In this companion volume to the documentary film and popular blog, writer Colin Beavan chronicles a year spent making “as little environmental impact as possible” while living and working in New York City. The rules are: no elevators, subways, planes, cars, consumer purchases, plastics, paper goods, electricity, or non-local food; also, he must plant trees and collect garbage from the Hudson River. The journal from a fashionable, publicity generating “living experiment” would be insufferable in the wrong hands, but Beavan avoids the golden anchor of moralism and emerges as a likeable memoirist. For his young family, he admits, the project is “enforced martyrdom of the most trivial and ridiculous kind,” and he charms the reader by copping to failures like the odd cup of coffee (unavailable locally) and resort to the washing machine for cloth diapers. The book’s politics can be woolly, as when Beavan repeatedly wonders how to lift billions in the developing world out of poverty while disparaging economic growth and access to Western markets, the most likely solutions, and when he overlooks that organic crop farming uses far more land than traditional farming to feed the same number of people. Still, his aim is noble and his sacrifices affecting; few will close the book without resolving to rethink a consumption habit or two. That spirit, and not the environmental factoids and reminders interspersed throughout the narrative, proves No Impact Man’s true value. The book is a loving testimonial to the possible futility and headlong hopefulness of bold gestures.
About the Writer
Michael O'Donnell is a lawyer who lives in Evanston, Illinois. His reviews and essays appear in The Nation, the Washington Monthly, and the Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.