Some years ago, I met a man named Stanley Tom. He lives in a village named Newtok in the Kuskokwim River delta in western Alaska. At the time, Newtok was literally eroding away. Since then, the process has only sped up (and grabbed headlines in the Guardian not long ago). Newtok is a casualty of global warming—its riverbank is being eaten away and it is sinking into the tundra around it.
At the time, Stanley Tom was the one in charge of moving the village. You could see the toll the work had taken on him—he looked exhausted, beaten down, and about ready to give up. He understood that the challenges facing his village were due to global warming, but he also said that his village was doing what it could to address the issue:
We all did quit using trash bags already in the stores. We’re using shopping bags. And we’re trying to help the problem that they are telling us, you know, and I don’t think we’re the big impact. We’re just a small amount and we’re trying to help the problem right now.
I live in England now and every day on my commute I pass by these windmills.
Windmills are controversial in England. In a village not far away, there’s a proposal for a new wind farm which is generating intense opposition. The same is true all over England. Whatever the merits and demerits of each individual case (and they may be considerable), it is true that wind farms are a classic example of NIMBYism—not in my backyard.
But every day when I go past these turbines, I think of Stanley Tom and the village of Newtok and I realize that I believe in YIMBYism—yes in my backyard—and I do so because of my Christian faith.
Global warming is already creating unequal burdens on people around the world. Stanley Tom and the people of Newtok are one example of those who bear those burdens particularly heavily. The Bible says that we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Because I believe that I am knit together into one entity called the body of Christ with other people around the world, I believe I am called to help Stanley Tom bear his burdens.
Yes, it is true that having wind farms creates problems for people around where I live. But it is also true that they help (in a very small way) address some of the challenges Stanley Tom is facing. When I see those wind turbines, I think of how they are helping Stanley Tom bear his burdens. That, to me, outweighs the obstacles they pose.
My meeting with Stanley Tom is indelibly imprinted on my mind. I will never be able to forget his stories about how global warming is affecting his home and his daily life.
So forget NIMBYism—let’s be YIMBYs.