A Practical Peacemaker Ponders . . .

Back Up Next

No Impact Man

Keith and I both saw a "pre-release" showing of "No Impact Man."  His reactions are here.

Colin Beavan, his wife Michelle Conlin, and their toddler daughter undertook a year-long experiment to live with no environmental impact in their New York City apartment. This meant no transportation other than self-propelled, no electricity in their home, no taking of elevators or use of toilet paper, no restaurant or take-out food, among other major lifestyle changes. The Beavan familyís project was covered in a number of major media outlets and now appears as a book and documentary. A friend gave me tickets to see No Impact Man in pre-release last night.

The absolutism of the Beavan familyís lifestyle during the No Impact year was the hook that grabbed the mediaís attention, built Colinís blog following, and will draw audiences to the film and book. However, it raises a crucial question: is it better to set an example of austerity that almost no one can duplicate, or a more moderate one which larger numbers of people can actually put into practice? Instead of totally refusing to use elevators, how about committing to take the stairs up to five floors, then get on the elevator if going higher than that, but always walking all the way down? Instead of washing clothes in the bathtub by stomping on them barefoot in Borax water, how about continuing to use an electric washer but doing as few loads as possible, in cold water, without toxic detergents, and hanging the clothes to dry? And getting your electricity from solar or wind power if you possibly can? Michelle struggles with the restrictions--at the outset of the project, she has never cooked a meal--and the couple experiences tension between his zeal, her resistance.

The two of them demonstrate a surprising blind spot on a couple of major issues. Beavan accurately mentions that livestock agriculture has a greater impact on global warming than the entire transportation sector. Yet the family continues to eat dairy products and eggs even though preventing spoilage poses a considerable problem when they stop using their refrigerator. A dairy farmer they interview tells us he doesnít want to be certified organic because then he could not treat his cows with drugs if they became ill. Left unsaid is that vegans never have these concerns. To have No Impact regarding food, a vegan diet accomplishes far more than does a local food nonvegan diet.

Michelle wants to have a second child; Colin doesnít. When they discuss this issue on camera during their No Impact year, Colin says his objection is the difficulty they would both have in pursuing their careers if they had two children. Neither partner mentions the profound environmental impact of another child on the planet; that is, the amount of food, fuel and other resources he/she would consume over a lifetime. Nor do they consider overpopulation: more than 200,000 people are added to the planet every day, and how are we going to feed all these children? Far more serious justification exists for stopping childbearing after one child than merely the frustration of juggling work and family.

That said, Colin Beavan comes across as sincere in his desire to do what he can to preserve the planet. I hope No Impact Manís thought-provoking and entertaining message will reach large numbers of people. When you watch or read it, you canít help evaluating your own consumption and lifestyle. And although very few of us would want to adopt such an radical stance, we can all do something, and perhaps more than we might have thought we could before meeting the Beavan family. The movie will be released in select markets this Friday, then later nationwide; the book was published last week. To learn more, go to noimpactproject.org.