A New York state of mindlessness
No Impact Man arrives at the cafe on foot. He declines coffee or tea (not locally produced) or anything else for that matter (needless consumption). He's wearing jeans and a white T-shirt with black stripes (durable and always in style) and looks lean and fit. "Twenty pounds," he says, patting his midsection contentedly."Contentedly" is certainly the operative word here. Beavan is positively glowing with self-satisfaction.
Such is life when you're No Impact Man, a.k.a. Colin Beavan, a 43-year-old writer of historical non-fiction who's more than five months into a year-long environmental challenge he calls the No Impact experiment."Historical non-fiction", otherwise known as "history", I believe.
The experiment has two prongs. One is to reduce his family's harmful impact on the environment as much as possible. The other is to increase their positive impact by cleaning up riverbanks, rescuing sea birds and the like. "The idea," says Beavan, "is that the two will come together to have no net impact."That exhaling business is not an insuperable problem; I guess it just is a question of how much you REALLY prefer the environment over yourself. This is where we separate the genuine nihilists from the dilettants.
Scientifically that's impossible, he admits. "Every time I breathe out my carbon dioxide is having an impact. But it's an experiment and it's just an attempt to change our consciousness."
And of course, we don't have to wait long before we read this:
Among other things, eliminating garbage meant giving up paper products, including toilet paper -- a deprivation that has transfixed incredulous Americans. A New York Times story on the No Impact project last month even carried the heading, "The Year Without Toilet Paper."This must be the latest craze - celebrities are getting into it. I don't think it'll catch on, but I've been wrong before. Fifteen years ago, I thought that nobody but burnt-out academics would ever take "environmentalism" seriously, and here we are today, with even the Weather Network giving that old prune David Suzuki a platform from which to hector us. So maybe after 12 or 15 years of lies, we'll have a government Department of Toilet Paper Rationing, too.
Beavan isn't sure how harmful toilet paper really is -- some brands are made from recycled paper, after all -- but banned it because we use far too much paper, and most consumers can't figure out whether a particular product does damage or not. He broached the ban to his wife uneasily, expecting her to object, but after the mildest of protests, she gamely submitted. The substitute is bowls of water and lots of air drying.
While having coffee at all may seem like cheating, Beavan demurs. "It's really important to me that the experiment's not divisive," he says. When friends suggest getting together over coffee at a cafe, "we don't go, 'oh no, we're not meeting you there -- we're environmentalists! That's a turnoff for everyone and doesn't support the message I'm trying to give."I'll bet it's not half as divisive as knowing the guy doesn't use toilet paper. I wonder if he's noticed any diminution in handshaking since this project started?
Most food comes from a farmer's market, and the family has joined a community supported agriculture program, in which people buy shares in a farmer's harvest. "If it's a really great harvest, you get an abundance of stuff," he says. "It it's not so good a harvest, you get less stuff."Gee, couldn't just ride his bike or walk down to Wall Street and get the same result?
Beavan makes bread from scratch, using sourdough because yeast is not a local product. Such domestic chores, his wife jokes, have turned him into a 19th century housewife.Actually, that 19th century housewife would have known a lot of ways of cooking meat. Since they're living on pulses, roots and vegetables, and without paper or electricity, I'd say he's more like a 9th century housewife. But hey, it'll just make the transition to life under sharia law all the easier.
There's lots more, and he even has his own no-impact blog (which I haven't checked out yet). But the best part of the story is the expected outcome of this Year of Living Invisibly: a book and possibly a movie deal. I wonder how many squares of toilet paper his first printing will equal?