The NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) idea that something is fine, even necessary as long as it is not in one’s own backyard, makes us downright stupid about social and environmental decisions. Even as we try to divide up the world into good parts where we live and bad parts where we don’t, earthly cycles and global dynamics are busy mixing it all up. We ingest bits of the plastic that we thought to throw away. The same goes for pharmaceuticals, fire retardants and pesticides. Everything we create winds up in our most intimate backyard—our own bodies.
It is no different in the social sphere. Walls like the one George Bush wanted to build at the southern US border or the one the Israeli government is erecting between themselves and the Palestinians don’t protect anyone. They only make them ignorant about what is on the other side. No matter how high the wall on our southern border it will not change the fact that corporate strawberry farms have ousted subsistence farmers from their land. I once interviewed a man who joined the crowds that panned gold in northern California during the Depression in hopes of getting enough for a loaf of bread. Viewing those masses of hungry people told him in his bones that this country would have gone up in flames without the WPA to provide employment. He was viscerally aware that those good gentle people would not simply stand by and watch their children starve. Neither will any of those on the other side of the walls we erect.
NIMBY licenses not only much environmental and social injustice, but many lapses in common sense. After all, who would build a chemical factory or nuclear power plant if it were placed directly in their own backyard? And if the wounded soldiers in Iraq were Bush or his children, would he have so ruthlessly cut their health benefits?
In spite of its dangerous falsehoods, NIMBY has good press in our modern economic system, which tells us to “externalize costs”— pass them on to someone else—and “internalize benefits”— keep them for themselves. But we can no longer afford such blatantly self-defeating behavior. If we understand the NIMBY lie, we won’t buy clothes made by workers who live under conditions we would not accept for ourselves because we understand our compassion is pragmatic. It is only NIMBY ignorance that says the enemies we make far away will never wreak violence on our own soil.
Instead of hiding behind fences with our NIMBY attitude, we need an “in my backyard” attitude. That attitude will warn us away from dumping toxins we don’t want in someone else’s backyard–just as it will warn us away from benefiting on the pain of others. We should not make or buy anything we are not willing to eat (or send back to the land to fertilize what we eat), since we ultimately DO wind up ingesting it.
How might we change our decisions if we realized our backyards cannot ultimately be separated from anyone else’s? It is worth contemplating, since it all comes back to us (or to our children and grandchildren) in the end. We all share a single planet.
You are welcome to link to this post; note, however, it is copyright 2008, Madronna Holden. Feel free to email me if you wish to use it.
Filed under: Contrasting worldviews, Environmental ethics, environmental philosophy, Environmental psychology, Ethics, Our Earth and Ourselves, Working for justice, worldviews | Tagged: environmental philosophy, holistic environmental philosophy, NIMBY |