PIMBY? PIMBY? Don’t you mean NIMBY? What’s a PIMBY?

“Please in my back yard” is what it means. People who want to see wind farms and solar panel arrays built because of the impact that fossil fuels have had, are having and will have upon the global ecosystem – you know, that thing we rely on to grow food, replenish oxygen, maintain temperatures and just generally stay alive...

I’m not sure how it started. Monitoring the WREN Twitter feed Wednesday last week, I saw a tweet saying: “Are you a #PIMBY - Pro-renewables Rally being held in #Truro this Saturday,” (meaning 19th October). I checked the link to find out what was entailed – basically, turn up and bring cake – and retweeted it to WREN followers. I also decided to go myself, and Diana said she would come as well. Several more tweets came in, repeating the message.

We drove to Truro and walked from Garras Wharf car park to the cathedral, our rendezvous point. As we emerged from the tunnel under the main road, right by Marks & Spencer, we saw a gathering of people with signs saying things like “Greedy not Green”, from which we deduced that these were not the droids people we were looking for. They were, in fact, the Cornwall Protect protest against which we PIMBYs were gathering. There seemed to be quite a lot of them and there were TV cameras and reporters.

This number grew in our minds as we arrived at the cathedral to find no one there. Admittedly, we were early, but even so... We went into River Island across the square to pass the time. When we emerged, ten minutes later, it was raining, but there were people sheltering in the cathedral entrance. About five of them. We went across and spotted badges and other identifying insignia and made brave enough to say hello. The rain eased, more people arrived, including several with signs and banners to hold up. Diana took one in favour of wind turbines. I rejected ‘No Nuclear’, which I am not against per se, and took ‘No Fracking’ because we just do not need another source of fossil fuel. We can’t burn all the reserves we know about already without blasting through the CO2 limit.

A Greenpeace group arrived, and others (so we were now quite a sizeable gathering), and the people from ITV West Country News. The Cornwall Protect lot walked past us in the next street. The TV interviewer wanted a shot of everyone together on the cathedral steps. We were joined there by a protester from the other group who had, perhaps, lost his way. We were very polite and just stood in front of him. The other group returned back the way they had come and our interloper (re)joined them.

The TV man wanted to know who was in charge so he could interview them. We shrugged our shoulders and looked at each other. Who knows, we said, we’ve just come together. Actually, this is an important point. We were not a highly organised single-issue group. We were lots of different people and groups who somehow found out about this and felt strongly enough to turn up on a rainy morning and be counted. Jo Poland, from the local Green Party, stepped forward to speak to TV.

A man from the cathedral politely ushered us away from the steps, possibly fearing a repetition of the St Paul’s ‘Occupy’ protest. We decided to go to Lemon Quay near M & S, so there we marched, quite a long procession, holding up a bus down the length of a narrow street and letting it by when the street widened. The TV men rushed ahead of us to get a shot of the march coming towards them.

In Lemon Quay, we stopped about twenty metres from the other group. Some people had brought cake and offered it round. A few went across to the other group to engage them in conversation. A few of them came to us, similarly. It was all very polite. They were not against renewable energy, they said, they wanted more of it, in fact our positions were really very close, but (I had been waiting for the ‘but’) they were very upset by the industrialisation of the Cornish landscape with wind turbines on top of every skyline and solar panel arrays covering the green fields. (The farmers who do this graze sheep among the panels, so the land productivity is not lost to agriculture.)

The mines and clay pits disfigured the landscape once upon a time, we reminded them. Ah, but they at least provided lots of jobs, they said. Turbines and solar panels don’t need many people to run them. And they are built by outsiders who take all the money out of the county. (Unlike the nuclear people, of course, who will only take it out of the country.)

Actually, they are not wrong about the closeness of positions, in some respects. It was a strange mix of Greens and NIMBYs who protested against the fracking in West Sussex, for different reasons but a common end. I am inclined to accept that they would like, ideally, to have more renewables and less coal, oil and gas in the energy mix. They are concerned about a perceived lack of consultation, a planning process that allows turbines to go up close to homes (although ‘lack of consultation’ can be a euphemism for ‘the result didn’t go our way’).

I think the main difference in position is that PIMBYs are more prepared to accept consequences and responsibility. We want more renewables, less fossil fuels, and are prepared to see turbines in the landscape, right now, to achieve that. We were demonstrating ‘for’, not ‘against’. The others want renewables in a vaguer, more generalised sense, not strongly enough to spoil their views of the landscape. It’s similar to the way people are happy to put out their dustbins every week, but won’t have landfill or incineration or energy-from-waste plants anywhere near them: send it from Cornwall to Gloucestershire, they can handle it there. We have become very used in our society to having the nasty things hidden away, taken out of our sight, as if by elves. But there is a limit to how much you can pass on the consequences and the responsibility. You can’t go on sending things away to be done elsewhere.

I keep a postcard stuck on my wall. It has a stylised picture of chimney stacks and pollutants rising into the air. It says:

“Don’t throw anything away. There is no ‘away’.”

How do you engage with these people, address their objections, meet on the common ground? Let’s paint a picture. Imagine local, community-owned renewables facilities, so that the energy and the money stays local, not just in the county, but in the town, the village. It follows that if they are to be owned by the community, the community resources their construction and running, with a predisposition to make jobs local. Finally, the community has to agree what to build and where to build it, and face up to the compromises that inevitably arise. That may take a while, but it will be a proper discussion to come to a common decision, not a mere consultation about a previously determined corporate outcome.

The result is that the gain and the pain are in the same place and everyone can see and assess how they relate to each other. I say ‘everyone’. I doubt that ‘everyone’ will agree. They never do. But you would get a high percentage.

Back on Lemon Quay, we stood around for a while talking to passers-by, who seemed, pleasingly, to support us, before beginning to disperse. The other group seemed to disappear first. When Diana and I left, after handing back our borrowed signs, there was still a core of greens.

In the evening, we watched the ITV West Country News, which led on the ‘confrontation in Truro’. I think ‘they’ got about twice as much airtime as ‘us’, but at least our opinion was heard. And Diana and I got to see ourselves on TV, in the background.

Links to news coverage:

ITV West Country News: http://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/story/2013-10-19/truro-renewable-energy-rallies/

Western Morning News: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Campaigners-wind-turbines-come-face-face-Truro/story-19960045-detail/story.html

These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of WREN.