NIMBY Kills a City. Will It Kill a Civilization?



I was recently shocked to learn from Mona Charen that the  Naples, Italy solid waste disposal crisis I first heard of a couple years is still ongoing.


The trash is piled up in great hillocks around the city, many as much as one-story high. The stench is oppressive. A great deal of garbage has of course escaped its plastic bags and decorates the streets and sidewalks. Everywhere your eye falls, even in the district surrounding the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace), blight reigns.


(The) dumps are full and when a new dump or incinerator is proposed, there is loud protest from those in proximity to the planned site. The NIMBY impulse is killing a great European city.


As Charen noted, “Italy is famed for its ungovernability.” Or at least southern Italy, which for historical and cultural reasons explained by Robert Putnam remains almost a third world basketcase, while northern Italy is a prosperous, dynamic first-world powerhouse (with no solid waste crises).


Often when I describe Peter Huber’s vision of how America could transform our economy into an all-electric one powered by nuclear energy people say things like, “That won’t happen because you’ll never get a permit for a new nuke in this country.”


I wonder. In southern Italy, as Naples shows, that may be true, but America has always had a more pragmatic, positive civic culture that at some point limits the power of NIMBYs to stop progress here. Even the notoriously dysfunctional Michigan legislature passed a law last year limiting local governments’ power to block utility lines and pipelines.


I suspect that when the middle class can’t get gas for their cars and begin to experience rolling black-outs because of our failure to build new electrical grid capacity, the coddling of NIMBYs will quickly cease.


People who say, “You’ll never get nuke permits” speak as if the obstacles are “existential realities.” They aren’t; they’re “social constructs.” As such they can be deconstructed.


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