Saturday July 28, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON

Let's talk about NIMBY or "not in my backyard." Obviously, there are things nobody wants to live next door to. The earliest caveman probably said, "You're not putting that latrine in MY backyard!" It's as old as the hills.

If you are a Pittsfield resident and someone tells you that a methadone clinic will be opened next door, at the very least you might groan and at the most, you might organize your neighbors to make sure no such thing happens. After all, despite the fact that such clinics exist all over the country and operate without much trouble, some people would rather not have a collection of folks waiting for their medicine outside their house where their kids may be playing. Don't get me wrong -- I certainly understand that as a society, if we can help people get off heroin or other narcotics, we should. Some responsible public officials in Pittsfield know that too.

"Why not put it somewhere else?" you may ask. There is the philosophical imperative. Most of us know that this is a good thing for the people who need it but we can't help but worry. Business owners fear the clinic will drive customers away. If we put it in a residential neighborhood, we worry that it will attract some undesirable folks. Let's face facts -- some addicts will do pretty much anything to feed their addiction. That sometimes means stealing to buy drugs.


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Would you want to risk something like that when you have been used to leaving your doors unlocked? Most people would not and they organize, yell, and carry on to stop it from happening. I guess it comes down to how much personal sacrifice people are willing to endure in order to help others. If you put the clinic in an inaccessible place, the very people who need it might not be able to get there. I certainly hope that Pittsfield gets its clinic and since it will be health related, it makes some sense to put it in a hospital.

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There are a lot of other ongoing NIMBY cases that hit close to home. Consider some of the environmental solutions that are intended to help us break free from fossil fuels.

Virtually every scientist I have ever spoken with tells me that wind energy and solar power are integral parts of the solution to our terrifying problem of advanced climate change. The president says it, the governor says it but when people are told that those wind turbines might show up on their mountaintop or in a nearby farmer's field, they want nothing to do with it. They collect signatures and they get as much scientific information as they can, some of it solid, some of it off the wall. Quite often, it ends up in court and takes a long, long time to resolve the problem.

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Obviously, there's a big difference between a methadone clinic and a windmill or photovoltaic field. But when government gets frustrated enough about citizen or neighborhood resistance, they come up with easier ways to do it. Sometimes the local government gets so frustrated, they pass a law allowing the state to site the facility.

In China, you get no choice. In America, you get the opportunity to use the power of organization to put a stop to it. If you are well-heeled, you are able to muster resources in a far more expedient manner than if you are not.

The future of the planet may well be at stake here. It's hard to blame someone for protecting their kids or the value of their homes or businesses but there is something called the common good. It might be worth considering what you would do if we were talking about your backyard.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.