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No Impact Man: The 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
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No Impact Man: The 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

3.8 51
by Colin Beavan

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A guilty liberal finally snaps, swears off plastic, goes organic, becomes a bicycle nut, turns off his power, and generally becomes a tree-hugging lunatic who tries to save the polar bears and the rest of the planet from environmental catastrophe while dragging his baby daughter and Prada-wearing, Four Seasons–loving wife along for the ride. And that's just


A guilty liberal finally snaps, swears off plastic, goes organic, becomes a bicycle nut, turns off his power, and generally becomes a tree-hugging lunatic who tries to save the polar bears and the rest of the planet from environmental catastrophe while dragging his baby daughter and Prada-wearing, Four Seasons–loving wife along for the ride. And that's just the beginning. Bill McKibben meets Bill Bryson in this seriously engaging look at one man's decision to put his money where his mouth is and go off the grid for one year—while still living in New York City—to see if it's possible to make no net impact on the environment. In other words, no trash, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no air-conditioning, no television . . .

What would it be like to try to live a no-impact lifestyle? Is it possible? Could it catch on? Is living this way more satisfying or less satisfying? Harder or easier? Is it worthwhile or senseless? Are we all doomed or can our culture reduce the barriers to sustainable living so it becomes as easy as falling off a log? These are the questions at the heart of this whole mad endeavor, via which Colin Beavan hopes to explain to the rest of us how we can realistically live a more "eco-effective" and by turns more content life in an age of inconvenient truths.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“From their first baby steps (no takeout) to their giant leap (no toilet paper), the Beavans' experiment in ecological responsibility was a daunting escapade in going green . . . So fervent as to make Al Gore look like a profligate wastrel, Beavan's commitment to the cause is, nonetheless, infectiously inspiring and uproariously entertaining.” —Booklist

“With thorough research, Beavan updates his blog (noimpactman.com) with convincing statistical evidence, while discovering new ways to reduce consumption and his family's environmental footprint . . . An inspiring, persuasive argument that individuals are not helpless in the battle against environmental degradation and global warming.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Beavan captures his own shortcomings with candor and wit and offers surprising revelations . . . [Readers] will mull over his thought-provoking reflections and hopefully reconsider their own lifestyles.” —Publishers Weekly

No Impact Man is a deeply honest and riveting account of the year in which Colin Beavan and his wife attempted to do what most of us would consider impossible. What might seem inconvenient to the point of absurdity instead teaches lessons that all of us need to learn. We as individuals can take action to address important social problems. One person can make a difference.” —Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat

“Colin Beavan has the disarming and uniquely remedial ability to make you laugh while he's making you feel like a swine, and what's more, to make you not only want to, but to actually do something, about it.” —Norah Vincent, author of Voluntary Madness

“There's something of Thoreau in Colin Beavan's great project--but a fully engaged, connected, and right-this-minute helpful version. It's a moment when we need to have as little impact in our own lives as possible--and as much impact in our political lives as we can possibly muster. Beavan shows how!” —Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy

No Impact Man is a subversive book--not because it preaches a radical environmental agenda, but because it gives the secret to personal rebellion against the bitterness of a man's own compromises.” —Arthur Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness

“The No Impact Experiment changed Colin Beavan and reading No Impact Man will change you.” —Annie Leonard, creator of "The Story of Stuff"

Publishers Weekly

Beavan (Fingerprint) chronicles his yearlong effort to leave as little impact on the environment as possible. Realizing that he had erred in "thinking that condemning other people's misdeeds somehow made [him] virtuous," he makes a stab at genuine (and radical) virtue: forgoing toilet paper and electricity, relinquishing motorized transportation, becoming a locavore and volunteering with environmental organizations. Beavan captures his own shortcomings with candor and wit and offers surprising revelations: "lower resource use won't fill the empty spaces in my life, but it is just possible that a world in which we already suffer so much loss could be made a little bit better if husbands were kinder to their wives." While few readers will be tempted to go to Beavan's extremes, most will mull over his thought-provoking reflections and hopefully reconsider their own lifestyles. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Beavan (Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America's First Shadow War, 2006, etc.) turns his life upside-down with sustainable living. In 2006, at the age of 42, the author was convinced he was no better than any finger-pointing liberal shucking his own guilt, overwhelmed and feeling helpless in his ability to stem consumerism and slow global warming. Consumption of "stuff," he writes, is inspired by ads that say, "You suck, but if you buy this, you won't, and then everyone will love you." Unfortunately, in the minds of American consumers, "We're too busy for love because we're working to get the stuff that the ads say will bring us love." In order to empower himself through action, Beavan decided to make a drastic change. Pitching his next book to his agent, he explained that he wanted to write about an experiment in which he came as close as possible to living a no-impact lifestyle-all with a wife, toddler and dog in New York City. The author stopped buying new products and started using the Yahoo! Freecycle Network and Craigslist to procure only secondhand goods. Also, television and air-conditioning were banned; disposable diapers were swapped out for cloth; water was conserved by the entire family sharing the same bathwater "on bath day"; baking soda was employed for deodorant and toothpaste. All the while, the author continued to ask himself tough questions about whether or not his new living habits were actually effecting positive change. With thorough research, Beavan updates his blog (noimpactman.com) with convincing statistical evidence, while discovering new ways to reduce consumption and his family's environmental footprint. "It is time for people to take up the reins of governmentand business and force the change we want and need," he concludes after his one-year experiment. "We cannot wait for leaders. We are the leaders."An inspiring, persuasive argument that individuals are not helpless in the battle against environmental degradation and global warming. Agent: Eric Simonoff/Janklow & Nesbit

