The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 3, 2009

No Impact Man teaches me to suck eggs.

In May of 2007, I listened to a radio program that changed my life. The show was To The Best Of Our Knowledge’s Going Green episode, and the interviewee was Colin Beavan, self-described No Impact Man. His efforts to live sustainably caught my imagination. He and his family were attempting to live for one year generating zero environmental impact, while living in their ninth floor New York City apartment. I think maybe I related to him as a fellow urbanite. I realized I didn’t have to move to the country and live off the grid in order to lower my ecological footprint. But there was something else, too. Something in his voice that let me know here was someone who wasn’t blaming everyone else for the state of the earth but had decided to see what he himself and his family could do about their share of the mess we’re in.

Several weeks later, I managed to look up his web site, and it was through following links from the No Impact Man blog that I arrived at the article “Plastic Ocean” that opened my eyes to my own devastating impact on the planet. I didn’t own a car. I didn’t own a house. But plastic. That was something I could control. That was where I could do my part. I sure used a lot of it.

Later, I learned that Beavan, like me, was a meditator and someone for whom environmental work is all about knowing that there is no separation between us and anything else on this planet. Of course we want to take care of Mother Earth and all her creatures. They are us!

But in the last few months, I think I’ve been losing the feeling of connection and oneness that I seemed to experience all the time back then. I’ve become overwhelmed with the immensity of the challenges we face. My preoccupation with end results has sometimes blinded me to the beautiful world that is before us every single moment we are alive. An attachment to outcomes rather than the here and now.

So it is with utter gratitude that I share with you some choice morsels from my meeting with Colin Beavan on Tuesday, before a screening of his new documentary, No Impact Man (not to be confused with the book No Impact Man, which just came out today, and which is awesome, and of which I’m giving away a copy, and about which I’ll tell you more further down this post.)

I met up with Colin and one other blogger at the office of his PR firm in downtown San Francisco. The first thing I did when I saw him standing there in his T-shirt? Jumped up and gave him a great big hug. I couldn’t help myself. Then, we retired to the interview room where I and blogger Cat Lincoln from Tonic proceeded to pump him with questions, while Colin sat back and munched on nuts from a mason jar.

Beth: A question I’ve been asking lately is whether personal change is enough. How far can we get with personal changes and what else has to happen? What is the significance of personal change and how do we get beyond that?

Colin: It’s interesting, I was just talking to a gentleman whose father-in-law is a stalwart Republican conservative, but they have in their family… the niece or someone… is a lesbian. He is Republican across the board but he’s voting FOR gay marriage. The reason why he’s voting for gay marriage is because he has skin in the game. He has skin in the game, right?

Individual action, if we can encourage people to change their lives, they have skin in the game. Once you take action in your individual life, you have skin in the game like the guy I was just talking about. So in other words, your habit change causes value change. You have skin in the game and now you insist that your politicians enable you to live the way that you want to live.

The other thing about individual action is Americans emit five times the carbon of the average Chinese person, right? We have habits that really, really don’t work. So, even if we get 80% of our energy renewably produced, we’re still gonna be using too much energy. We just have to learn to live differently. We don’t get to all have three jet skis in our garage. You can’t change the culture through regulation. You change the culture by changing the way you live. So that’s another reason why individual action is important.

But it’s not to say that there’s individual action instead of collective action. That’s a completely fallacious division. It’s individual action as well as collective action and I believe that if one person were to embody both then what we have is a model of completely engaged citizenship.

Beth: Do you ever get overwhelmed with the immensity of the problem? Do you ever feel like it’s just too much?

Colin: So you’re a Buddhist, Beth. So what’s the problem right now?

[Note: I don’t actually label myself as such, but for purposes of this discussion, I’ll go with it.]

Beth: (laughing) I’m asking you. Okay, I’ll tell you the reason for this question. I actually answered this question on your blog and it was something like, you know, avoiding feeling overwhelmed by living in the present and focusing…

Colin: One foot in front of the other…

Beth: Right. That’s right. And then there was a guy, a reader of your blog, who totally disagreed with my answer, and he actually sent me this huge essay he had written about overwhelm and how it’s important to actually allow ourselves to feel that sense of overwhelm…. I had an experience recently, and I don’t want to get into it too much, where I did feel completely overwhelmed…

Colin: Do I feel overwhelmed? What you’re talking about there is so interesting between letting the feelings in and not. There’s such a thing as being overwhelmed and feeling the feelings, and also putting one foot in front of the other, right? At the same time.

