As I mentioned before when discussing the first chapter of No Impact Man, the discussion questions are open to anyone, whether you have read the book or not. So please feel free to join in!
DAY 1: A Stuffed Up Nose
Chapter 2 begins with Colin, having decided to embark on the No Impact Project, waking up the morning of Day 1 unable to blow his nose. See, Colin didn’t plan ahead of time what eco-friendly changes his family would make. No, he chose more of a sink-or-swim method, figuring it out as he went along. As he writes,
The idea was not to become an environmental expert and then apply what I’d learned. The idea was to start from scratch — with not a clue about how to deal with our planetary emergency — and stumble forward. To see what I could find out. To see how I evolved.
And in fact, that’s exactly how I started Fake Plastic Fish. First, I wanted to see what my impact actually was (hence, collecting my plastic) and then find out what changes needed to be made from there. Why? Because if we don’t start where we are, most of us will never get started at all. Because procrastination is a powerful thing. And because perfectionism is the agent of procrastination. Or is it the other way around? Anyway, that’s my interpretation. No one will ever be perfect, we just have to get started.
So Colin wakes up that morning and can’t figure out how to blow his nose without destroying the planet. And then he can’t drink milk in a cardboard carton. He can’t figure out how to diaper is daughter or whether paper bags are better than plastic bags. In short, he has the Beginner’s Mind they talk about in Zen. He’s open and ready to learn.
Question: How many of us are willing to jump into a challenge without knowing the outcome ahead of time? How many of us are willing to have a No Impact Morning?
I’ve learned a lot in the over two years since I’ve been reducing my plastic consumption, but I had a feeling there was so much more about my environmental impact that I wasn’t noticing. So I decided to try having a No Impact Morning, like Colin’s, and see what I could learn. Here’s what happened:
8:30am — turn off cell phone alarm clock. Wonder about how much energy my cell phone uses while I sleep. Is it constantly “speaking” to the cell towers? How do cell phones work, anyway? And is the radiation killing my brain cells? And uh oh, now it needs to be charged. But I have this covered because I can plug it into my Solio solar charger.
8:30 – 8:35am — use toilet. Oh dear. We waste so much water in this country since we flush clean and dirty water all together in the same system. I wonder if my landlord would be into installing a grey water system. Probably not. At least my toilet paper is 100% recycled and comes in a cardboard box, not a plastic wrapper. I am NOT using cloth.
8:35 – 8:40am — wash hands and brush teeth. Grey water ponderings. Local, handmade bar soap. Recycled plastic toothbrush. Tom’s of Maine toothpaste in recyclable aluminum tube. Natural mouth rinse in glass bottle. EcoDent floss. Not without their impacts, certainly, but less than new plastic and a ton of chemicals, right?
8:40am – 8:50am — Feed cats. Homemade cat food in glass containers. Stored in refrigerator. I wonder how much energy that uses. Next, scoop poop. Biodegradable corn litter. Corn — the troublesome crop. Darn you, kitties, refusing to use any other kind of litter.
8:50am – 9am — Make tea. Heat kettle. Electricity. And gas. Loose tea bought from bulk bin, stored in mason jar, steeped in metal tea ball. Tea comes from… where? Asia probably. That can’t be good for the planet.
9am – 11am — drink tea and eat fruit (local pears) while sitting at my computer. Oh dear. More electricity. Not just the power to run my machine, but the power running all the servers connected to the Internet. The servers running our email and Twitter and Facebook and blogs. Now I’m really making an impact! Must play with kitties before I give myself an eco-heart attack. Turn off computer when done. (Do NOT leave it on all day!)
11am – 12pm — Take shower (more grey water ponderings); wash hair with baking soda & water. What is the environmental impact of baking soda? Rinse with apple cider vinegar and water. I wonder where Trader Joe’s apple cider vinegar comes from. Wash with local handmade soap. Wonder where the ingredients come from. Dry off with cotton towel. Baking soda under arms instead of deodorant. Put on clothes. Oh, who KNOWS where they came from!
By this time, you could drive yourself batty no matter how eco-knowledgeable you are. And I haven’t even left the house yet. But this exercise is all about mindfulness, not mind games. Guilt is not productive because it just leads to excuses. I do know where my challenges lie: reducing water and electricity consumption. I’m working on it. Getting the laundry rack was a start. Making sure my computer is off when not in use is another. And of course, the lights in the house. Water is harder. Will have to think.
What kinds of things would you learn during a No Impact Day?
The Psychology of Human Happiness
Colin goes on to explain that he does not want this project to be about deprivation. He writes:
The coming year of my No Impact experiment, I realized, should have nothing to do with asceticism. Asceticism has to do with renouncing worldly pleasures. It means not eating when you’re hungry. I means not blowing your nose when you need to. It means denying your human needs and longings. To some people, it means accepting an implication that human desire and passion are bad.
But Colin’s idea is not to deprive himself and his family of pleasure, but instead to remove all the extra stuff that actually keeps them from enjoying life. And to find enjoyment in simple pleasures, like splashing in the fountain on a hot day or eating a really delicious peach or playing Charades with friends. (Did you know that nowadays there are people who believe Charades comes in a box?)
Question: What are your favorite ways to enjoy life that don’t come in a box or a bag or any type of package? How can we fulfill the need for connection without succumbing to the urge to consume?
For me, it’s playing with Soots and Arya. Rubbing their soft bellies, cuddling and chasing them. Or hanging out with Michael and listening to his funny stories and ideas. Taking a walk without bringing any money. But the truth is that I find I spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the computer, using energy and not accomplishing much. Or watching TV shows on DVD. Or mindlessly consuming food. Or playing games on my cell phone. Looking for the next diversion. What is it exactly that I need to be diverted from? I wish I knew because it’s probably very important.
Waste Begets Waste
In Chapter 3, Colin tallies the week’s worth of trash his family collected before beginning the project, all 90 gallons of it, and has a melt-down. What does all this waste say about life? He writes:
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 feel like this idea, that waste begets waste and that we ought to value the materials that pass through our hands, is an important one. But honestly, sometimes it bogs me down. Sometimes I get so tied up in knots worrying about not wasting anything or finding the right place for each thing that I get completely overwhelmed by STUFF. Stuff that I don’t even know why I have. Is there such a thing as being too careful?
Question: How do we find the balance between caring for things and letting them go? How do we keep the flow of energy and materials moving so that we don’t get stuck?
Here’s an example: I have a pile of stuff on the floor by my desk. Oh yes, the same pile I wrote about here. Except it’s bigger. Why? Because I can’t bear to send anything to a landfill or have it damage the planet. Because I feel like since I have this stuff, it’s my responsibility to make sure it ends up in the right place. But I don’t have time to go through it all and make decisions about what to do with it.
Frugality is important. Not wasting is important. Simplifying is hella important. Right? So why do I feel the crazy urge to just chuck it all? (Not that I will!) But sometimes, truthfully, I envy other people with their big plastic trash bags and the ease with which they consume and toss out the materials of their lives. Except what I envy is not the tossing away, because we know there really is no “away”, but their blissful ignorance of the consequences of their actions.
So to repeat my last question: How can we find balance in an unbalanced world? That’s what I would love to know.
By the way, if you’re reading No Impact Man and have other insights or questions to share, please feel free! This post represents the places my mind goes while reading the book. Yours probably goes somewhere completely different.