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.62(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

How a Schlub Like Me Gets Mixed Up in a Stunt Like This

For one year, my wife, baby daughter, and I, while residing in the middle of New York City, attempted to live without making any net impact on the environment. Ultimately, this meant we did our best to create no trash (so no take-out food), cause no carbon dioxide emissions (so no driving or flying), pour no toxins in the water (so no laundry detergent), buy no produce from distant lands (so no New Zealand fruit). Not to mention: no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no buying anything new . . .

But before we get into all that, I should explain what drove me to become No Impact Man. To start, I’m going to tell a story that is more a confession, a pre-changing-of-my-ways stocktaking, a prodigal-son, mea-culpa sort of thing.

The story starts with a deal I made with my wife, Michelle.

By way of background: Michelle grew up all Daddy’s gold Amex and taxi company charge account and huge boats and three country clubs and pledge allegiance to the flag. I, on the other hand, grew up all long hair to my shoulders, designer labels are silly, wish I was old enough to be a draft dodger and take LSD, alternative schooling, short on cash, save the whales, and we don’t want to be rich anyway because we hate materialism.

Once, during a visit to my mother’s house in Westport, Massachusetts, Michelle lay on the bed in my former bedroom and stared up at the ugly foam ceiling tiles. “You know, I grew up with much nicer ceilings than you did,” she said. That, her facial expression seemed to say, explainedevery thing.

My best friend, Tanner, meanwhile, once called me to tell me that his therapist had said that he “despairs of Michelle and Colin’s differences.” Why Tanner’s therapist analyzed my marriage was a question best left for Tanner to explore in his next session, but the point was that Michelle and I had a lot to negotiate. And the story I’m telling here has to do with one of our negotiations.

For my part, I agreed to put up with the cacophony that comes with Michelle watching back-to-back episodes of Bridezilla, The Bachelor, and all the other trash-talk TV. I hate reality shows. Michelle conceded, on her shopping sprees, not to purchase anything made of or even trimmed with fur. That was the compromise.

Michelle liked a little fur. Not long fur coats per se, but fur hats and fur linings and stuff like that. Michelle was a Daily Candy girl, a Marc Jacobs white Stella handbag girl, a kind of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw grows up, gets married, and has a baby girl.

On the other hand, call me a pussy, but I felt bad every time I saw one of those raccoons or possums with their guts spilled out on the Palisades Parkway. I also felt bad for little animals getting killed for nothing but their skins.

Yet I managed to exempt, back then, my leather shoes from my concern that humanity puts vanity before kindness to animals. In the cold glare of my own I Want To Buy, my disdain for designer labels and all things consumerist became a little, shall we say, mushy. I was the type of guy who shopped for the fifty-two-inch television, then thought he was a rebel against consumerism because he bought the discounted floor model.

I don’t mean to imply that I was a total do-nothing liberal. I did go to Pennsylvania to canvass voters in the 2000 and 2004 elections. I made get-out-the-vote phone calls for MoveOn.org when they asked me to. I tried to adopt some sort of an attitude of service in my daily encounters and to generally avoid doing harm. I volunteered at the World Trade Center site after 9/11. I even prayed for George Bush, on the premise that hating him just created a hateful world.

The question was, given the state of woman affairs, whether I shouldn’t have been asking more of myself.

A few months after our TV-fur negotiation, Michelle got offered a brand-new, thousand-dollar, white-fox shawl by a friend whose father is a furrier in Michelle’s hometown, Minneapolis.

It’s free and the fox is already dead, went Michelle’s reasoning.

It’s not one fox, it’s ten, went mine. I’ve already suffered your freebasing bad television, and we have a deal about this, I said.

But those are your standards, replied Michelle. Then came her trump card: I want to discuss it at couple’s therapy.

Not that what we actually went to was couple’s therapy. What really happened was, I would drop by sometimes during one of Michelle’s sessions with her own therapist. Anyway, I trundled along to the Upper East Side office, and Michelle explained the situation. Free fox shawl, on the one hand. No fur, on the other–which is Colin’s standard. Why, Michelle asked, should I have to adhere to his ethic?

When the therapist turned to me and said, “Colin?” I surprised both of them by saying that Michelle could buy all the fur she wants. Except, I said, there’s one condition to my releasing her from our deal–and here’s the part where I look like a jerk–namely, that Michelle read out loud certain passages of a PETA brochure about the fur trade that I’d highlighted in green.

“I can read them when I get home,” Michelle said.

“Nope,” I said. “The deal is, if you want to renege on our fur deal, you read it out loud, here.”

