The Impact of No Impact Man

Picture 1I’m in love with Colin Beavan.

Even though I don’t know how to pronounce his name.

“This guy, Colin Beaver, is amazing–”

“It’s bev-an,” James interrupts.

“Whatever. He’s amazing. He stopped generating trash. He made his own vinegar. He started baking bread, eating food within a 250-mile radius, and he even turned off his electricity. Plus he’s a really good writer. He’s funny and down-to-earth and inspiring. You have to read this book.”

“Okay.” James is agreeable as long as my diction is correct.

I took No Impact Man out of the library but I want to buy a case of this book and give it to everyone I know. (Wait, wait, is that too consumerish of me?)

The book, which came out in 2009, chronicles a year in Colin Beavan’s life when he, his wife Michelle, and their 18-month-old daughter Isabella tried to live in a walk-up in New York City without having any negative impact on the environment.

It’s a very honest and self-deprecating book. Beavan calls himself a “schlub,” reveals how hurt his feelings are by some of the sensational press coverage of the project (the article written by the New York Times reporter who shadowed him was entitled “The Year Without Toilet Paper,” and openly admits that he’s not an expert on the environment but just a liberal-minded worrier who realized he needed to stop ranting about global warming and dwelling on what everyone else was doing wrong and start examining his own wasteful habits.

See why I love Colin Beavan?

One of my favorite parts of the book is the relationship between him and his wife Michelle, who “grew up all Daddy’s gold Amex and taxi company charge accounts and huge boats..” He often calls her “my poor wife,” and his guilt at dragging her through his year-long project is almost palpable. But Michelle is right there with him, scootering to work, eschewing the elevator, deciding to get rid of their big screen TV because she’s too addicted to it, and coming home in tears after the wife of one of her colleagues tells him not to shake her hand.

It even turns out no impact on the environment has a positive impact in the bedroom.

“I’m sitting around, doing not much. The front door opens and Michelle comes in. Isabella is in bed, taking a nap. At first, Michelle and I are at a loss for something to do to amuse ourselves. Then we figure it out. I won’t say much else except that we’ve finally realized the best thing to fill the space in our schedule once occupied by TV.”

To stop generating trash, Beavan has to stop wrapping Isabella’s butt in plastic six times a day (this is how he puts it). With guidance from Lori Taylor of the Real Diaper Association, he switches from plastic petroleum-derived diapers to organic cotton pre-folds with wool covers. He starts bringing a glass jar with him wherever he goes so he can drink tap water without using paper cups, and he has a local bike builder make his family a cargo tricycle from all reusable parts. The resulting contraption is big enough to carry groceries and Isabella and unusual enough to start lots of conversations. Beavan notices as he examines–and changes–so many aspects of his family’s consumption habits that their lives take on more meaning. He starts spending more time with his daughter and paying more attention to his wife, and his apartment becomes a place where friends gather to talk and eat and enjoy each other’s company (by candlelight after they cut the electricity.)

“So much of my trash-making and waste is about making convenient the taking care of myself and my family. It’s about getting our needs out of the way … When did taking care of ourselves become something so unimportant that it should be got out of the way rather than savored and enjoyed? When did cooking and nourishing my family become an untenable chore? What is more important that I’m supposed to do instead?

“For every task I need to accomplish there seemed to be some throwaway item I could buy to help get it out of the way. My whole life appeared to have turned into a moneymaking machine intended to buy more convenience, with the seeming purpose of getting my life out of my way. I’m like a snake eating my own tail. It’s as if I’m just trying to get the whole thing over with…”

I’m so inspired and heartened by this book! My superhero crush isn’t on Batman or Superman. It’s on No Impact Man.

After he reads the book, I bet James will have a crush on Beaver, I mean Beavan, too.

Are you worried about global warming? Has your family changed any of your consumption habits? How far would you be willing to go to stop wasting resources? Have you read any books lately that have inspired you to think differently about yourself and/or the environment?


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