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Nullifying NIMBY assumptions

In her recent post, Ynke points out that the 'not in my back yard' (NIMBY) concept is a pejorative label used to explain simplistically why people might oppose a CCS development. Labelling such as this is aimed at disregarding the range of concerns individuals, groups and communities might have about CCS and other clean energy developments during the planning phase. NIMBYism generally assumes that people oppose a project for the simple reason that it is not wanted in their local area. People I have interviewed in the course of my research, who have been labelled NIMBY, neither believe that this is the case or that the label is justified. On the contrary, they believe their opposition is valid. They say their concerns are wide-ranging and go far beyond their local environment. For many, their views are representative of the majority of the community.

There is a general rule that consultation should occur at least within a 5km radius of a project site. Ideally, for those inclined toward the NIMBY concept this area encompasses all people most likely to be affected by a development. But this excludes non-residents, who have an attachment to the development site through, for example, their childhood memories, or appreciate the area for its visual amenity or the leisure activities it supports. For example, people near where I live in Australia were looking for community assistance to rehabilitate a wetlands site in their suburb. Some local residents volunteered, others were disinterested. Other volunteers came from up to 20km away. They were motivated by their previous and current associations with the wetlands site. In their article, Blowing against the wind—An exploratory application of actor network theory to the analysis of local controversies and participation processes in wind energy, Eric Jolivet and Eva Heiskanen, describe how a wind farm development proposed for a former mining site in the Carmaux area in France was regarded favourably by the majority of local residents, who were consulted about the project. However, residents living in a town 8km away, who were not consulted, had serious concerns about the visual impact of the turbines on their tourism industry.

Clearly the 5km rule failed in the above examples. So the question is: how are all relevant stakeholders identified so that they can be included in the public participation process? The Global CCS Institute’s Social Site Characterisation: From Concept to Application publication provides advice on how to address this question. It firstly recommends that CCS proponents take into account three important steps:

  • define stakeholders broadly;
  • be aware that stakeholders will change over time; and
  • be aware that the number of key stakeholders will likely increase over time.

A key part of the process is to undertake stakeholder identification throughout the life of the project. This is done through regular research. To this end, the Social Site Characterisation publication provides a list of questions that enables a proponent to update their stakeholder list effectively. The questions are complemented by stakeholder identification tools and techniques. These include the gathering of relevant social data such as local economic, education and employment trends, tracking the project-relevant issues in the news media, conducting baseline surveys about attitudes to the proponent and the CCS project, and conducting interviews and focus groups to learn about stakeholders’ perceptions and concerns.

The publication helpfully points out ways in which a proponent can employ some of these methods economically. For example, demographic data such as age, gender, employment types and income levels can be collected through the national Census material usually provided on a government website, while social network tools such as Facebook and Twitter can help a proponent identify and track key issues that concern the community.

The result is that a proponent, having applied some or all of the suggestions made in the publication, will have developed a comprehensive stakeholder map comprising internal, local, national and international stakeholders who, irrespective of a 5km boundary, reflect a range of supportive and opposing views.

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