Undercover nimby

The syndrome has seldom been outlined as clearly as it was recently on the programme EenVandaag on Radio 1. In the broadcast, I participated in a debate on the proposition ‘Citizens are sidelined in major wind-turbine projects’. Results from a survey were presented in order to start the debate: 73% of nearly twenty thousand respondents were in favour of wind energy; 17% were opposed to it, and the rest had no opinion. Only 70% favoured the actual installation of wind turbines. It seems that some people would like to eat good food, although they are opposed to cooking.

Further, 71% would not mind having wind turbines in their own provinces, and 60% would not object to having them in their own municipalities. Yet the results revealed an entirely different story when it came to having them in the neighbourhood. Only 35% would feel good about that, and 55% cried out with a roaring ‘nyet’. In other words: ‘Turbines? Great! But not in my backyard.’

That having been said, the issue at hand was whether citizens are being pushed to the sidelines in this type of projects. This was certainly the opinion of my opponent in the debate, the director of the NLVOW, the Netherlands association of people living in areas with wind turbines. I disagree. Each year, we are free to elect our representatives, there are many opportunities for public participation and any citizens who are still not satisfied have the right to bring their complaints before a judge. Moreover, the NLVOW pays regular visits to members of the House of Representatives, and the labour party (PvdA) recently went so far as to submit a proposal to Economic Affairs that would require all plans for wind turbines to be discussed with the association in advance. How can anyone say that citizens are being ‘sidelined’?

Politicians truly are listening. The problem is that they often tend to pay the most attention to the militant,
media-manipulating undercover NIMBYs who are dominating the debate. Like the Socialist Party, which threw out its negative slogan ‘Say no; vote SP’ several years ago, these ‘undercovers’ know that a simple ‘no’ is no longer effective. Their motto is ‘We’re not against it, but…’. For example, one resistance group in my neighbourhood is not opposed to a new supermarket, but it does oppose loading and unloading. The NLVOW is similarly not opposed to wind energy, but… ‘Wind’ is not unique: the same patterns can be observed in nearly all collective-use engineering constructions.

Politicians are currently investing considerable time and energy in the ’dialog’ with neo-NIMBYs, even though they have no need for such discussions, given that they are categorically opposed. For this reason, upstanding, involved citizens who have not dug their feet into the sand are now being short-changed. It is high time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Ir. Remco de Boer is a communication specialist for technology and science.

Ir. Remco de Boer is a communication specialist for technology and science.

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