No Impact Man, Superhero or Eco-Dude?

by Katy on November 16, 2009 · 2 comments

Colin Beavan, holding both my copy of his book and his famed, “travel mug.”

For a guy who eschews impact, Colin Beavan sure knows how to make one. Not only is his book 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 creating a buzz everywhere from The Colbert Report to The Huffington Post, but he’s just completed a nationwide tour to publicize his book.

For those not in the know, Colin Beavan, (a.k.a. No Impact Man) dragged his wife and young daughter along for an experiment to live the entirety of 2007 creating as little environmental impact as possible. Beavan and family were not going the traditional back-to-the-land route, but tried to achieve their no impact goals while living on the high impact island of Manhattan.

The Beavans’ well documented and blogged about year included such highlights as washing their clothing in the bathtub in a manner usually saved for grape stompers, pedal-powered transportation and only eating food grown within 250 miles of Manhattan. Gone was electricity, which meant no television, elevators, lighting or refrigeration.

But it wasn’t all deprivation. The family of three discovered the imbedded joys of an unplugged life without the distractions of modern life. Hot summer nights found them avoiding the swelter of an non-air-conditioned apartment and biking over to the not-so-nearby Hudson River Park. A location that Beavan described as “too long to walk to, yet difficult to get to by public transportation.”

Recently, Beavan’s book tour brought him up the west coast, with a reading at Portland’s own Powell’s City of Books. He generously took time from his schedule to sit down with me and answer a few questions about his life before, during and after the No Impact Man experiment.

We chose to meet in the bookstore’s coffee shop, and I was little concerned that I might not recognize Beavan. But I should not have worried, as his 350.org T-shirt and glass peanut butter jar/travel mug announced his no-impacty-ness more than any headshot could.

Introductions were made and we swiftly got down to business as time was in short supply. I had already read his book, (yes, I had broken The Compact to buy my own copy.) and had a large number of questions to get through in a short amount of time.

Above and beyond any academic questions I may have had, I was curious to know how Beavan was traveling for his book tour. Was he taking the train? Had he driven the 3000 miles by Prius? Or had he perhaps hired a raw food eating eco-dude to pull him across the country in a vehicle concocted entirely from recyclables and the sweat of a single emu? No such luck, as he’d flown west in a commercial airline. However, Beavan did get his publisher to donate $500 in “carbon penance” to Solar Electric Light Fund, (a.k.a. SELF) which is:

“Fighting climate change and global poverty with solar power, so families can lift themselves out of poverty by having clean, safe water to drink; food to eat; vaccinations to prevent disease; light to study and work by; computers at school to help them learn; and power to increase their income.”

Okay. Not as exciting as the eco-dude, but perhaps ever so slightly more helpful to those in need.

When asked if his message was getting across, Beavan answered that “people are paying attention” and that “the time is right for a discussion on quality of life versus environmental catastrophe.” He also explained that, “we are stuck in a system that’s not necessarily working . We need to work together to make the system reflect how we want to live.”

Now that Beavan and his family have completed their social/ecological experiment, what has changed?

For starters, Beavan’s wife Michelle, a self proclaimed TV addict has not brought television back into their apartment, and neither has she returned to her former social shopper ways. Beavan still cycles around Manhattan and explains that biking has made the city, “seem smaller.”

Beavan also continues to only buy second-hand, having recently purchased a six-month-old/half the price Macintosh computer that was still under warranty.

What didn’t stick? Well, washing all laundry by hand, (or by foot as the case had been) was one of the first No-Impact changes to get reversed. This daunting task actually got abandoned before the year was up when Beavan’s daughter Isabella was sick and vomiting. (Because really, who wants to stomp around in that?!)

Beavan is proud to admit that both he and his wife “got healthier.” The no takeout rule required home cooking, (mostly by Colin) from which Michelle enjoyed comparing her husband to a “1950’s housewife.”

Although Beavan did conduct his No Impact year with a book contract in place, he explained that he took one-quarter of the normal advance compared to prior books. Although there is a Columbia Pictures feature film “in development.”

Having finished  both the yearlong project, the book and even the documentary, Beavan is putting his efforts into various No Impact weeks as well as the non-profit No Impact Project whose goal is, “To empower citizens to make choices which better their lives and lower their environmental impact through lifestyle change, community action, and participation in environmental politics.”

The No Impact Man blog is still in place and focuses more on how to become involved with policy change, rather than the personal journeys made by Colin, Michelle and daughter Isabella.

Alas, the time for my interview was over before I knew it, and together the two us walked up the two flights of stairs for Beavan’s reading, which boasted 70+ attendees despite pretty minimal publicity.

Colin Beavan, a.k.a. No Impact Man, or as I like to think of him, one hell of an eco-dude. Emu sweat optional.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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