So the important thing about being overwhelmed is not to be overwhelmed to the point of incapacity.

There’s a story about a woman who’s a layperson, and she’s a Zen adept and she gets to be a grandmother. And all her life she’s been a lay preacher. And her granddaughter dies. And she’s sobbing her eyes out. And all the people are so surprised, and they say to her, “Don’t you understand that everything is just like this? Everything is one. Everything is just the way it’s always been. Do you not understand the point?”

And she stops crying and says to them, “Don’t you understand that my tears save my granddaughter and all beings?” So that is to say my compassion, my sadness for the human condition is what makes me human. So, that in itself is a great story, right? But the really important part of that story is that she stops crying. In other words, she’s overwhelmed with sadness, but when somebody comes to her who needs to be taught, she puts one foot in front of the other. She stops crying and she teaches. So, we have to accept that the problem is overwhelming and immense and at the same time just get on with it.

Cat: What do you recommend people do if they want to emulate in some small or large way what you’ve done, and two, how do you keep going when you [have that] feeling of being overwhelmed?

Okay, first thing, what can people do? It’s important to say before I start that there’s a meme that goes like this: If we all just do one little bit, everything will be okay. That is actually not true, and it’s dangerous. Because if we don’t stop burning coal within the next eight years we’ll hit a tipping point and the planet itself will start to warm itself up. So this meme that’s out there about if we just all do one little bit, it’s false. We actually have to look at substantial lifestyle changes. That is not to say that everybody has to be No Impact Man over night. It is to say that the changes that we make should be meaningful, right?

So, I’ve identified a bunch of things that I think are meaningful on “No Impact Man’s Top 10 Eco Tips”. First, stop eating beef. Because beef production actually is the second largest cause of climate change. That is your individual action tip, as it were.

My collective action tip is on October 24, get out with and participate in this International Day of Action where we’re going to demonstrate to our leaders that we care. Because the special interests have the money on their side. But if we can show the politicians that they have the people behind them, they’ll fight the special interests.

Cat: The second part is how do you find something to help you get from being overwhelmed to taking steps?

Colin: The big problems that we have in this world have to do with our institutions. So we can get overwhelmed and say that the human race is terrible, we’re doing terrible things. But actually, if you look very closely at the people around you, you find that most people are doing the right thing. They’re holding doors for each other, they’re helping each other across the street. They’re smiling at little kids ’cause little kids are fun. They’re joking with each other. I would say watch like the UPS man. Watch what’s happening on the street. People are joking with each other. People are lovely. Right?

Unfortunately for us, that loveliness is not reflected in our institutions. So that’s where we get overwhelmed because the loveliness is not reflected in our institutions. But never forget that people are lovely, right? And then for me that takes the overwhelmingness away. Even when I’m talking to somebody that doesn’t believe in global warming, I know they love their children. And I know that they believe that by not believing in global warming, they’re doing right by their children.

Beth: So, now that you’ve done your year, what have you gone back to and what changes have you kept?

Colin: Beth, do you know this expression, “I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs?” It’s a British expression. You know like when you don’t have any teeth and you’re like that (mimics gumming food) it’s like sucking eggs. So if you teach your grandmother to suck eggs, you’re teaching your grandmother to do something she already knows how to do? So when I say this to you, you already know this…

There’s no antagonism between living happily and living environmentally.

When there is antagonism it’s because the systems are screwed up and we have to go against the systems. So, for example, we had no air conditioner, and what we would do because it was so hot on some summer nights, as it is now because we still have no air conditioner, is instead of trying to go to bed in the heat, we would take Isabella and go to Washington Square Park, and we’d all go play in the fountain with our neighbors.

It’s so funny because yesterday I was talking to this old lady who said, “You know, we had no air conditioners because they didn’t exist, and on hot nights, what we would do is we would all go sit out on the stoop, you know, through the night, with our neighbors and just everybody. And some of my happiest memories of summer are those nights because we were just out with our neighbors.”

So, first of all, there’s something about our resource use that’s keeping us apart from each other, that’s causing us to be isolated. And we found that a lot in the No Impact Project. So, in terms of what we kept when the No Impact Project was over was basically, you know we kept what made us happier and what made us healthier.

