… you know, because of that chemistry accident several years ago while he was working late at the lab so that now things just slide right through him instead of creating an imp… Oh, forget it. That was the scenario Michael created tonight after we saw the No Impact Man movie again and heard Colin Beavan, the No Impact Man himself, answer questions at the Shattuck movie theatre in Berkeley with our friends Nancy and David. I’m guessing Michael has seen Watchmen one too many times.
Anyway, while the movie is a great gateway into the No Impact project (in fact, it’s powerful enough to make some bloggers cry), the No Impact Man book is the hard stuff, the thing your parents warned you about. And I think it’s about time to start discussing! (Disclosure: If you purchase via the link on this page, My Plastic-Free Life earns a small percentage.) Don’t worry. If you don’t have the book yet, you can still play. The book is simply a springboard for the important questions I want to ask. Still, I highly recommend reading this book. You’ll be glad you did. Check out this review on The Green Phonebooth to whet your appetite.
Brown is actually green
First let’s start with the outside of the book before we get into the local organic waste-free goodness inside. The book looks pretty eco-friendly, with its brown cardboard cover and library binding. But is it? I checked inside the cover page for information on the materials, which is where that kind of information usually appears. Couldn’t find it. Turns out, there is a whole page devoted to explaining the choice of materials in the “Note on Production” immediately after the epilogue.
After considering various options for producing this book, Colin and the publisher finally decided on 100% postconsumer recycled paper and cardboard, processed without chlorine. “Additionally, the paper was manufactured using energy generated from biogas.”
Question 1: Are the materials from which a book is produced a deciding factor for you in whether or not to purchase it? Or is the information inside worth some of the environmental cost? Would you still rather borrow from the library? Or how about downloading to a Kindle or listening to an audiobook, saving paper altogether?
My answer? I’m really enjoying carrying this book around with me and savoring it at my own pace without worrying about getting it back to the library on time or having to pay attention to audio, even if it is Colin reading his own words. I’m happy the book is so eco-friendly and feel like the message is important enough to justify use of some resources. What do you think?
The first of many parables
Colin Beavan likes to tell stories. He’s kind of like Jesus in that way. Oh, don’t get mad. I’m just saying that they both like(d) to use stories to illustrate their points. So before we even get into Colin’s own story, we are presented with the first of many parables:
Our sages taught:
A man should not move stones from his ground to public ground.
A certain man was moving stones from his ground onto public ground when a pious man found him doing so and said to him,
“Fool, why do you move stones from ground which is not yours to ground which is yours?”
The man laughed at him.
Some days later, the man had to sell his field, and when he was walking on that public ground he stumbled over those stones.
He then said, “How well did that pious man say to me, ‘Why do you move stones from ground which is not yours to ground which is yours?'”
–Talmud Bavli, Masekhet Bava Kama 50b
Very deep. But what does it mean?
Question 2: Living on this planet, how do we determine what land, or materials of this earth, are ours and which belong to everyone? Does anything ultimately belong to us as individuals? And what is the limit of our responsibility? Do we have a stewardship to the world outside the walls and fences of our own homes? Our own minds?
Obviously, I think the simple answer is yes or I wouldn’t be doing this blog. On the other hand, can’t we get too involved trying to change other people and the external world and forget about starting right where we live? How do we find the balance between making personal changes in our own lives and reaching out to have a positive impact in the rest of the world? Or is the example we set with our own personal changes enough?
Confronting one’s own smugness (Chapter 1)
As background, Colin starts out by telling a story about how he basically guilt-tripped his wife Michelle into not wearing fur. That’s the short summary. His description is actually very funny (which is why you should read the book) and makes you both laugh and want to hit him. Because he basically realizes that he is all about getting other people to change their ways without looking at his own behavior. He’s walked a mile in his own leather shoes without realizing that his choices too contribute to animal suffering.
He then goes on to explain how he loved to blame George Bush for our problems, all the while blasting two air conditioners at the same time so he wouldn’t have to wait for his apartment to cool down. Colin felt helpless to fix the problems in the world and was sick of waiting around for someone else to do it. Finally, his big realization:
Am I really helpless? Is it true that a guy like me can’t make a difference? Or am I just too lazy or frightened to try?
Question 3: How often do we blame or try to change other people before looking inside ourselves first and confronting our own demons? How often do we grumble about situations we wish were different, waiting for someone else to come along and fix it for us, instead of taking action ourselves?
One of my friends from Green Sangha forwarded a message from The Daily Om the other day that addresses this very question. Although not specifically about environmental issues, it’s relevant to any situation in which we are frustrated in other peoples’ seemingly unenlightened behavior. I’ll share part of it with you:
You may be someone who understands the true nature of reality, perceiving deeply that we all emanate from the same source, that we are all essentially one, and that we are here on earth to love one another. To understand this is to be awakened to the true nature of the self, and it is a blessing. Nevertheless, people who just don’t get it are seemingly everywhere and, often, in positions of power. It can be frustrating and painful to watch them behave unconsciously.
When dealing with people who seem very unconscious, it helps to remember that every one must find their own way to awakening and that the experiences they are having are an essential part of their process. Holding them in the light of our own energy may be the best way to awaken theirs. At the same time, we are inspired by their example to look within and shed light on our own unconscious places, sacrificing the urge to judge and surrendering instead to humble self-inquiry.
Man, it is so easy to look at the world and give up in despair. As you know, I’ve had my own moments of feeling helpless under the weight of our consumer-oriented culture. What helps is to look inside myself first and root out the places where I am just as acquisitive as the biggest shop-a-holic. No, I don’t care about buying new things. But I get caught in other places… wanting more approval, wanting more blog readers and more comments on the blog, measuring my worth not by how much money I have in the bank but by how many other bloggers link to me or forward my tweets.
Aren’t there ways in which all of us are helpless over addictions and obsessions and desires for more, more more! How can we possibly change the world without first changing ourselves?
The No Impact Project
For the rest of the chapter, Colin explains how he came up with the No Impact Project and the stages that he and his family would move through in getting to zero negative impact on the planet. Stage one: making no trash; stage two: zero emission travel; stage three: food choices; and further stages involving consumer purchases, heat and electricity (they turned it off), water use and pollution, and then giving back to the community in a positive way to balance out the negative impact they couldn’t avoid.
Colin told me that he started with trash because it is the most visible, and at the time, he thought it would be the easiest step to begin with.
Question 4: What was your first step in lowering your ecological footprint? What was the gateway for you? Changing lightbulbs? Eating locally or organically? Generating less waste? Driving less? Simply making sure you recycled properly? What was the moment you realized you could personally make a difference and how far have you progressed from there?
I’ve written here before that my “Aha!” moment came after reading Colin’s blog and following links to the article, Plastic Ocean, and realizing that all the tiny plastic pieces inside the carcass of a dead albatross chick could have come from my own lifestyle. That was the moment I woke up to a fraction of my own impact on the planet. Plastic was my gateway. And plastic has lead me to take so many other steps: from wanting to generate no plastic waste to wanting to generate no waste at all; from realizing chemicals from plastic could leach into my food to buying local and organic to avoid all the other chemicals in my food; from the desire to protect wildlife from plastic pollution to an understanding of the many other ways our lifestyle causes harm to living things.
Plastic has been a door and a lens through which I view my own impact on the planet. What’s been yours?
So, okay, I think that’s enough for now. It gets us through Chapter 1. Like I said, I’m enjoying reading this book slowly and savoring it. How often would you like to discuss future chapters and how many chapters would you like to cover at a time?