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.
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