BIOMES: Paul Sabin, Randolph W. Townsend Jr. Professor of History and Professor of Environment presents: 'From NIMBY to YIMBY'

by YSE Office of the Dean

Lecture, Talk, or Panel BIOMES YSE Alumni YSE Faculty/Staff YSE Students

Wed, Mar 1, 2023

12 PM – 1 PM EST (GMT-5)

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Environmental Values and Public Participation in the Shadow of Climate Change

Seminar Abstract:
Public participation and environmental review have been celebrated for decades in the United States as effective democratic tools to protect the environment and local communities. Yet they now face spirited criticism.

Where previous attacks on laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) were typically mounted by conservative skeptics and frustrated businesses, the new criticism comes from inside the liberal house. A generational shift is underway in how American liberals see the balance between government power and the rights and roles of local citizens and communities. NIMBY (or Not-in-My-Backyard) opponents of development are blamed for the inadequacy and scarcity of affordable housing, mass transit, and renewable energy infrastructure. The solution: YIMBY (or Yes-in-My-Backyard) policies, including reform of participation and review standards, to accelerate project approvals and weaken opposition.

NEPA and similar state environmental laws, according to the new liberal critics, reinforce a problematic status quo by weakening government capacity to act, preventing effective responses to climate change and other urgent concerns. Community input and public participation mandates, from this vantage point, are seen as undemocratic, rather than inclusionary, because they shift power from broadly elected representatives to self-selecting, and often narrowly self-interested, local advocates.

Paul Sabin’s talk, “From NIMBY to YIMBY,” will discuss the history of environmental review and public participation in the United States to show what today’s conflicts reflect about how environmental problems are defined, which concerns are increasingly paramount, and what kinds of solutions are favored.

Paul Sabin is the author of Public Citizens: The Attack on Big Government and the Remaking of American Liberalism and The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future. He is the faculty director of the Yale Environmental Humanities Program.

About the Series:
Over the last twelve years, the Yale School of the Environment has held a weekly seminar series, called BIOMES, which has been the School’s flagship forum for bringing cutting-edge research and impactful work to the community.
BIOMES stands for ‘Bridging Issues & Optimizing Methods in Environmental Studies”

The series is a community-sourced and student-led effort designed to bring different perspectives to YSE’s main stage. During the spring 2023 semester, the committee has chosen to feature cross-campus voices among the faculty to highlight the breadth and depth of interdisciplinary approaches occurring at Yale on topics related to the environment.

Food Provided (Food is provided for in-person attendees only. )



Paul Sabin's profile photo

Paul Sabin

Randolph W. Townsend, Jr. Professor of History and Professor of American Studies

Yale University, Department of History

Paul Sabin teaches United States environmental history, energy politics, and political, legal, and economic history.  He coordinates the Yale Environmental History working group and the Yale Environmental Humanities Program, and helps lead Yale’s undergraduate Environmental Studies major. 


He is the author of Public Citizens: The Attack on Big Government and the Remaking of American Liberalism (W.W. Norton, 2021), which examines the evolution and impact of the public interest and environmental movements in the United States since the 1960s. His previous book, The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth’s Future (Yale University Press, 2013), explores the clash between environmentalists and their critics in contentious debates over population growth and resource scarcity.  His first book, Crude Politics: The California Oil Market, 1900-1940 (University of California Press, 2005), shows how politics and law shaped a growing dependence on petroleum in California and the nation. Sabin also has written on international resource frontiers, U.S. overseas expansion, and energy and legal history.


Sabin received his Ph.D. in American History in 2000 from the University of California, Berkeley, and spent a postdoctoral year as Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in business history at the Harvard Business School.  He also served for nine years as the founding executive director of the non-profit Environmental Leadership Program, which has trained and supported a collaborative network of more than 1,300 talented public leaders from higher education, government, businesses, and non-profit organizations.  

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