Sport that she is, Michelle grabbed the papers, cleared her throat, and began to read. Two results came of all this: First, Michelle decided that she didn’t want to buy fur anymore because she actually has the biggest heart known to humankind and because we are nowhere near so different on the inside as we seem on the outside. Second–and here’s the point of the story–I showed myself to be a smug little fuck. I had mobilized my intellectual and persuasive resources to get someone else to change her behavior, and remained, I saw, utterly complacent about my own.

It’s true that I had occasionally tried to make a difference in the world, but I was coming to think my political views had too often been about changing other people, like Michelle, and too seldom about changing myself.

I made the mistake of thinking that condemning other people’s misdeeds somehow made me virtuous. I’d become, I realized, a member of that class of liberals who allowed themselves to glide by on way too few political gestures and lifestyle concessions and then spent the rest of their energy feeling superior to other people who supposedly don’t do as much.

A year or so later, news about global warming started coming out. I mean, it’s been out for twenty years, but somehow it hadn’t entered my liberal consciousness. We can’t maintain this way of life, the scientists said, the world can’t sustain it. The ice caps will melt, the sea levels will rise, there will be droughts–or, in short, the planet will be fucked and millions of people will suffer.

The countries of the world had negotiated the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, assigning mandatory targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases to signatory nations. But the United States, a signatory to the protocol, as well as the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, refused to ratify it.

What had I done in light of our country’s deaf ear to environmental concerns? Well, if it rained torrentially, I would say gloomily to whoever was listening, “I blame George Bush for this strange weather.” If in conversation someone said global warming was just a theory, I’d say, “Actually, the scientists say it’s a fact,” and I’d also get a really angry look on my face to show just how adamant I was. And if it was so hot out that I felt the need to turn on both air conditioners, I’d sometimes even feel despondent for a moment or two about the fact that I was contributing to the problem.

Cut to 2006. At the age of forty-two, I have a little girl, Isabella, who is nearly one. We live on lower Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village. It is January but seventy degrees outside. The middle of winter, and joggers run past in shorts. Young women from the nearby NYU dorm saunter by my building in tank tops.

I’m on the street. I’m walking our dog, Frankie. People around me are happy but I am not. Instead, I’m worried. I put the key in the front door of my building. I walk through the granite-floored lobby. I step into the elevator. The operator, Tommy, an older gray-haired man from Greece, says, “It’s too warm, no?”

“Yeah, well, imagine how warm it would be if there was such a thing as global warming,” I say.

I was being sarcastic, of course. People back then still argued about whether global warming existed. Not me. This was around the time when I had begun to feel really ill at ease. What I read in the news only confirmed, I believed, what I could already feel in my bones.

Summer seemed to toggle straight into winter, and then back to summer–the long fall and spring seasons of my childhood had disappeared. I’d witnessed, that December, a winter storm in which thunder clapped violently and lightning flashed the white blanket of snow into eerie green. Never in my recollection of northeastern winters had there ever been thunder and lightning in a snowstorm.

Tommy chuckled at my sarcastic remark. He threw the lever forward and the elevator lurched upward. After all, what could we do?

For the last few months I had traveled around, discussing a book I wrote about a secret Allied operation in France during World War II. For the last few months, in other words, I’d spent my time talking about sixty years’ worth of yesterdays when I was really scared to death of what was happening today.

Here’s what was on my mind when I rode the elevator that day:

I’d read that the Arctic ice was melting so fast that polar bears were drowning as they tried to swim what had become hundreds of miles between ice floes in search of food. Researchers knew this because they found their limp white bodies bobbing on the waves in the middle of the sea.

Worse: sometimes, too, desperate in their starvation, the polar bears cannibalized each other’s young. We burn too many fossil fuels, the sky gets blanketed with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the planet warms up, the ice caps melt, the polar bears can’t get to their food, they eat each other’s babies.

You’ve heard it all before. But back then, in 2006, this was news, at least to me.

What really filled me with despair, though, was that I didn’t believe that the way of life that was steadily wrecking the planet even made us happy. It would be one thing if we woke up the morning after a big blowout party, saw that we’d trashed our home, but could at least say we had had a rip-roaring good time. But if I had to generalize, I would say that, on average, the 6.5 billion people who share this globe are nowhere near as happy as they could be.

Leaving aside the people who have severely limited access to food and clean drinking water, so many people I knew, both in New York and elsewhere in the world’s go-fast consumer culture, were dissatisfied with the lives they had worked to get–the lives they were supposed to want.

Many of us work so hard that we don’t get to spend enough time with the people we love, and so we feel isolated. We don’t really believe in our work, and so we feel prostituted. The boss has no need of our most creative talents, and so we feel unfulfilled. We have too little connection with something bigger, and so we have no sense of meaning.

Those of us lucky enough to be well compensated for these sacrifices get to distract ourselves with expensive toys and adventures–big cars and boats and plasma TVs and world travel in airplanes. But while the consolation prizes temporarily divert us from our dissatisfaction, they never actually take it away.

