Sam Judd
Comment on the environment from columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: No time for Nimbyism

A man works in the infamous ship breaking area in Chittagong, a coastal province in Bangladesh. Photo / Stephane M Grueso
A man works in the infamous ship breaking area in Chittagong, a coastal province in Bangladesh. Photo / Stephane M Grueso

Sending the sinking ships to the slaves

While hitchhiking on sailboats through the South Pacific, the skipper of one the boats I was on asked me to be his lawyer for a "fantastic recycling plan" that involved selling old boats for scrap metal.

It sounded great: He had lined up a bunch of dirty old boats in French Polynesia that they would pay him to take away and drag to Bangladesh where the metal would be stripped and sold.

But after doing some research I found that the environmental and social destruction that is carried out on the infamous beaches of Chittagong in Bangladesh and Alang in India is obscene. Western ship owners send floating rust-buckets, full of an array of poisonous material (like asbestos, polychlorinated byphenols (PCBs) and lead) to developing countries where labour, safety and environmental compliance is cheap.

Working conditions in such places have been described as like slavery and the coastal ecosystems where the ships are sent are damaged beyond repair

Until the late 20th century ship-breaking only took place in advanced countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Then ship owners realised they could make money from the scrap through a process which, because of environmental regulations, would have cost them back home. So they exported their environmental problem to another country.

That is how I was introduced to the idea of Nimbyism.

Twenty bucks worth in my car please, but not in my backyard

You se,e lots of people want the benefit of being able to drive a car, consume convenient single-use plastic and switch on the heater all day and night so they are toasty warm. But many don't want oil drilled in New Zealand, no-one wants a landfill near their house or to have coal mined and burned near their backyard.

For the record I am all for the reduction in consumption of oil, plastics and electricity, but I am dismayed by environmental activists who drive to a protest about oil drilling in their backyard when the fuel that gets them there has been extracted from an area in the Niger Delta with no environmental controls.

This is simply importing the environmental degradation of others for our own benefit: we enjoy the cheap oil, while the community of Nisisioken Ogale (where very few people will ever have enough money to own a car) has an 8cm layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater which serves the community wells.

The most shocking example of the Nimby phenomenon I have read was after the Gulf Horizon spill. Many ignorant people in the United States (who collectively consume over 18 million barrels of oil a day - more than a fifth of total world oil consumption) protested against drilling wells in their homeland because their backyard was suddenly dirty, but made no mention of using less of the stuff.

One man's trash is another man's problem

The rise of the transfer station is another classic example of Nimbyism which is not efficient. Why is it that the region of Gisborne exports its waste (via costly, diesel-hungry trucks) all the way down to Napier rather than building a local facility? It is because no-one wants the landfill near them.

A similar but far more damaging problem occurs with the international recycling industry - particularly with E-waste. The horrid conditions suffered by poor people living in landfills who burn the PVC (polyvinylchloride) from computer cables to expose the copper are lining the pockets of recyclers in the Western World who market their services as "Green". This practice contributes to abysmal health statistics and widespread leaching of toxins into the land.

Can't they go somewhere else? This is a nice street

These days it seems Nimbys are everywhere. Despite the fact that Auckland is crippled by house prices and is facing a rapid increase in demand, residents (who are purely self-interested) are horrified at the possibility that apartments might be built in their streets.

Down South, people in affluent Arrowtown were so elitist and arrogant that they actually complained to their local council with reasons such as "we don't want ... trash renting cheap houses in Arrowtown".

So it seems the baby boomers (of which we have plenty in New Zealand) want to continue the life they currently enjoy which was born out of the golden economic years, despite the fact that it is going to hurt everyone else.

It is time for this rampant Nimbyism to stop and here marks my crusade against it.

We need to realise that an environmental problem anywhere in the world is an environmental problem that needs to be dealt with, not sent out of sight to be out of mind. Those who unfairly capitalise on cheap labour and lack of environmental controls by exporting their problems must be stopped.

If you have an example of Nimbyism, please post a comment or email me.

Sam Judd, Young New Zealander of the Year, is the Co Founder of the Sustainable Coastlines Charitable Trust

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