NIMBYism, for the record, is an acronym for Not In My Back Yard, and this perspective is becoming increasingly visible in almost all issues. It’s also becoming a problem.
What started out as a trend, something that homeowners or property owners were against, such as a local dump, or an infrastructure project like a highway or condominium, has evolved into a mindset that prevents people from seeing the larger picture. It has led people to become a little less empathetic and a little more selfish.
Case in point, in Waterloo, there is a vacant piece of land in the west end, which the region has decided would be perfect for an affordable housing project. There are townhomes on the one side and a church on the other. Homeowners in the area are incensed that this should happen across the street from where they live. They cite a number of concerns: some valid, some not. At the end of the day, all of their reasoning revolves around how they perceive this would negatively impact them, their life, and their property values. Not how this could positively impact others, other’s lives, and other’s self worth.
Another example is harm reduction programs like Safe Injection Sites and Needle Exchanges. Despite scientific research that shows these programs lower the fatality rate of drug users, reduce the amount of needles found in public spaces, and lower health care costs, there are those that don’t want these services at all, whether the location is near their home or not. After all, these opponents don’t need these services so why should they be provided?
More broadly speaking, but also more troubling, is the flip side of NIMBYism: I don’t see it in my backyard, therefore it’s not happening. When this attitude denies scientific facts and reason it creates the perfect Petrie dish for conspiracy hypotheses to flourish. An anecdotal example is the number of posts on Twitter I’ve seen where someone states “Does anyone know anyone who got the Coronavirus?”
The question implies the pandemic is some kind of hoax. The question informs the reader as to the mindset of the inquirer: they’ve not seen anyone sick with the virus, therefore it’s overblown. This question then gathers steam, like a locomotive of old, picking up speed as it trundles down the tracks of ignorance and anger.
Another example is climate change. Many people either don’t see, or don’t recognize, the changes in their backyards over the last few years or decades. Why? The changes they see are not catastrophic. When science raises the alarm of melting polar caps, increasing ocean temperatures, increasing storm frequency and severity, increasing droughts, increasing heat waves, etc, etc, etc, there is disbelief. Since these things aren’t directly happening in a person’s own backyard the conclusion is that it’s either not happening at all, anywhere, or it’s a minor issue.
There are a lot of organizations who perpetuate the anti-climate change stance. You see stunts like a U.S. senator bringing in a snowball onto the senate floor, saying if climate change were real the snowball shouldn’t exist. Tell that to Pacific Islanders whose homes are slowly submerging under a rising tide. Tell that to an Australian who lost their home to record breaking, out of control wildfires. Tell that to the billions of people living in parts of the world where temperatures soar ever higher.
Finally, there is the movement, which has led mass protests around the world because of the heavy handed tactics and outright violence that minorities experience at the hands of police. White people say, I’ve not experienced that, or I’ve not seen that happen. What this translates to is Mr./Ms. Minority your lived experiences are invalid: doesn’t happen in my back yard. Yet these things happened, are happening, and will continue happen until we open our eyes, collectively, and take action.
I am heartened by the increased protests both here in Canada and elsewhere, which bring to light the ill treatment of minorities, and which demand positive change. If there is one silver lining in the sky-covering, dark cloud that is the COVID19 pandemic, let it be that our communal cognitive dissonance of thinking the world is fine, is dispelled. Let the illusion of shared and equal progress be removed so that we can see the world for how it actually is, rather than how we think it is. So we can fix it, together.
People are resistant to change. Corporations, who are made up of people, are resistant to change. We humans, in our sedentary lifestyles, are complacent and comfortable in our ruts. We are numb to the atrocities that we, ourselves, do not directly experience. Certainly we ignore the injustices we perpetuate by our willful blindness and inaction. We even ignore experts, who’ve spent years studying and researching their fields, because their learned recommendations conflict with how we’re living our lives.
Recognizing our part in this mess means recognizing how we need to change. It’s not easy. People fight change. Instead of changing people offer thoughts and prayers because these are easy and simple; People offer likes and retweets because these are easy and simple; People decry mask wearing as anti-freedom because it is too much to change their lifestyle: too much uncertainty, too much pain, too much work.
The time has come to demand more from our police, to demand more from our politicians, to demand more from ourselves. Our families, our communities, our world depends on it.