And, to top it all off, I thought in the elevator on that unseasonably warm day, not only have so many of us discovered that we’ve been working our years away to maintain a way of life that we don’t really like, but we are waking up to the fact–I hope–that this same way of life is killing the planet. Thanks to global warming, we hear, the planet is facing, among other things, plagues of malaria, monsoons and hurricanes with unprecedented power and frequency, and a rise in sea level that will cause widespread destruction of people’s homelands.

What things to have to think about.

Back on that summery day in the middle of winter, I seemed to be hitting bottom. At first I thought it was about the state of the world. Yet I had an inkling, as I rode in the elevator, that that wasn’t it.

I’d been complaining to anyone who would listen, telling people that we lived in an emergency. Yet, as much as I complained, I lived and acted as though every thing was normal. I just led my usual workaday life. Wake up, take my daughter, Isabella, to the babysitter, spend the day writing, pick her up, watch TV, start all over. I didn’t feel I could do anything about world problems. After all, if the government wasn’t doing anything, what could I do? Write another history book?

But is that what I wanted from myself? Is that what I was willing to accept? That I could be in a state of despair and do absolutely nothing about it? Was I really hitting bottom with the state of the world? Or was I hitting bottom with my state of self-imposed helplessness?

For some reason, that warm winter day in the elevator, I suddenly realized that my problem might not actually be the state of the world. My problem was my inaction. I was worried sick about something and doing nothing about it. I wasn’t sick of the world. I was sick of myself. I was sick of my comfortable and easy pretension of helplessness.

Tommy brought the elevator to a stop at the ninth floor, where I live. It was just an elevator ride. It was just a couple of seconds. It was just a day when it is seventy degrees when it should be thirty. But I suddenly had these questions:

Am I really helpless? Is it true that a guy like me can’t make a difference? Or am I just too lazy or frightened to try?

Winter leapfrogged into summer–another missing spring–and I had lunch with my literary agent, Eric Simonoff. We went to Beacon in midtown Manhattan, where lots of publishing types meet. Glasses clinked. Colleagues nodded. We were there to discuss my next book project.

“I can’t write history anymore,” I tell him.

“Don’t tell me you want to write novels,” he says.

Eric is accustomed to helping people like me to eke out a living from our writing.

“No, I don’t want to write novels,” I say, and then I launch into my dinner-party rant about global warming.

I inform poor Eric, who was simply trying to enjoy his lunch, that while reports pour in exclaiming the urgency of our environmental problems, government and big business move only at a snail’s pace, if at all. We need, say the urgent reports, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent at the very least by 2050 in order to prevent global warming from spiraling out of control. Instead of acting, companies like Exxon use stealth PR tactics to discredit the organizations that try to warn us. Meanwhile, politicians try to “reposition global warming as a theory, rather than fact.”

I doubted, back then, that a Democrat in the White House would move a whole hell of a lot faster on the environment. In the voting booth, whether you pull the red handle or the blue handle, you always pull a big-business handle. And big business wasn’t exactly filling the politicians’ war chests with millions of do-something-about-global-warming dollars.

“What are we doing to our planet, Eric?” I cried, and continued my rant.

A sailboat ride west from Hawaii would soon have you crashing through a gigantic patch of floating plastic garbage, twice the size of the continental United States, that swirls around itself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Or you could go fishing and come up empty-handed in one of 14,000 Canadian lakes that no longer support marine life, thanks to acid rain. Or try going for a walk in the forest, hoping to see some birds but instead coming face-to-face with a big yellow bulldozer in the 32 million acres of woodland we chop down around the world every year to make toilet paper and disposable coffee cups.

Then there’s what we’re doing to ourselves. Here in New York City, for example, one in four kids who live in the South Bronx suffers from asthma, resulting largely from the exhaust fumes of trucks that haul away New Yorkers’ trash. Meanwhile, experts find that an array of health problems, including lung disease, infertility, Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and childhood autism, to name just a few, are related to the unwholesome amounts of toxic chemicals we spew into our air, water, and soil.

So it’s not that while trashing the planet the human race is having a party. Quite the opposite. We feel a malaise and a guilt that at another time in history might have motivated action, but that this time seems instead to be coupled with a terrible sense of helplessness.

My point, I told Eric, is that I want my work to align with my values. I want to write about what’s important. I want to help change minds. I want, I told Eric, to find a way to encourage a society that emphasizes a little less self-indulgence and a little more kindness to one another and to the planet.

Here’s what Eric had to say:

“The way you talk about it is a bummer. It’s a drag. It’s not that you’re wrong, but how will I be able to convince a publisher that people will spend twenty-four ninety-five on a book that tells them how screwed up they are? And even if anybody wanted to hear it, why would they want to hear it from you, a history writer with no credentials in this area?

“Have you considered writing novels?” Erik joked.

As I opened the door to my apartment that afternoon, I felt an unnatural rush of cool air. I knew Eric was right. If I was the type of person who left his air conditioners on when no one was home, not only did I not have the professional authority to talk about the environment, I didn’t have the moral authority, either. It was the whole Michelle-and-the-fur scenario all over again. It was as though I wanted to change other people but was unwilling or unable to look in the mirror.

