The impact of “No Impact Man”

Three weeks ago, my wife heard about the movie “No Impact Man”: the story of one family in New York City who spend a year trying to have no net impact on the environment.  They didn’t quit everything cold turkey, of course, but worked changes in in phases over the year.  By the end, they had given up powered transportation, electricity, and even toilet paper.  As you might expect, these changes did not come without some difficulty and sacrifice.

The two-year-old daughter didn’t seem to object to the changes, but Colin Beaven’s wife Michelle seemed less enthusiastic.  It’s hard to distill a year into 90 minutes, but through much of the movie she seems reluctant or even opposed to many of the changes.  In fairness, it’s probably because he rarely seemed to discuss changes with her ahead of time, instead choosing to announce them as (or after!) they happened. By the end of the year, she had embraced many of the changes, but it still makes me appreciate my wife’s habit of discussing ideas with me before we try them.

One thing the Beaven family faced was ridicule and scorn.  This is to be expected: extremism is almost always met with disdain. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve mocked this project and the absurd lengths Beaven goes to, but I also have a degree of respect for them.  We try to be environmentally conscious, but there’s no way I could go to the lengths they did. Or at least, I wouldn’t do it willingly.

The Beaven family didn’t do this permanently, either.  At the end of the year, the lights went back on (I think Michelle cried), and some of the changes were reverted.  But they kept riding their bicycles, they kept getting food at the local farmers’ market, but they will probably resume their use of toilet paper.  The point, Beaven says, is not that everyone has to do what they did, but everyone should do what they’re capable of.

So what does that mean for me?  Well first it means that I got to spend most of my afternoon at the Lafayette YWCA as the screening that Angie arranged in three weeks went off successfully.  This week, we’ll be participating in our own mini-project (see for more details), and in the future we’ll try to do what we do even more.  I’ve already assembled a compost bin to make use of food waste.  Today we stopped at a local cyclery to find a bicycle for me (if you’re in the Lafayette area and have bike needs, stop by Virtuous Cycles!) for days I need to go places where the bus isn’t convenient.  I’m sure there are other changes we’ll make, in addition to the ones we’ve already made (see my wife’s blog for information on that).  And that’s what it takes as a first step: each person contributing what they can.