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 armchair liberal'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 - and 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 fun or less fun? 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.
No Impact Man is the story of Colin Beavan's attempt to become as environmentally conscious as possible over the course of a year. Going beyond swapping plastic bags for cloth, he quickly realizes that saving the planet is not as simple as eschewing his toddler's disposable diapers.
Read by Beavan, this performance can, at times, be stilted, but it lends some great, unexpected credibility to the memoir. Hearing about a personal experience straight from the author makes it feel less like reading a book, and more like hearing an interesting story from a friend. In addition, emotions flow freely and honestly, coming directly from Beavan's experience, re-living the events for the listener. Bringing what can be a heavy, possibly heated topic down to a personal level, there's no lecturing about what one should or shouldn't do for the environment; this is simply one man's experience.
Over the course of the story, Beavan, dubbing himself "No Impact Man", examines his life and that of his wife and child, coming up with countless ways they can change their ways and become more socially conscious. Recognizing that it's easy to stand in judgment of those not making similar efforts, Beavan goes out of his way to be self-deprecating and fully aware that he's taking an extreme approach. As the project goes on and he makes more dramatic sacrifices (such as turning off the power to his apartment), his viewpoint evolves from mere curiosity to an almost frantic idea that no matter what he does, it will never be enough to change the fate of the world.
What starts out as an attempt to live a greener life evolves, leading Beavan to explore much larger issues in his life and how going down this path effects not just him, but those around him. As his project winds down, he finds himself at a crossroads, in conflict with himself, the environment, and where to go from here. After coming so far and doing so much, how does he continue to live his life as he had, knowing what he's capable of doing for the environment? Can he live with himself if he immediately returns to his old ways? Will making select concessions, like taking the elevator to the 25th floor instead of the stairs, make him a hypocrite, or worse, undo all the good intentions the year has given him? What kind of person is he now?
Although the book ends, Beavan's thought-provoking quest to better both himself and the planet continues, leaving listeners to ponder their own role in this world and what steps might be possible to take. Lesley Grossman
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