I don’t know who first mentioned the acronym to me, but I thought it was brilliant when I heard it. Way better than YOLO or FOMO. That’s “you only live once” and “fear of missing out” for the readers out there who are wise enough to spend their time on better things than keeping up with the latest hip acronyms.
The acronym I’m talking about is NIMBY, or “not in my backyard.” The acronym actually shows up as a word in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, defined there as the “opposition to the locating of something considered undesirable (as a prison or incinerator) in one's neighborhood.”
I imagine we are all guilty of nimbyism (also a word) to some extent. Imagine if your city announced that a new sewage treatment plant or airport would be constructed 200 yards from your house or apartment. How would you feel? Personally, I would be less than enthused.
That isn’t to say that such a response is unreasonable. A nimbyist (probably not a word) reaction isn’t fundamentally a bad thing, as I think most people would rather live without home intrusions, whether auditory, odorous or otherwise. That’s okay.
What I don’t think is okay is when a person falls into one of two nimby traps. First, we cannot lose sight of the fact that some people have little or no choice about where they live. Each and every one of us is a member of a community that extends beyond our backyard and neighborhood. It is incumbent upon us to do what we can to break down socio-economic barriers that force the poorest of us into less-desirable living conditions, so that we all have a meaningful choice about where we live.
Second, we have to be careful of nimbyism in the environmental context. Remember, environmental impacts don’t stop at backyard fences. Just ask Californians who have seen their homes engulfed by wildfires. Or ask kids with asthma attacks triggered on high pollution days in urban areas. Flint, Michigan residents and people in coastal Louisiana might have an opinion on the matter as well.
To be clear, I’m not assigning blame for these environmental problems. Each issue, and there are many others like them, is nuanced and complex. Blame is hard to assign, and that’s not the point anyway.
Rather, the point is that we are all connected in many ways, including through our reliance upon natural systems for the services they provide. We are also connected in that individual actions that harm the environment for one harm it for all. That reality makes each of us responsible for our own actions.
When contemplating our environmental challenges, we can’t just say, “Not in my backyard.” Instead, I ask that we collectively declare, “Not in anyone’s backyard.”