunately, it appears as if Canada’s Prime Minister Harper is among them.

Powell-Science-Pie-ChartImage courtesy of Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart

This is another area where the behaviour of the intelligent varies from the less intelligent in the crowd. The smarter ones will throw out more and more spurious studies and factoids. They’ll point to very narrowly cherry-picked time series ignoring larger times series. They’ll pretend that there isn’t a scientific consensus. The less intelligent, of course, will get belligerent and hostile.

Examples (I recommend following the links, as in many cases the references are fascinating in the depth of connections with the fossil fuels industry): Tory Aardvark (USA), Lord Monckton (UK and increasingly WW with his swastika-laden slide deck), Steve Milloy (Fox News, Junk Science, USA), Pat Michaels (Cato Institute, USA), Sen James Inhofe (Republican, USA), Christopher Booker (Sunday Telegraph, UK)

7. Misguided Environmentalists

Pretty much every major bird, wildlife and environmental organization in the world — AudobonDavid Suzuki FoundationUnited Nations Environment ProgramWorld Nature OrganizationWorld Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)Birdlife InternationalRoyal Society for Protection of BirdsGreenpeaceAmerican Bird Conservancy — is strongly supportive of wind energy. They recognize that global warming, fossil fuel pollution, and habitat destruction are the major population concerns for wildlife. They engage productively around broader scale guidelines for wind farm siting and in specific siting tribunals where endangered species are potentially at risk to minimize potential harm to species at risk.

That said, there are a subset of environmentalists who can’t see the forest for the trees, for whom any animal’s or bird’s death is one too many. Wind farms visibly harm birds that they can see, therefore wind farms must be stopped. Their inability to gain perspective means that they typically believe a lot of other a-factual disinformation about wind energy as well, as they don’t have the capability or will to assess the evidence. It’s quite likely that many of them simply don’t care about the quality of anti-wind arguments, as they merely want ammunition for their shotgun arguments.

The list of major, credible and dedicated organizations supporting wind energy makes it clear that this small subset are very much a tiny minority of environmentalists.

Because they are often motivated by deep emotional connections to animals, the majority of these people are completely impervious to reason and referenced arguments on this subject.

Examples: Jim Wiegand (California, STEI), Mark Duchamp (Europe, STEI), Chris Clarke (journalist / naturalist who will publish any story about negative impacts of renewables on wild life, but none of the balancing stories), Henri Garand (Ontario)

8. Armchair economists

This group of people tend to overlap with Libertarians and pro-nuclear advocates, but have a distinct core. They believe, despite the clear evidence of 250,000 wind turbines generating electricity today, each worth on average $3 million USD to manufacture and erect, each requiring a business case that had to satisfy a great swath of private sector Chief Financial Officers and investors, that they somehow have a magic formula which proves wind energy isn’t economically viable in reality. Typically, they have little to no formal training in economics, but come to it from other disciplines, often engineering and physics for some reason.

In general, there’s a greater congregation in Europe, where Libertarian ideology is not as strongly expressed.

Examples: C le Pair (Holland), more TBD

9. Opportunists

This category of people see a brass ring. They look for ways to capitalize on the conflict for personal gain. They are in the minority, but some have gained prominence. There are two categories of opportunists, the short-term gain con artist and the long-term opportunists.

opportunist anti wind activistShort cons include attempting to claim that tar paper shacks with mold problems have been made uninhabitable by wind farm noise, or attempting to extort money out of wind farm developers or leaseholders to avoid ‘problems’.  (Both of these are documented behaviours near wind farms, but once again, this is not common nor should it be assumed that anyone claiming issues is an opportunist.)

Long-term gain opportunists include a subset of anti-wind energy politicians and ‘professionals’ who are exploiting those concerned in return for consulting fees, noise studies and fees to testify at hearings. To repeat, a majority of politicians and professionals who are opposed to wind energy are sincere if misguided, but there are many who are content to exploit fear and negativity for ongoing political or fiscal gain.

Examples of long-term opportunists: Nina Pierpont (Wind Turbine Syndrome, USA), Senator Nick Xenophon (Australia), Carl V. Philips (epidemiologist, various locations), Vic Fedeli and Lisa Thompson (Ontario Opposition members of Parliament), John Laforet (politician wannabe, Ontario), Eric Gillespie (lawyer filing spurious lawsuits in Ontario and losing ten so far), David Mortimer (Australia, works fibreglass, survived Vietnam and regular firing of 4.5″ naval guns, but blames wind turbines for health impacts), Neil Stollznow (PR flack, Australia), Rodd Pahl (PR flack, Australia), Stephen Ambrose (anti-wind testifying acoustician and author, USA), Peter Quinn (Australian lawyer), Tom Tanton (US AGW denier and front man)

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About the Author

Mike works with startups, existing businesses and investors to identify opportunities for significant bottom line growth in the transforming low-carbon economy. He regularly publishes analyses of low-carbon technology and policy in sites including Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Post, Quartz, CleanTechnica and RenewEconomy, with some of his work included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews have been published in dozens of news sites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. Much of his work originates on Quora.com, where Mike has been a Top Writer annually since 2012. He's available for consultation, speaking engagements and Board positions.

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