No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Subtitle: no impact manThe Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process

My whole life appeared to have turned into a moneymaking machine intended to buy more convenience, with the seeming purpose of getting my life out of my way. p.46

Published: 2009

With industrialization, our materials economy stopped working in a circle that went from producer to consumer and back again, and instead became unidirectional – from producer to consumer to landfill and incinerator. p.66

Genre: nonfiction, environmental impact

At what age did I start to think that where I was going was more important than where I already was? When was it that I began to believe that the most important thing about what I was doing was getting it over with? p.87

Length: 224 pages of story, 276 pages including the index and appendices

Knowing how to live is not something we have to teach children. Knowing how to live is something we have to be careful not to take away from them. p.87

Setting: NYC, 2008

We understand at the deepest levels that the way we live our lives is harming the planet; okay, but if it’s not about being part of this great rat race, what is it about? If it’s not about getting more and more stuff and more and more technology, then what is it for?…It feels better, we think, to go in the wrong direction than to feel we don’t understand our true direction. p.160

Interest: It was given to me by a colleague after discussing my Environmental Problem Solving class I was teaching, specifically in regards to good popular science books about our impact on the environment. I finally got around to reading it.

There is a limit to how much less harm I can do. But my potential for good is unlimited. p.205

Summary: Beavan is worried that our environmental problems seem to be spiraling out of control, but he doesn’t know what to do about it. He decides to start a no-impact project and write about it. For one year, he wants to have no negative impact on the environment. He starts out by trying to eliminate all trash (so he won’t buy any prepackaged items or use any disposable items) and any transportation that isn’t human-powered. Then he institutes a local diet and commits to buying only used goods. His last big change is giving up the use of electricity in his house, expect what little he can generate from a small solar panel. Finally, he looks to give back to the environment to make up for the negative impacts he’s still having.

The job is simply this: to live our lives as though we make a difference. p.206

Final thoughts: An excellent and inspiring book. I will admit to taking notes throughout the book (you can see many of the quotes I wrote down sprinkled within the post). He makes the point that his no-impact project was really a publicity stunt, but there were many changes he’d keep even after the project was over. Giving up TV was critical to the success of his project – it reduces the desire to consume and frees up a lot of time. He also enjoyed the slower pace of life. They had much more time to explore their surroundings and visit with friends. One of the most important points he raises is that things don’t make you happy (regardless of what advertising says) – community does. It certainly gave me more incentive to support our local time exchange and make the effort to get together with friends more often.

Just because our individuals actions are not remembered does not mean they’re not crucial. The straw that breaks the back requires all the rest of us straws. p.219

Title comes from: Descriptive of what he did for a year.

If we use technology … to rebuild the current system so that it can last forever, then we miss the opportunity to ask whether the current system really delivers the good life. p.217

Reading challenges fulfilled: 26/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, an N in A-Z Reading Challenge (which takes me to 16/26), and 7/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for environment (fifth category). Looks like I need to move up to the nerd level in my nonfiction challenge.


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