So we choose to eat food that’s good for us and that’s fresh and nutritious, which means we continue to eat local food. It’s not that we adhere to the rules in the same way that we used to, but we eat local foods in a way that is practical for us as a family. We enjoy the prospect of getting our daily exercise without having to go to the gym, so we continue to walk and bike everywhere. We like saving $1200 a year on electricity, so we gave our air conditioners away. On the other hand, you know what? Washing clothes by hand sucks. So we use the laundry machine.

Beth: I want to know who your heroes are. What human beings have inspired you?

Colin: One of my contemporary heroes is Van Jones. And then like our typical leaders of movements are heroes: Gandhi is a particular hero of mine; Martin Luther King is a hero of mine; Betty Friedan is a hero of mine. These are people who led popular movements. They were grassroots movements. But on the other side of the coin, maybe the heroes are the people who are on my blog that we never ever ever ever will hear about who have changed their lives, and we’re never ever going to hear their names.

Beth: And don’t you get emails every once in a while from people who tell you what they’ve done because of you? Isn’t that just the most amazing thing?

Colin: It’s just so humbling. It’s totally humbling. And sometimes I talk about the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We talk about the straw that breaks the camel’s back because it’s the last straw. The straw that we remember, right? But nobody talks about the fact that in order to break that camel’s back, there are already 10,000 straws on the back of the camel, right? They weighed just as much. They just didn’t happen to be the last one. I think maybe those are heroes too. More so. The blog readers are heroes.

Cat: See, that’s why I think the small things… even though a small thing doesn’t count much, it does get the momentum going.

Colin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But the meme is not small things. The meme is if we all just do something little, it will be fine. That’s the meme I object to. It’s not true.

Cat: You can get started with something small…

Colin: Put one foot in front of the other. Just don’t stop with something small. That’s all. Um… by the way, the reason why Gandhi and Martin Luther King and also Tolstoy are heroes of mine is because of the principle of non-violence. Because the idea is not to get angry at other people, it’s to love. That basically you love people into change. You don’t hate people into change.

I started reading No Impact Man on the BART train coming home from the movie Tuesday night. The movie, by the way, is very funny because, as it turns out, Colin is not actually the star. His wife Michelle and to a lesser extent daughter Isabella are the real stars. Without them, there wouldn’t be a movie. Because films require drama, tension. For Colin, it appears, all this earthy crunchy stuff comes pretty easily. He enjoys it. But for Michelle, who tells Isabella while watching Colin exult over his new worm bin, “Daddy likes nature. Mommy doesn’t like nature,” the process is much more of a struggle. While I’m not a shop-a-holic, I totally sympathized with her raging caffeine addiction and efforts at bargaining around said addiction. The film is very entertaining.

The book, too, is entertaining, but in a different way. It’s Colin’s voice, which at times can be very funny. But also earnest and sincere and questioning. Like, for example, the questions he asks while examining the ninety gallons (yeah, you read that right) of garbage his family generated the week before the project officially began. Here are a few gems:

“Do we work for and pay for all this convenience in order to live our lives, or do we live our lives in order to work for and pay for all this convenience?”

“You sit down with your trash and you see your life laid out before you on the floor, you see what an archaeologist would see when he studies your life a thousand years from now, and you wonder: If life begets life and death begets death, does waste beget waste? If my life begets waste, what does that say about my life? Is a waste of resources a sign of a waste of life?”

“So I wonder. Just a thought. But if I treated the resources that pass through my hands as though they were precious, might I also begin to feel that this very life — the one right under my feet right now and right this very moment — might be precious too?”

I’m only on page 66, and I keep reading slower and slower to savor the words. I’m wishing I had others with whom to share this book. Are any of you interested in reading No Impact Man with me and discussing it on this blog? If so, please leave a comment.

You might also enjoy...


Etsy handmade and vintage

I only post ads for companies I patronize myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

Leave a Reply

46 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
0 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Hi Beth – I'd love to be in the draw for a chance – daharja at gmail dot com.

The book is on my reading list as from reading your review of it, and once I've written this comment, I'll write a request for our library to get it in, as I don't like to buy books unless I have to. But if I win, I'll donate my copy afterwards to the library :-)

I actually came late to the No Impact Man blog, but have found it insightful reading. I hope the movie will be available here in New Zealand!

