“I’m just a liberal schlub who all of a sudden snapped,” said Colin Beavan, a.k.a. No Impact Man, as he opened his talk at Cooper Union’s Great Hall Monday, the culmination of a week of environmental activities sponsored by NYU’s Bronfman Center.
Beavan must have snapped pretty hard, as what he decided to do involved a complete overhaul of the way he (and his wife and daughter) lives his life – he resolved to have no impact on the environment whatsoever. Naysayers told him it couldn’t be done, while some posts on his blog suggested the best way to have no impact would be for him to commit suicide. Still, by Beavan’s completely unscientific calculations, he figured if he reduced his negative impact and increased his positive impact that would leave no net impact on the environment.
The way Beavan went about doing that incorporated everything from buying only local food at the city’s greenmarkets to getting electricity solely from solar panels on the roof of his building to not creating any waste whatsoever. If that sounds extreme, it was. Beavan joked that his wife had no idea what she was getting herself into, but also conceded, “This is how I earn my living. I know not everyone can do this.” (He’s a writer and is currently working on a book about his experiences.)
Not surprisingly, Beavan’s experiment has gotten a lot of press attention, an overall positive thing he thinks because it draws attention to the environmental problems our society faces. He hasn’t enjoyed all the publicity, however – thanks to an article that appeared in the New York Times, Beavan is known as “the guy who doesn’t use toilet paper.”
One of the best parts about the experience for Beavan has been riding his three-wheeled bike around the city. His two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Isabelle likes it too. “If you happen to pull up to us at a traffic light and yell out the window, ‘Nice bike,’” Beavan said, “Isabella will yell back acerbically, ‘It’s not a bike, it’s a rickshaw!’”
There have also been downsides. “Having one solar panel and not having very much light and the sun going down at 4:30 – this is one part of the project that has not made us happier,” said Beavan.
Beavan said his involvement with the Bronfman Center’s Footprint Forward program has helped him get back to the larger purpose of his project. “They’ve reminded me of the importance of community in this whole thing,” he said. According to Beavan, a breakdown in a sense of community has contributed immensely to our destruction of the environment. Without it, he said, we rely on our culture of consumption to fill the void and have no sense of accountability towards others.
As for the project as a whole and what he has gotten out of it, Beavan said, “I didn’t feel like I was saving the world, but I did feel like I was doing something.”
For more on Colin Beavan and his experiences, visit www.noimpactman.com.