NIMBY and environmental engagement in an industrial town
Thomas Hylland Eriksen
(University of Oslo)
Paper short abstract:
In a city saturated by coal, gas and industry, environmental activists must relate to the economic and social importance of industry. Exploring green activism in Gladstone, Australia, the paper discusses its conditions, forms and implications against the backdrop of both system and life-worlds.
Paper long abstract:
'You know the acronym NIMBY?' asked a local environmental activist. I nodded: 'Not In My Back Yard.' She explained that her interest in ecological issues and environmental destruction was close to zero before a large LNG (liquid natural gas) development was under way near her home on an island off the Queensland coast. Talking about friends who remained indifferent to the environment, she pointed out that 'five or six years ago, I was them.'
Gladstone, Queensland is one of Australia's largest coal ports and the site of many industries ranging from alumina to cyanide and cement. Few of the 70,000 residents of the region are socially and economically completely independent of the fossil fuel industry and its auxiliary activities. Environmental engagement, be it related to LNG, the controversial dredging of the harbour, emissions and air quality or other forms of pollution, is weak, fragmented and tends to be based on personal experience rather than systemic analysis. The Australian environmental movement is generally seen as distant and irrelevant to local concerns.
The paper discusses conditions for, forms of and implications of environmental engagement in a city where coal, gas and industry are taken for granted as necessary conditions for prosperity and economic security. To what extent is the double bind between growth and sustainability relevant at all to the citizens of this city; and how can it be dealt with within the parameters that define their life-worlds? The empirical focus is on green activism.
Economies of growth or ecologies of survival? Fear and hope in an overheated world