Cheers :-)


Hi, Beth. What a great interview. You (and No Impact Man) are so amazing. I don't know where you get your energy and unwavering outlook. I know you're feeling really challenged because things aren't changing fast enough, but still you and No Impact Man march on. I was really taken by the commenter who said once people know convenience, they'll never go back. And I think s/he was right in some ways–we have to find a pretty good (and for folks in this country, easy) alternative. I think the real message is "Many Ways"–different people are going to need different… Read more »


I've been following Colin's blog from early on and I'd love to read his book. Please enter me in your contest as I am not sure if or when his book might reach the library here in Atlanta.

Thanks for all you do,



Please enter me! An may I say Beth- Go suck an egg! LOL LOL LOL (Rob is sitting here snorting)J/K you left your self wide open my dear!

just ducky

I have been waiting for the book and movie to come out ever since Colin started his blog a couple years back. I'm in need of a "boost" of sorts…definitely enter my name!

connimayr at juno dot com

Robbie @ Going Green Mama

It does sound like a great book. I read his blog on occasion, and I appreciate his passion.

knutty knitter

I, too would love the book. Colin is the reason I'm on this site (and lots of others) and why I decided to really have a go at this internet thing. (I still haven't really conquered even a small part of it :).

viv in nz


Hi Beth,

Thank you for doing this giveaway! I would love to be entered in the draw. I want to read the book, but I simply can't afford to buy any books right now. Thank you :)



Part 2 of 2 Why is this? It is because people have an idea of what would be good for them and then they have their real desires. The latter take over when the former have been momentarily exercised. So, I applaud Colin's year of abandoning consumption but I seriously question that anyone will follow him in more than the most minor way. But, it is a fantastic story and the book and movie will likely do very well, though, ironically, that is more consumption. Once Homo Sapiens knows comfort, convenience, speed, there is no going back voluntarily. Substitution of… Read more »


It's another twofer, folks… Part 1 of 2 There are problems with the No Impact Man idea, though not with Colin's project in itself, which is very interesting. Suppose you found yourself and your family isolated on an island after your private plane crashed there. You'd be deprived. You might very well grow more strongly bonded to each other and make discoveries about who you are both individually and as a family. You could (if you survived) find life quite enjoyable in ways you had not thought possible. A ship would arrive. Would you take it? Yes, with rare exception,… Read more »


I'd love to read a copy of this book. My email is on my profile.(Found your website after trying to explain to my daughter why we don't need plastic straws and what they can do to wildlife)


I would love to read it. I would even read it and then give it away to another person who reads your blog. :)


Wow, this sounds like something that could be quite life-altering if the ideas in the book are put to good use.

Beth Terry

All of your comments are great, but Quietman wins the prize for making me fall out of my chair and choke on my own saliva. I totally hear what you mean. Here in the Bay Area, the few times the temp reaches even 85, I'm all, "Get away from me. Let's just suck ice and smile at each other from across the room."


I'll get my own copy, but do want to leave a comment about the institutions. They are making HUGE strides and my guess is by the time the holidays roll around, we'll have something wonderful to celebrate – b2b and b2c and c2b and c2c all moving in tandem.

Tanya Seaman

I'm so glad you interviewed Colin — great job. I'd love to read along and I've already got a copy.


Hand laundry sucks.

So does screwing on a 95 degree high humidity evening when, because of the sweating, two bodies press together and morph into giant suckers, making that loud slurpy pop sound at some moment which kind of puts a damper on the ardor.


Oh Beth, I am your girl! I hadn't even gotten to the end of your blog post before I was already collecting a smattering of favorite words from this blog entry. I love this: "Even when I'm talking to somebody that doesn't believe in global warming, I know they love their children. And I know that they believe that by not believing in global warming, they're doing right by their children." It spoke to me, not only about global warming, etc., but also the kind of bigotry I have such a hard time tolerating in educational circles… BTW, I am… Read more »

Condo Blues

I read Colin's blog after he finishied his no impact year. I'd love to read the book and see where he started.


I would love to be entered in the drawing! I've been following No Impact Man's blog for a while and am eager to read his book.

Robin S

robins00 [at] hotmail [dot] com


I too can borrow your copy as soon as Jen is done w/ it (if you'll let us use ya as a library!)
Keep up the good work

mother earth aka karen hanrahan

I'd love to read this book and discuss it beth – i have asked my new local library to get it for me, unless of course I win the one you are giving me !!

Mindful Momma

What wonderful lessons you learned from Colin Beavan, Beth! I hope that you've got your groove back now!

Lisa Sharp

Great interview! I can't wait to see the movie. I hope more show times come to Oklahoma, right now there is one that I know of.

