Sometimes it felt as if 2011 was the retro year for environmentalism. Nuclear fears rise again, people start worrying about smog and NIMBYism is once again a green byword. That means "not in my backyard," and greens managed to use those knee-jerk anti-development feelings to achieve some of their biggest victories this year. That included pushing President Obama to postpone the Keystone XL pipeline that would have brought crude from Canadian oil-sands development across the Midwest. While many activists focused on the carbon risk of the oil sands, the ultimate blow against the Keystone project was struck by ordinary people in Nebraska which the pipeline would have crossed who worried less about climate change than about the risk of a local spill.
But NIMBYism has a dark side. Fighting climate change will involve transforming the energy economy, and that will require lots and lots of development: vast solar panels in the desert, offshore wind and maybe even new nuclear plants. Each of these options has faced its own NIMBY opposition from ordinary people who don't want the expense and disruption of development. Environmentalists may welcome NIMBYism now but it could bite them in the future.