Public Engagement with Large-Scale Renewable Energy Technologies: Breaking the Cycle of NIMBYism
Over the past few years, economists and climate scientists have constructed a strong evidence base to show that rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas are causing significant changes to global weather patterns. [1,2] In most developed countries, the energy required for transport, heat, and power is derived predominantly from greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuel sources (i.e. natural gas, coal, and oil). To mitigate climate change, governments are making commitments to reduce reliance upon these sources of energy and increase the use of low-carbon sources such as nuclear and renewable energy (e.g., solar, wind, and marine). During 2008, at least 73 countries set policy targets to increase the use of renewable energy, up from 66 in 2007.  For example, the UK government aims to increase the proportion of electricity generated from renewable energy sources from a current level of 5.5% to 30% by 2020,  as part of a ‘step change’
programme to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 
Policy targets for substantial and rapid increases in the use of renewable energy are ambitious, particularly in the UK, given the controversies that have often surrounded large-scale renewable energy projects in the past, particularly onshore wind farms. These have involved bitter disputes between developers and affected communities, leading to projects being delayed and even abandoned [6,7] and opponents being dubbed ‘NIMBYs’ (not in my backyard).  For this reason, the subject of public engagement with renewable energy is an important one that may well play a crucial role in determining whether energy targets will be achieved both in the UK and elsewhere. Moreover, I have serious doubts that ‘step changes’ are practically achievable in such a short time frame, arising from the ways that policy makers and industry typically conceive the social aspects of system change, and particularly issues of public engagement.