If I was still a student, I’d have marched against myself.

There is a Zen koan that captures the fix I was in. As the koan goes, long ago in China, a stray cat wandered into Zen master Nam Cheon’s monastery. Sometimes the cat would cuddle up in the laps of the monks who lived in the east residence and sometimes in the laps of the monks who lived in the west residence. Instead of taking care of the cat together, the monks from the east and west halls became jealous of each other.

“We love the cat more than you, so it should live with us.”

“No, we know how to take care of the cat better. It should stay with us!”

One day, the argument broke out in the middle of the dharma room, where the monks were supposed to be meditating. Finally, Zen master Nam Cheon stormed into the room. He picked up the cat, held a knife to its throat, and said, “You monks. Give me one true word of love for this cat and I’ll save it. If you cannot, I will kill it.”

Nam Cheon was testing the monks. Did any of them really love the cat, or did they just want to win the argument? Were they willing to demonstrate real responsibility for its life, or had they become too distracted by their fight for control of it? As the story goes, none of the monks said or did anything. They were all still trying to figure out how to prove the other side wrong. So Nam Cheon slit the cat’s throat.

What began to worry me was that I and the political system I participated in were a lot like those monks in the dharma room when it came to the health of the planet. Never exerting much energy toward anything but winning the argument. Too rarely taking any real action. Forgetting that the proverbial cat’s life was at stake while we argued over who owned it.

This brings me back to the question I asked regarding my own progress in the arena of kindness and restraint: Am I self-evolved or just self-righteous?

I had begun with the idea of trying to encourage a little less self-indulgence and a little more kindness in our society. Now, I realized, maybe I ought not to be writing a book about changing other people. Maybe I ought first to worry about changing myself. I called Eric and made a date for another lunch.

“I have a new idea for a book about the environment that has nothing at all to do with trying to get everyone else to change,” I told him.

“No polemic?”

“No. I’ll only try to change myself. As a lifestyle experiment, I’ll try, with my family, to live as environmentally as possible.”
4 L
“One guy tries to save the world? Like Superman or Spider-Man?”

“Or,” I said, “how about No Impact Man?”

Comic allusions to superheroes aside, what if, when it came to our environmental crisis, I tried to lead by example? Perhaps I had no power to change things from the top down, but what if, in my own limited way, I began trying to change things from the bottom up?

I planned to write a book about what I was doing, and in the meantime I’d keep a blog on the Internet. I would breach the norms of our normally consumptive society inside a transparent bubble, into which, I imagined, a small number of blog readers and, later, a larger number of book readers would eventually get to look.

I wouldn’t preach (or at least I’d try not to). As an experiment, I’d simply dedicate a year of my life to researching, developing, and adopting a way of life for me and my small family–one wife, one toddler, one dog–to live in the heart of New York City while causing as little harm to the environment as possible. What would that feel like? Was it possible to live environmentally in our modern culture? Would it seem so unappealing that no one would follow my lead? Would I be making myself into a freak? Or would what I was doing have some real value?

I was not talking about taking easy environmental half-measures, by the way. I was not talking about just using energy-saving fluorescent lightbulbs or being a diligent recycler. My idea was to go as far as possible and try to maintain as close to no net environmental impact as I could. I aimed to go zero carbon–yes–but also zero waste in the ground, zero pollution in the air, zero resources sucked from the earth, zero toxins in the water. I didn’t just want to have no carbon impact. I wanted to have no environmental impact.

I realized it would be hard. I decided that–if I didn’t want my wife and family to move out–I should ease us in by stages.

Stage one was trying to figure out how to live without making garbage: no disposable products, no packaging, and so on. Stage two involved traveling only in ways that emitted no carbon. In stage three, we would figure out how to cause the least environmental impact with our food choices. Then we’d proceed through stages involving making as little environmental impact as possible in the areas of consumer purchases, household operations like heat and electricity, and water use and pollution. The whole thing would get harder and harder, or so I imagined, as we made each new adaptation.

I also decided I’d have to balance what negative impact we couldn’t eliminate with some sort of positive impact. We would do this by cleaning up garbage in the Hudson River, helping care for newly planted trees, giving money to charity–environmental activism, maybe.

In blunt mathematical terms, in case you are an engineer or just a geek who likes math, we would try to achieve an equilibrium that looked something like this:

Negative Impact + Positive Impact = No Net Impact

This wasn’t meant to be scientific so much as philosophical. Could we decrease our negative impact and increase our positive impact enough so that they would balance out? Could I, at least for one year, live my life doing more good than harm?

So this book, in short, is about my attempt with my little family to live for a year causing as little negative environmental impact as possible. If what I’ve described so far sounds extreme, that’s because it’s meant to be. My intention with this book is not to advocate that, as a culture, we should all give up elevators, washing machines, and toilet paper. This is a book about a lifestyle experiment. It chronicles a year of inquiry: How truly necessary are many of the conveniences we take for granted but that, in their manufacture and use, hurt our habitat? How much of our consumption of the planet’s resources actually makes us happier and how much just keeps us chained up as wage slaves?

