No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process

By Colin Beavan

Long title, big experiment- and this point is debatable-HUGE impact.  Despite the flurry of notice during the actual No Impact year in 2006 and the buzz that’s occured since announcement of a September 1st release of a book and film, fans and critics alike have a lot to say about Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man.  The New York Times, radio DJs, television hosts, authors and guests on his widely read blog; seemingly everyone in the world has an opinion about the year long project in which a Manhattan family, or as Colin likes to call them, 10 legs and a tail (wife Michelle, toddler Isabella and dog Frankie), went to extremes to live without making a carbon impact on the planet and therefore taking an individual stand in the battle against global warming.

The question seems to be, can one person (or family) really make a difference? The question that’s also flying around on the heels of this whole project is was it all just a big eco publicity stunt?

For those who may be in the latter group, picking up the book is highly recommended but I will say that no matter what conclusions you come to, it’s an entirely eye-opening, surprisingly funny, and completely charming journey you’ll take along with the Beavan family, who by no means pretend to be eco-saints or to have all the answers even after completing their year-long experiment, in which they attempted to create zero trash (no take out food, wrapped purchases, coffee cups, receipts), create zero carbon emissions (no transportation other than human powered, only local food), and live without adding any toxins (laundry detergent) or strain on the environment in any way (no electricity, toilet paper). . .all while living on the 9th floor of an apartment building in Manhattan.

For all those critics who seem to think that Beavan is promoting himself as a martyr, or simply in it for the green publicity, or for anyone who can’t stop harping on the fact that they didn’t use toilet paper, all I can say is these naysayers obviously didn’t read the book carefully and/or missed the entire point.  Beavan makes absolutely no pretenses of his doubt, struggles, “failures” and the questions that still linger about individuals being able to make a difference in our crisis of global warming. As his friend Graham Hill from TreeHugger.com said “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste”, and I think the important point is that Beavan and his family (that were sort of dragged along for the ride), took the opportunity to do everything they could not to waste it.

Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat seems to think that the question of whether or not a single family can change the world is answered, saying the book “is a deeply honest and riveting account of the year in which Colin Beavan and his family attempted to do what most of us would consider impossible.  What might seem inconvenient to the point of absurdity instead teaches lessons that all of us need to learn.  We as individuals can take action to address important social problems.  One person can make a difference.”

Another important point of the book, and the premise that The No Impact Project, his newly formed non-profit, is based on launches a world-wide experience to coincide with Beavan’s fall publicity tour for the No Impact book (September 1st, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and film, is that while making less of an impact on the planet, we simultaneously begin to live better lives.  Imagine that.  While living more simply, we actually live more happily.

In the No Impact Project experience, people everywhere will have the opportunity to take on an abbreviated 1-3 weeks based on Colin’s No Impact Year, using an entirely volunteer written How-To-Guide, a short informational film and of course the resources of Beavan’s blog (noimpactman.org) and his book.  For those doing the 1 week trial, it begins with Trash on Monday and then goes through the week, each day highlighting a particular area that Colin and his family focused on, finishing with an Eco-Sabbath on Sunday. There will be many interactive features as entire families, communities and groups take part in working to lessen their overall carbon footprint. . .what was that about one person not making a difference again?

Colin wonders in his book if “our lack of social connection and community is at the root of our environmental problem. Without real community, where is the visceral sense of connection to something larger, to something to which I owe my care? Maybe one reason I felt like I couldn’t make a difference when the project started was because I wasn’t firmly connected to anything to which I could make a difference.”

The whole project beginning this month seems to be a pretty good step towards changing that.

Despite what the critics might say, the No Impact year and the Beavan family aren’t perfect and they’re the first to admit it. When transitioning into eating only local food (the best choice for non-impact living) and are asked to dinner by friends, they don’t wave their fingers “and say, “Oh no, we’re environmentalists.” [They] go and have fun.”

He admits that they flounder, and are far from perfect, Michelle can’t make it without coffee from tropical climates, and Colin takes a train to visit a farmer upstate, but the point is that we can all choose how we live.

For the sake of the planet, Beavan suggests that “we need to find a good life that does not depend on so much energy and material. . .where we choose instead of inherit, where we stride purposefully instead of sleepwalk.  Where we are true masters of our destiny.”

To which I ask, for the sake of the planet, or for the sake of all humankind?

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