Friday, March 12, 2010

Propounding on the documentary No Impact Man

"Can you save the planet without
driving your family crazy?"
UC Sustainability recently screened the Colin Beaven documentary, No Impact Man, with which I completely fell in love. The film documents Colin, a New York City-based writer, and his journey through a year-long experiment to achieve net zero environmental impact, which began in November 2006. Prior the the film and book of the same name, he wrote a series of entries on his blog about his decision to take personal action, instead of waiting for “the senators and the CEOs to change the way we treat the world.” Colin thoroughly acknowledged that this transformation en masse was a marketing tactic for his next book. His transformation, however, had deeper implications—it had a profound effect on how his wife-with-child and he conducted themselves on a daily basis.

This film draws parallels to my own life as an evolving environmentalist, at times emphasizing “mentalist”. Over the past two years—especially since moving to my current apartment in Clifton’s Ludlow Business District—I have made the lives of my girlfriend and my friend-roommate more difficult. First it was simply recycling and minimizing how many times I ended up taking the trash out to the dumpster. That correlated with takeout and leftover food waste taking up room in the refrigerator. Now we use 100% recycled, post-consumer toilet paper and parsley infused surface cleaner. I buy bulk grains and use UV-sensitive, biodegradable kitchen trash bags. We now have an indoor composting bokaski unit. But Colin’s experiment was the truest test of his wife’s patience, love, understanding, and willingness to learn. Perhaps No Impact Man is not the conventional love story, but it is a story about love and all those other things.

A strong critic—and there are certainly many out there—might slight Colin simply for living in New York City. However, the fact that he conducted the experiement in NYC made it entirely possible. Access to healthy food is a heavy variable for anyone to impact his or her waste. (This is not to say that the same experiment could not work in Cincinnati, but it may be entirely impossible in a suburban community.) Colin and his wife Michelle regularly visited farmer’s markets, and eventually connected well enough with one to spend their vacation at the farm (using the plentiful commuter rail in the region). The couple got rid of their flat screen television and other frivolties. About halfway through the experiment, they cut the lights. All the while, they had a large network of associates and friends, trains and buses, which is a by-product (but not necessarily guaranteed in all cases) of living densely. That network was a helpful support system to keep their marriage and project intact. That network enabled Colin and the family to balance negative environmental impact with positive impacts, and to reach net zero.

An important piece to note is that Colin’s experiment was designed to work in stages. Stage one was to figure out how to create no garbage waste, including packaging and disposable products. The second stage was to create a smallest environmental impact with their food choices (which, for a short while, included using unsuccessful, primitive cooling techniques instead of living with a actual refrigerator). The third stages involved consumption of only necessary items, and learning how to do it sustainably.

1 comment:

Jake said...

In Fact, after reading David Owen's green metropolis, there is a simple well organized piece of literature, with which to refute the contrarian claim that cities are not sustainable.