What would it be like to try to live a no-impact lifestyle? Is it possible? Could it catch on? Would living this way be more fun or less fun? More satisfying or less satisfying? Harder or easier? Worthwhile or senseless? Are we all doomed or is there hope? Is individual action lived out loud really just individual action? Would the environmental costs of producing this very book undo all the good, or would the message it purveyed outweigh the damage and add to the good?

But perhaps most important, at least when it came to addressing my own despair, was I as helpless to help change the imperiled world we live in as I’d thought?

These are the questions at the heart of this whole crazy-ass endeavor. Answering them for myself required extreme measures. How could I figure it all out if I didn’t put myself in the crucible of going all the way? This was not intended to be an experiment in seeing if we could preserve the habitat we live in and still stay comfortable. It was to be an experiment in putting the habitat first and seeing how that affected us.

As it would turn out, my environmental exercise would wind up drawing the attention of both some independent filmmakers, who wanted to make a documentary about the No Impact project, and The New York Times, which halfway through the year would stumble upon my blog and write a profile of my family. The result of that profile was as much a surprise to me as anyone. The world media was fascinated by my experiment, and I found myself in the middle of a press storm, sometimes centering, to my chagrin, on the somewhat trivial fact that, as part of the project, I’d chosen to find a more environment-friendly approach to bathroom hygiene than toilet paper.

I was thrust into a debate about collective versus individual action and unwittingly became something of an environmental spokesman. I got thousands of e-mails from people asking what they should do, how they should live their lives. I suddenly found that I was, though I hesitate to say it, an accidental leader.

So much has changed since I began this project. My thinking. My career. My friendships. My fatherhood. My marriage.

But on the eve of the start of the No Impact project, I simply thought that by taking a personal approach to the problem of the health, safety, and happiness of our species, maybe I had found a non-finger-wagging way to change some minds after all. But if I couldn’t, when all was said and done, at least I would have been able to change myself. At least if I couldn’t solve the problems, I’d be able to say that I had tried.

Meet the Author

Colin Beavan is the author of No Impact Man as well as two previous books that have absolutely nothing to do with the environment: Fingerprints: The Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science and Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America’s First Shadow War. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Atlantic, and the New York Times, and he posts regularly at No Impact Man. He lives in New York City.

