Oct 6, 2011

No Impact Man

by Colin Beavan

I don't know why I have this thing lately for reading books about people doing experiments to change their lives and live in ways that are better for the environment. It's interesting to see how far people are willing or able to go, what challenges they come up against, how they solve them. I guess I also like to compare myself, to imagine if it's something I could do, too. Most seem to have one focus; I've read a lot of books (because I like gardening) about sustainable living and feeding yourself. This Organic Life, Farm City and  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle are several titles about people who tried to only eat what they could grow or find within a short distance of home (thus avoiding the costs of food traveling far). This author has alerted me to several more; there's a book called  The 100-Mile Diet whose title explains itself, and another where the author tries to do one new environmentally-friendly thing per day: Sleeping Naked is Green.

Anyway, No Impact Man describes Beavan's experiences taking his family through a year-long project to see how much they could reduce their carbon footprint on the earth. It's pretty impressive that he didn't just focus on one thing, like see if we can only eat local for a year, or only use green energy for a year. No, he did it all. In stages, which I think was smart. First, he cut out all the trash their family produced. The used nothing new. They quit buying any food that came in packaging- so only fresh produce, no take-out, not even coffee from Starbucks until he thought to bring his own re-usable cup along. Next they quit using vehicles for transportation, walking and biking everywhere (and taking stairs- they even eschewed the elevator!) Then tried to do without electricity. He flipped the circuit breaker in his apartment and took to shopping for fresh food several times a week, going to sleep when it got dark, stomping on clothes in the tub to wash them, etc.

Oh, and he did this all while living in New York City.

Several interesting things happened. He got a lot of attention for this project. His family was willing to go along with it and even found it fun. He discovered he had a lot more time on his hands and began spending it with family and friends, appreciating the simple pleasures of life. He found his limits: there's a point at which doing without in order to save the planet just becomes miserable (washing kid-vomited-on bedsheets by hand?) He also reached a point where it wasn't enough simply to reduce his own use of resources or environmental impact, but that he wanted to do something positive and so got involved with local volunteer projects to plant trees, clean up trash on the river, etc.

Can you tell I was impressed by this man?

There's been a documentary made of the No-Impact Man project (I think that's how I originally found it; saw the title on Netflix). And Beavan has a blog all about it, too.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 274 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
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anyone else?


Jenny said...

That IS impressive! Especially the part about cutting out all packaged food. What if they had leftovers and didn't eat them fast enough and the leftovers went bad? And, ooh, if he went out to eat over the course of this project, and the place had paper napkins, WHAT DID HE DO?

Jeane said...

I don't know about the leftovers part. Maybe by the time he turned off his fridge (one of the later stages) they'd figured out how to make meals only be enough to eat? As for the eating out, he always asked if he could use the cloth napkin he brought with him. And he always asked for tap water in restaurants, too- no bottled water.

Eating out seemed to work better for him than take-out food, because there was no disposable packaging to worry about.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I love stories about experiments where people change their lives. They're addicting. I have this documentary in my Netflix queue -- I didn't know it was a book too. I'll be looking for this one.

carolsnotebook said...

I've heard of him before, and it is impressive. Not something I could do, though.

Stefanie said...

I've seen the documentary but haven't read teh book. The documentary is quite good especially since it doesn't hide the arguments he and his wife had. Highly recommend it since you liked the book.