I also want to read the book.


Oh Beth – I saw a preview for that movie a couple weeks ago and thought of you. Thought – hey – beth could totally do that! [have a movie, book, etc]

I should have know you two are already BFF's.

Anyway – gimme the book or let me borrow your copy – I read quick. kthxbai


Would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to read this book!

You can dm me on Twitter: @mmmeg


I would love to read that book! It sounds fabulous. You can reach me at: amber{at}strocel{dot}com.

Environmental Soul

I would absolutely love to read the book with you and your fellow blog followers.

Please enter me into your contest


I'd love to read this book! I've been following No Impact Man since about halfway through his experiment, and I love it. What a great interview — thanks for posting it!


I have been so excited about getting my hands on this book and being further inspired, but have been waiting for some writing income to pan out before spending money on anything but food and transportation. Because of that, please count me in.

Even if I don't win, we can still talk about it. It's the first thing on my "luxuries to buy after paying bills once I get paid" list. :-)


I love reading the No Impact Man blog so I'd love to have a copy of the book.


No Impact Man changed my life. I too read in early summer 2007 and its challenge filled an aching void. I started reading Fake Plastic Fish too. I started my own challenge, my own blog a few months later. And, I have continued to read you both daily. Please sign me up, Beth.

John Costigane

Hi Beth, I respect Colin's outlook as one outstanding view in a broad spectrum. With time, these views can join to a perfect whole for our common sustainable future. I use confrontations as an approach because people responsible are simply ignorant of the effect of their activities. With the situation in flux, we can best serve our aims by truthful, concise explanations. I have difficulty with Global Warming with its quasi-religious certainties. Science is best when rigorous. Faulty Science is bad science. As for individual effort, it takes great men, like King and Gandhi, to change the world. Great things… Read more »

Anna (Green Talk)

I would love to read this book, Beth. I hope that he has clarified the one step in front of the other so when you feel that sense of overwhelm. Just remember your own impact. So many of readers of your blog have changed their lives because of you.

Radical Garbage Man

You know you can count on me as a reading partner. My key qualifications are literacy and a e-mail account. To sweeten the pot, if selected I promise to either pass the book on to someone out here OR return it to you so you can pass it on out there!

Anita Kaiser

I have been awed and inspired by Colin as well – would love th opportunity to read the book!


Connected with the amount of stuff we use and then dump, suppose we took all of the time we take when we buy something with each thing we throw away? You know how people will carefully comparison shop, check prices and specs, analyze shape, size, color and all the little things about a new purchase. Just the experience of shopping is a high for some. But then when it is throw away time everything without a pause is swept into the trash, all together without regard to shape of form or original purpose. Imagine if we did the same careful… Read more »

Quiet Little Life

Beth, I picked up a copy of the book on Wednesday at out local independent bookstore. Am on pg 64 as of this morning. Would be glad to discuss.


I heard about No Impact Man, his book and his movie from and I'd love to be entered into your drawing. Thanks!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper

I would love to read this book with you! No Impact Man is awesome.

My email is consciousshopperblog at gmail.


Just the kick in the butt I needed, Plastic Fish. I allow myself to wallow in overwhelm for only 24 hours. Then I have to get up and do something…something bigger than small, like Colin says. I love knowing that others feel the same despair I do from time to time. And when we have a forum for voicing our despair we stand a better chance of encouraging one another to get on with it. Our actions DO matter. Keep it up! Oh, and I'd love to read this book and discuss it with you. You can reach my via… Read more »


This book looks awesome, and interestingly enough my mom e-mailed me about it just yesterday. While I am a total bibliophile and would love to have you add me to your contest, I have the privilege of being located in an area with 2 robust public library systems, and I can get a copy through them. Please give your copy to somebody who would otherwise have to purchase one new.


Oh, Beth, please toss my name in the hat for a chance at this book! My camel is just a few straws short of a full load…

tiny_goddess at sbcglobal dot net


definitely on my "read next" list. thank you for the great interview with colin, beth. you are both huge heroes of mine, creating major impacts not just on my thinking but on my living. i've learned so much from your blogs, your "stunts" as some would say.;)
please, sign me up for the book and can't wait for the discussions it will generate.


Sound like a good read,i'll enjoy it if i get the chance.

The Non-Consumer Advocate

I am very much looking forward to reading the book, please enter me in your contest!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
"Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."