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No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes about Himself and Our Way of Life in th 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was interested in this book to see how did he actually live in NYC while making no impact. On top of that, he really shows how living simply can enrich not only the environment but also yourself and the people around you.
MaryZMZ More than 1 year ago
How much of an Impact Man is No Impact Man? Imagine going without having trash, buying anything new, and using no electricity for an entire year. That seems easy right? Well, in No Impact Man, Colin Beavan departs on an escapade, along with his family, to reduce their carbon footprint in the world to have no impact. This meant doing absolutely everything humanly possibly to make no impact at all. Of course it is not possible to make utterly no impact as Colin points out; with just breathing we make an impact breathing out carbon dioxide. Naturally, Colin and his family do not just wake up one morning and decide they want to make no carbon impact on the world. Colin is a writer who is conscious about the environment and the decline of it in the world around us everyday. He begins his adventure by deciding to write a book about the impact humans have on the world and how it is getting worse. As Colin's manager points out, people do not like to be told they are wrong and should be doing the opposite of what they are used to. So Colin comes up with the idea to change himself and become No Impact Man; along with his family changing with him. He takes his family through phases to gradually get into the "motions" of having "no impact." However, the first phase of no trash becomes difficult just by simply grabbing a slice of pizza. Later on, another stage of the project is no automatic transportation. Colin and his family stopped riding in cars, trains, planes, and elevators. This meant everywhere they either walked or rode a bicycle; exceptions are made but only when they deem it necessary. Further on in the year, other stages were for them to have local food, and no electricity. Colin starts the project with no ideal of how challenging it will be. Through No Impact Man, Colin raises issues to attention which basically all fall under the category labeled the real meaning of progress. Issues are raised including progress that makes this novel is high-quality read for any college freshman. Colin questions if making new technologies is really progress at all and why we are not trying to get water to people who need it instead. I strongly agree with Colin at this point because we make these technologies but what good are they really doing us. I do not deny some of them help us but a lot just make newer items of what we already have. Is worth a life and many more just come up with some smaller newer version of some item? Colin set out to change the world by changing himself; he may be No Impact Man but what about the impact he has made and continues to make on the world. He changed my thinking in aspects of my life that I never dreamed would change by reading No Impact Man, so I definitely recommend this novel to any college freshman and everyone. You experience the Beavan family's journey along with them and get encouraged in your own life.
MorganMonkey More than 1 year ago
The book "No Impact Man" by Colin Beavan was exciting and emotional. The book is about a man, Colin, and his family undergoing the project of the No Impact Man in order to save the environment by cutting out resources that are harmful to our planet. He found it hard at first but towards the end of the book they finally get used to it and even though it was difficult he never gave up which is another reason I like this book. I would definitely recommend it because I think if you read this book you will take initiative to help out and come up with your own projects to help save the environment. This book helped me start my own journey and so far I have cut down on how many places I go a day to save oil and gas. Also, I turn the lights off when I go somewhere and my family and I have cut down on the amount of trash we have each day. To conclude, I hope you will read this book and hopefully get the same IMPACT from it as I did.
LL21 More than 1 year ago
Maintaining a relationship with his wife, ensuring he is a good father, trying to live a better life than he was living before, and meanwhile saving the planet one page at a time is Colin Beavan's challenge for one full year. I highly recommend his non-fictional book No Impact Man for both college freshman and people of various ages. It not only entertains its readers with an interesting story of how Colin and his family try to cause absolutely no impact on our environment but also informs the general public on the simple things humans can do to ensure a good future for our planet. Before reading the book consider questions such as what state of emergency is our planet in now, why does it matter that we make choices that are environmentally friendly, and who is responsible for making sure our planet can maintain life in the future? Yes, I know that not everyone believes in global warming, the greenhouse effect, or that we won't have clean water for the generations after us, but before reading this book that is what I thought too. Colin's use of astonishing statistics, terrible circumstances, and personal experiences, of what will happen if human beings do not change to better benefit the planet, sure changed my perspective. I don't want to give anything away but he doesn't just talk about reduce, reuse, and recycle. He expands upon how people harm our Earth but are not satisfied with their lives, are too absorbed in material things to enjoy the moments they have with each other, and make choices based on momentary desires rather than long term needs. After finishing the book I have reflected on my life and have noticed that being too absorbed in material things was one of my problems. I did not expect to learn this lesson about myself from a book about saving the world. Reading this novel has made a difference in my life. I hope it does the same for you. So what are you waiting for? Flip open the cover and start your journey to a better you, a better life, and most of all a better planet! -LL
TalaK More than 1 year ago
One man goes against the odds of all of mankind's necessities in order to live a no impact lifestyle, in New York City, for one long and life-changing year. Colin Beavan, his wife Michelle, and their one year old daughter Isabella, take a chance to experience life without hurting, in any way, shape, or form, the life of the planet we live on. Not only does this book take you by the hand and allow you to experience this project as if it were you for a year, but it also forces you to think, "What can I do?" As a student enrolled in University of North Carolina of Wilmington, I feel I have benefitted a great deal from this novel. Although I do not believe I will ever be determined enough to ever become no impact woman, I have defiantly inherited many of the things Beavan practices into my daily lifestyle. This novel truly pushes you to think, "Outside the box," and, thoroughly analyze all of your daily routines from brushing your teeth, to driving a car. This exquisite piece pushes every reader not only to regret past actions, but to also permanently change. I would recommend this novel to any person, any age, at any time. This book would be perfect for anyone who is looking to be persuaded or for simply an interesting read. I can honestly say that this novel his opened my eyes to the urgency of global warming, and never will I ever regret reading a single word.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
no impact. what does that mean. well to the author of no impact man, colin beavan it meant convincing his family to go an entire year without doing anything to affect the planet.this book was inspirational but not something that i would recommened if you cant pay attention. the idea behind the book was great and the thought of what colin did was amazing but it was a bit dry. there were a few good parts through out the book but it was very detail and data oriented but your welcome to read if your into that. so if you wanna learn what no impact means read this book.
_Carly-L More than 1 year ago
