Guest Post: NIMBYs are Earth Warriors

Gross Dam in Boulder County (Photo by David Herrold via Flickr: Creative Commons)
Gross Dam in Boulder County (Photo by David Herrold via Flickr: Creative Commons)

Last weekend I stood in the back yard of a mountain house overlooking the massive proposed expansion of Gross Dam in western Boulder County. I spoke to a crowd of neighbors who were deeply concerned about the impacts of what would be the largest construction project in Boulder County history – impacts that would occur to air quality, to peace and quiet, to rivers and streams, to roads, to wildlife, as well as to human health and safety. The massive proposed expansion of the dam would negatively impact everything these neighbors hold dear, all of it right in their back yards.

These neighbors, and folks like them, are sometimes pejoratively called “NIMBYs” – Not In My Back Yard. I see it differently – I see them as Earth Warriors.

Over the last five years, I’ve had the good fortune to travel around the world supporting and defending local people who are trying to protect their back yards.

In Belize, I visited and wrote about Mayan villagers who were fighting against oil drilling on land the villagers believe is sacred. These villagers have lived on this landscape for hundreds of years and hunt and fish on it, as well as graze their livestock and grow their crops.

In New Zealand, I visited and wrote about Maori villagers who are working hard to protect their local lands and rivers, including the Whanganui River which they successfully gained “personhood rights” for after over a century of legal battles with the government.

In Peru, I was serenaded by local musicians whose village – deep in the canyon of the Maranon River – would be completely flooded by a proposed government-supported dam that would wipe out the only life they have ever known.

In Nepal, it was the same story as Peru – local villagers deep in the wild canyon of the Karnali River in the remote western part of the country whose homes and lives would be flooded by a massive dam project supported by the government.

In northern Thailand, I visited and spoke out for local villagers whose livelihood – fishing and gathering – would be destroyed by the Chinese government wanting to blast out the Mekong River, turning the river into a massive shipping canal.

In Nicaragua, it was another proposed shipping canal that would have extreme negative impacts. There, I spoke out for villagers on the Island of Ometepe in beautiful Lake Nicaragua, much of which would be ruined if the shipping canal is built.

Here in Colorado is where I make my home, and where I’ve spent much of the last 15 years defending people’s back yards. I’ve taken a stand for the people of Fort Collins who oppose a massive proposed dam on the Cache la Poudre River and a huge proposed water pipeline north of town. Throughout the state, I’ve helped homeowners fight against fracking, as well as helped local people all over Colorado speak out against extractive industries trying to ruin our public lands for private profit.

My biggest regret is that I don’t have enough time and funding to help everyone who calls me. The threats to people’s back yards are increasing everyday as more people, more fossil fuel extraction, and more development are crowding into Colorado. In addition to dams and fracking, I get calls asking for help from local communities and people trying stop cement plants, gravel pits, highways, mining, and increasingly, housing developments.

People’s back yards in Colorado are being invaded.

Your back yard is the air you breathe, where your children play and go to school, and where you try to find peace and quiet and your sense of place in this increasingly madding world. Your back yard is your home. You should protect your back yard with all your energy and might.

If someone calls you a NIMBY, be proud. Everyone is busy and you can only do what you can, but you can Think Globally and Act Locally by protecting your own back yard.

The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact or visit our submission page.


  1. This article is so true. We can no longer sit by and let developers pollute and degrade our environment, all to make money. We need to join forces and protect our environment from these marauders. Plant trees, support pollinators by outlawing deadly pesticides and preserve and protect our open spaces and wildlife habitat.

  2. If tree huggers hadn’t killed two forks, we wouldn’t need to enlarge Gross reservoir. It’s all approved and appropriate, so quit fighting it, you’re only delaying the inevitable, and increasing costs for taxpayers.

  3. None of the groups mentioned are NIMBYs, including environmentalists concerned with the real and significant impacts of dams. Trying to claim that NIMBYs are actually environmentalists puts on a pedestal grumpy curmudgeons who don’t want increased mass transit, racists who don’t want less-affluent people to be able to live in ADUs their towns and neighborhoods, and folks who try to stop homeless shelters from popping up in their posh swaths of over-watered lawns and ugly McMansions. All of these behaviors of NIMBYs are BAD for the environment.

    Just call what you’re doing what it is: leading a group of concerned, environmentally conscious citizens to prevent the destruction of the environment through the prevention of damaging dams and increased drilling. It’s not NIMBYism.

  4. is this a joke? helping disadvantages communities fight for a clean environment has nothing to do with fighting against increased density or opposing for example safer transportation options for non car drivers.

  5. If anything and everything is, in the end, just about money, then we don’t deserve to be here..

  6. Despite your attempts to sound worldly, woke and benevolent with a plea for NIMBYism disguised as environmental protection, your policy is closer to Trumpianism than Carterism. Boulder is a prime example of the liberal “BUILD THE WALL!” Thanks to its early adoption of NIMBY policy, the city is wildly unaffordable and, therefore, surrounded by miles of suburban sprawl. Sprawl which has been proven time and time again far worse for the environment than dense, urban environments.

    By why share your precious land, Gary, that only the lucky few can afford? Wouldn’t want to muck it up with the middle class, under-educated or… dare I say it… people of color. I’m sure it’s easy for an “Eco-Rockstar” to feel smug about his backyard when you’ve pushed for policy which makes it impossible for everyone but the mega wealthy to afford. Just send undesirables to the suburbs, or maybe back to where they came?

  7. I have great difficulty equating poor villagers in various places around the world with wealthy white elites who gravitate to environmentalism as one of many hip and trendy causes.
    Maybe it’s because I lived as a homeless camper on the outskirts of Boulder for a decade, and I appreciate having an abundant supply of fresh water available for drinking, bathing, laundry, dish-washing, etc.
    If I enjoyed a net worth of many millions of dollars, but was faced with my lifestyle being somewhat curtailed by the expansion of Gross Reservoir (or any other necessary public works project), I’d like to think I’d accept it with an eye to the greater good of those fellow citizens not as fortunate as me.

  8. There are a few viable options to this monster of a dam.One good 1 is to store water underground in depleted aquifers. It is cleaned before it’s pumped in and cleaned when it’s sucked out at far less of a cost and no burden to Boulder county who gets nothing but ruined congested unsafe roads for at least 6 yrs and loss of a pristine area for wildlife and recreation as well as hundreds of thousands of trees resulting in environmental degradation.

  9. David Pardo is correct—the author very seriously misunderstands the NIMBY acronym. This is not a point of style or a philosophical disagreement, but an issue of understanding how a terms is used and using the term correctly. Environmental justice is great, but we should use accurate terminology. The Independent’s editors should not have run this piece as-is.

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