NIMBY to NISEBY

I’m a very lucky chap. I live in a nice house on my family’s farm in a pleasant little village in South Yorkshire. We’re surrounded by beautiful countryside, canals, ancient woodland and sites of special scientific interest. They may not be the canals of Venice or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but it does it for me.

About 18 months ago I was on the verge of completing 30 years service with the police. I’d be able to take my pension, do all those DIY jobs that needed doing to the house I built myself in 1996, and enjoy more time walking my dogs and enjoying all that fresh air and freedom in a location I love. Then BAM! The Frackers came to town (or small, rural village to be more accurate.)

Out of nowhere, Ineos, a huge petrochemical company owned by Britain’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe, gave notice of its intention to explore for shale gas in the field behind my home (just how they gave notice will be the subject of another blog post).

Now I knew a bit about fracking, but hadn’t really drilled beneath the surface, if you’ll pardon the pun. I immediately hit the keyboard and tales of horror began to well up from Google (The puns just keep coming.) I looked for balance in my research, I honestly did, but the signs weren’t good. Everything about this process looked toxic and dangerous.

A small number of us met with a guy who knew far more about the fracking industry than I could find in half a day on Google and my worst fears were confirmed. Village meetings were planned, over 600 people turned out from a population of around 2000 and the mood was ugly. The pitchforks and burning torches were brought out and within a matter of a few short days, I, and the overwhelming majority of my neighbours, had become NIMBYs – Not In My Back Yard!

“What’s that?” I hear you and the purist activists cry, “You’re only concerned because it’s going to effect you?! That’s just selfish protectionism!”

Actually yes – at first anyway. I’m not ashamed to say that self interest was at the start and heart of my objection to fracking. MY house was at risk of earthquakes. MY house wouldn’t be worth as much. The drilling rig would ruin the countryside where I walk. MY water might be poisoned. MY family’s health would be put at risk!

I’m not ashamed to say it, because it’s true of many of us. If you want proof, just look at the many charitable trusts that exist. They are invariably founded by good people who have been touched by the illness or circumstance for which they are raising money to address. Go to organised Cancer charity runs and you will see the names of family members and friends for whom the runner is taking part, displayed on their shirt. Those named people have suffered cancer and have been the inspiration for the runner to take action.

Would these same people fundraise in the same way and for the same cause if they hadn’t been personally effected? Well of course some would, but I suspect the overwhelming majority would not. Actively engaging in events and doing something to influence an outcome, is a step beyond dropping a couple of quid in a collection bucket or texting £10 to a telethon that has pulled on your heartstrings.

It’s the same with environmental and planning issues. Very few people will jump up and down if the guy around the corner builds a 20 foot wall round his garden, but if that guy lives next to you and the wall turns your house into a darkened cave, you’ll be lobbying the council before you can say Checkpoint Charlie.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story, however. Like illness, loss or grief, NIMBYism can be the kick start to an awareness of the bigger picture; at least it was in my case. The fact is, we don’t know what we don’t know and it’s only when we know it that we can decide to do something about it. (Did everyone follow that last sentence?)

NIMBYism has alerted me to the wider threat of fracking and the dangers it presents to us all. I now support a wider anti-fracking movement by attending meetings in support of other groups, fundraising for causes beyond my village and standing at the gates of fracking sites around the country to protest. What’s more, it’s sparked an interest in me for other environmental matters too. We all have a wake up point and mine was fracking on my doorstep.

I’m now proud to say that I have reinvented myself, transforming Richard from a NIMBY to a NISEBY – Not in Someone Else’s Backyard.

If you want to find out more about Fracking, definitely DON’T rely on what the Government tell you. Instead, visit http://www.frackfreeunited.co.uk

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