In the book No Impact Man author Colin Beavan created an engaging personal narrative to shed light on the prominent issue of global warming and the impact humans have on the world around us. He was able to use a very interesting and relatable approach to emphasize the problem and how everyone seems to support it yet makes no effort in doing anything about, himself included. He turned this around by taking the matters into his own hands and him and his wife and daughter actually attempted to live without making a ecological footprint. The added details of his, in diapers still, daughter Isabella portrayed a clear view of how people are capable of doing this from the start and enjoying it while adding an adorable insight too. I loved the way it was written and how the facts behind what he was doing were incorporated into the experience he had with this challenging task. His voice really stood out and made him very relatable and humorous to me as a reader. He did not try and make himself seem superior for doing this neither did he try and play the role of an educator. He was brutally honest with his experience within the book. Beavan weaved philosophical views on the current state of ignorance people possess without attacking society or pointing figures on who's to blame. In today&rsquo;s day in age I have found it might be very hard to get a point across without offending people and I think Beavan did it well, which was his intent. Beavan makes several eye opening conclusions about America itself and the way we&rsquo;ve been shaped to take take and take without thinking twice. Overall the whole book furthered my knowledge on the subject and allowed me to gain a new perspective of how I live my life. Not only did I learn about the difficulties of living totally green, what it would take to do that and how much we do consume but I also learned a lot about human nature and living appreciating living simply. There were many components that would capture the enthusiasm of a variety of readers. It prompts a change no matter how big or small and really do think this book makes a difference to the people that read it. It allows the reflection of what we do day to day that we can make slight change in to work together to make a huge difference and I highly recommend it. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book brings up so many fantastic points about the future of our planet. The author is very forthcoming with his mistakes and even writes with an imperfect tone that makes him and his entire project relatable. It will have you questioning how happy you have the potential to be when you're being kind to yourself and the earth. Very inspiring!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love his writing style. Its very personal. He's able to mix in a lot of information from published journals, books and scientific literature with personal anecdotes about his experiences making real-life choices. I once lamented at a local panel 'bout local food about how hard it was for me, the average Joe, to make informed choices about food. And an audience panel chastised me saying something like there's nothing more important than what we put in our bodies. I don't know if that's true. Colin's book spoke to me in that he seemed to really grapple with the extrapolation of personal energy vs our natural resources.
JimRGill2012 More than 1 year ago
I have to admire Colin Beavan for his consistent attempt to make no impact on the environment. I admire his wife, daughter, and dog even more for joining him on his urban adventure (he attempts this feat while living in a 9th-floor apartment in NYC&mdash;and his self-imposed rules prohibit the use of an elevator). Beavan is a good writer; his words and his tone truly capture the concurrent folly, heartbreak, earnestness, absurdity, and exasperation engendered by his attempt to live for one year without damaging the planet. And his reflective prose clarifies for us (without being too preachy) just how dependent we are on the alleged conveniences of modern life. I&rsquo;m not sure if I could even attempt one-tenth of what Beavan does to improve the planet, but his example proves that we&mdash;and by we, I mean the human race&mdash;must do something to avert the inevitable disasters that our careless stewardship of the planet will evoke. I&rsquo;m not sure, however, that I share Beavan&rsquo;s optimism. I suspect that most people will have to be forced to make changes that will require them to do more to save the planet.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We had to read this book for an English class, and in my opinion it wad too long. There where certain parts of the book he could've left out and you could still undrrstand the book without them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about a dude on the biggest ego trip ever... I couldn't even make it three chapters in. I have no clue how this book got published.
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LindiBaxley More than 1 year ago
It is rare that I find a book to influence a substantial change in any aspect of my life. However that is just the case with "No Impact Man." This book is about a man that decides, its time for a change. Not only does he say he wants to have no impact, he actually acts on his idea. This book is by no means a success story, or a "holier than thou" tale of a man that does everything right and leaves the rest of the world in "the ashes of their own destruction." This book is about a man and his family TRYING to have no impact. there are numerous trials and tribulations throughout the book. Trough my reading of No Impact Man I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in a true story about the trials of a family and how they grow closer through the various situations they are faced with. It proves that no one can truly be perfect no matter how hard they try. It shows that even if you don't go all out like Colin and his family, just little changes in your daily life, like turning out a light or unplugging a charger, can have a huge impact on the planet.or in this case, none at all.
ris1191 More than 1 year ago
Imagine being Eco-friendly. Hard or not so hard? You decide, but imagine having to take it to the extremes and in the middle of New York City, Manhattan. Well one guy decided to take that challenge and he wrote all about it. No Impact Man by Colin Beavan is about the adventures that this man goes through in one year. He not only finds the true purpose of this whole project but he is able to find his true self. He is able to communicate and spend more time with his family. He talks of all the stages that he went through from having to ride a bike everywhere to using no toilet paper and for a year. Crazy right? Crazy but he did it and dragged his family along with him. He had many troubles as well, many challenges he had to face. "Because our systems are not designed to be sustainable, I had to swim against the cultural tide, and sometimes I got tired (Beavan 61)." Will Colin be able to go throughout the year living a no impact life? Pick up this book and find out for yourself.
LCenname More than 1 year ago
There are a lot of little things that people can do to help save this toxic waste dump we call Earth. But there is one man that takes it to an extreme. Colin Beavan took on the task of going a year with his family, essentially creating no environmental impact on the Earth. Did I mention he lived in the middle of New York City? No transportation, including elevators; no making trash; minimal electricity; and minimal water. Not to mention that everything he eats has to come from within 250 miles of his home. Both Colin and his wife Michelle go through this journey together with open minds and the yearning to learn about the different ways they can reduce their ecological footprint. Even their daughter Isabella is excited to trade in her throw-away plastic diapers for cloth reusable ones in order to reduce their trash completely. With their experiences on their new bikes, and creating problems with their parents from canceling holiday trips Colin and his small family embark on the adventure of their life times. I highly recommend this book to all because i know it will change your prospective on the world. It did with me. And thus emerges a new super hero of our time; NO IMPACT MAN!!
DGreen94 More than 1 year ago
No impact man is definitely a great read. This non-fiction book on Colin is very enlightening. This is simply about a man living life as a normal person when he unexpectedly overcomes an epiphany and decides to have an Impact on the world by not making an Impact. During this journey to a "New World" Colin goes through a hardship with his family and others around him. Colin expresses the hardship of having NO IMPACT. Reading this book I realize that I was making an Impact, just not a good one. I realized that in my everyday life I was technically killing the planet we live in. I can honestly say that Colin has made and Impact on my life. Because of reading this book I now recycle more, use less water when washing dishes & various things. & I also use a towel made out of cloth to dry my hands instead of the leading "Bounty" brand. Lol. If you are reading this review I recommend that you read NO IMPACT MAN & I guarantee it will make an impact on your life whether it is good or bad it will affect you.