Friday, April 22, 2011

Experiential Journal: No Impact Man

By Jessica Vasquez

Since the topic of global warming surfaced, innumerous sources have done their best to educate the public about what it is, how it is created, and how it can be slowed down. Books have been written by scientists and environmentalists, politicians have spotlighted it in campaigns, and celebrities have narrated films about it. With all these forms of delivery, messages are bound to get mixed up and this affects how the public responds. Some may write it off as a theory or something they cannot control. Others have done their best to do their research, alter their lifestyle, and spread the word.

One man who is doing his part to go green is blogger and non-fiction writer Colin Beavan. In 2007 he began a year long quest to make no net impact on the environment while living in New York City with his wife, Michelle, and two-year-old daughter, Isabella. He would no longer wait for the government or higher powers to lead the way for environmental change. He also needed material for his new book which went on to be titled “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.” Documentarian and childhood friend of Michelle, Laura Gabbert captured Colin’s project with Justin Schein and they later premiered “No Impact Man” at the Sundance Film Festival of 2009.

It started out with converting to self propelled transportation. The experiment became a reality when the TV was removed from the house; wife Michelle had been a reality TV buff. Colin ruled that the family would buy no new products, such as clothing, only second-hand materials when needed; Michelle was a struggling shop-aholic when the experiment began. Also, they started a vegan diet and only consumed foods grown within 250 miles of their home to support local farmers and avoid the carbon emissions that result from the transportation of food outside of the radius. There is no locally grown coffee in New York City for Starbucks addict Michelle. To give back to the earth, the family volunteered in their community and planted trees. Things got extreme, and controversial, when the family rid the house of toilet paper and shut off their electricity.

When word spread of Beavan’s experiment, the media jumped on the story. Several TV news shows and newspapers wanted to get to the bottom of Beavan’s project. More than anything, the sources aimed to find the flaws in Beavan’s new lifestyle; ironic because the point of Beavan’s experiment and book was to highlight the flaws in the average American’s consumer lifestyle.

It was pointed out that even after shutting off the apartment’s electricity, Beavan continued to use his laptop to update the blog that was following his year, Michelle’s job at Business Week was not changing for the experiment. The film would be premiered in a movie theatre that would not be as eco-friendly as Beavan would like.The book would be printed on paper from cut down trees. To counter this, the book was printed on post-consumer paper.

All these comments and more could have broken Colin and Michelle down, but they held their heads high seeing that the changes they had made were already proving beneficial. Before the year long experiment began, Michelle was on the verge of being diabetic. The new diet changed all that. Together, the couple lost weight and were healthier in general. Also, by spending a great deal less on consumer products, they were able to give 10% of their savings to charities that benefited Colin’s message.

It’s understandable that mass consumers could be on the defense about the New York City family’s “No Impact” year because the whole project seemed backwards and highlights what is wrong with the average American lifestyle. It has had great outcome for Colin, Michelle, and their daughter Isabella who followed her parents’ journey with wonder and enthusiasm. It’s no wonder it wasn’t a struggle for the two-year-old because she hasn’t experienced enough to be swiped up into consumerism. While Colin and Michelle aren’t out to change the world in a year, they are out to make a change.

Personally, watching the documentary and reading up on it's effect, I have learned that being more eco-friendly isn't just about the little things. In fact, things such as using paper instead of plastic and carrying a reusable cup everywhere isn't making a big change. Instead, we should all take that extra step whereever and whenever possible. The positive outcomes will always outweigh the negative in this experiment. Since my research I have been more conscious of my contribution to the Earth and my consumer habits. Not only am I aware of the negative effects I may be having on the planet, but also on myself. I'll admit that it has left me feeling guilty time and time again, but that's Colin's goal, to make us all aware of our impact and our surroundings. I have already started spreading the word amongst my friends, navigating them to the No Impact Project website. Together we're doing what we can to lower our negative impact and raise our positive impact on the world we live in.

Colin still updates his blog to this day and travels the world (by mass transportation, not self propelled) to spread the word. He volunteers his time in an effort to make the world a greener place, and it seems to be catching on slowly but surely.

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