A Year of Living Lightly
January 26, 2010 by The Dove
One mans decision to eliminate his familys impact on the environment in downtown Manhattan, has influenced many more than just his neighbors. Colin Beaven’s inner yearning to make a big difference to the health of the planet, has catapulted him into the eco spotlight with his film, No Impact Man. Here, The Green Dove shares an exclusive interview with the urban green warrior. We’re also giving readers the chance to win one of five No Impact Man DVDs.
A New York City writer and self-proclaimed liberal, in the documentary (which has just been released on DVD), Colin has big plans for his new book. He decides on a grand experiment to live one year with as little impact on the environment as possible. The problem is, the project requires his wife Michelle, an espresso guzzling, Prada-worshipping business writer and their young daughter to be fully on board.
As the family embarks on a year of no electricity, television, cars, toilet paper, elevators, or newspapers, Michelle must contend with caffeine withdrawal, compost worms, limited retail, and defending her own dreams, all in the name of supporting her husbands book project. What ensues is a not only a funny and entertaining look at well-intentioned environmentalism, but a touching, poignant take on the nature of contemporary marriage and what it means to pursue your dreams, even if it means driving those around you a little insane.
No Impact Man had its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, while also screening at SILVERDOCS and at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
The Green Dove caught up with Colin to talk about No Impact Man, his hopes for the world’s future and more…
Can you describe the moment you had the idea for No Impact Man?
I was sad and angry about climate change and went around wagging my finger at everyone else. One day I came home and I realized I had left both air conditioners all day so the house would be cool when I got home. I realized that if I was the type of person who left the air conditioners on all day with no one home, I was part of the problem. I thought, I may not be able to change big business and government but I could, at least, change me. I discovered that when people witness someone trying to do something about the world’s problems, they are inspired to help too.
How has your life now changed because of firstly living as you did for that year, and secondly due to the success of the film and book?
I learned in the No Impact year that happiness does not depend on how much stuff I buy and use. It depends on whether my life has meaning, whether I get to spend time with people I love, and whether I get to follow the calling of my highest talents. That doesn’t cost anything! So it’s possible to live a life that is both better for the planet and better for me. The success of the film of the book has meant that I have the privilege of being part of a conversation about the things I care most about–how we can live good lives that don’t cost the earth. No writer could wish for more.
How did it affect you and your family spiritually (if at all)?
If we spend our lives making money to buy things that we then end up wasting by throwing out, doesn’t that, in a way, mean that we are wasting our life itself? Not wasting is a way of manifesting gratitude and honoring the wonderful gifts this life bestows on us. When we stop wasting, we see the value in things. But of course, you know that living environmentally is a spiritual exercise, or else you would not have asked the question.
What dietary changes did your family undergo?
We ate only local and seasonal which meant no processed food. In other words, we only ate food that was good for us. What is good for the planet turns out to be good for the people.
Your advice to those wanting to have as little impact on the earth as possible?
Wake up to your own life. Ask yourself if all the money you spend on things you spend on things you don’t even really enjoy is worth the time you spend working for that money. What do you really want from life? Can’t we do better? If you ask these questions, chances are you’ll end up living with less impact and more happiness. But if you want an easier answer: cut out beef which is unhealthy anyway, stop bottled water which is hugely expensive, and volunteer for an environmental nonprofit.
Do you think people pressure themselves to do everything and end up doing nothing?
We are in possibly the biggest crisis in the history of civilization. If we don’t reverse the global warming trend in the next few years, we may have irreversibly damaged the planet’s ability to support us. The good news is that we have huge opportunities in this crisis. We have the opportunity of asking how we really want to live. We have the opportunity to find a way of life that is not just better for the planet but better for us. Think, for example, of the jobs that would be generated if we started a robust renewable energy industry.
What were the most profound lessons you learned from the experience?
That we all make a difference. That the consequences of our lives affect everyone. The good news, if we choose to face this fact, is that we are designers of the future instead of victims of it.
What’s next for Colin Beavan?
More speaking, more writing, more spending time with my lovely little girl.
Keep up with Colin via his blog.
NO IMPACT MAN DVD GIVEAWAY!
*** To win one of five copies of the newly released No Impact Man DVD, sign up for The Green Dove eNews & Updates on the home page for a chance to win (US residents only). Winners announced March 1.