Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No Impact Man

My children and I watched the film, No Impact Man recently. It’s a documentary about a young couple and their baby daughter who live on Fifth Avenue in New York City and attempt to live for a year making no impact on the environment. This leads to eating locally grown organic food, generating no trash except for compost, using no traditional electricity, and using no carbon-fueled transportation. The film was premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

I will confess to allowing my younger children to believe No Impact Man was some kind of super hero who never touches anyone, right up until the moment we dimmed the lights and hit the remote. For the first ten minutes, my seven-year-old kept turning to me and asking, “Are they just going to talk the whole time?” but soon he was just as interested as I was in the adventure unfolding before us.

The point is brought up several times during the movie that perhaps this is all just some gimmick to allow Colin (No Impact Man) to promote his blog and sell his book. A tactic I can completely understand. I confess to feeling not a small amount of jealousy that I didn’t think of this first and that my blog doesn’t attract radio interviewers on the phone and Good Morning America to my door. Colin is tortured emotionally by this issue as he deals with the hate mail his project generates. He definitely hit a nerve. The surprising thing was not the nasty letters from meat-eating, liberal hating, materialistically motivated folks, but the letters from environmentalists and sustainable-living proponents. They felt that his project was embarrassing and silly. He faces his own demons here and comes to the conclusion that he’s going to do what it takes to publish his books, so why not actually use that energy to do some good with his writing. If he can change his own lifestyle and maybe inspire someone else to change theirs, even the tiniest bit, than he’s doing something worthwhile (and increasing his odds of selling his book and becoming famous in documentary-land). I respect that. But I’m still jealous.

We enjoyed learning about the “Pot in a Pot” refrigerator, how quickly added worms can make compost, and the art of washing your clothes in the bathtub with your feet. We were grossed out (as were No Impact Wife’s co-workers) at the idea of not using toilet paper. (They used scraps of washable fabric.) We were very self-satisfied when they talked about making their own cleaning supplies (altogether now: “We already do that!!”). I think this film put my own efforts in to perspective for my kids. Maybe mom isn’t so crazy, she could be a lot worse. I caught my 13-year-old watching me warily to see if I was getting any ideas.

I did get a few ideas and spent some time the next day journaling out my fantasy of living a sustainable life off the grid. But now I’ve come back down to reality and begun to ponder what I can take away from the film. I think it makes me even more conscious and committed to living an earth-friendly life. Especially because I know that an earth-friendly life is a human-friendly life and it makes us all healthier.

I’m not ready to shut off my electricity, but I did send away for a solar-powered water heater information packet. This morning I flicked on the light in the bathroom and then realized I was doing that out of habit. There’s plenty of light in our bathroom. I don’t really need that light. I’m just programmed to reach right and hit the switch each time I walk in to a room. So I’m making a resolution to stop using lights I don’t need. My children have the same habit. I’m setting out to break the habit for all of us. I happily chirped, “Let’s have less impact!” as I remind them to turn off their lights.

The No Impact Family doesn’t use any kind of carbon-fueled transportation. They use their bicycles and scooters. I’ve got several serviceable four legged animals in the pasture, but I’m not sure my town could handle me riding up to the post office on my aging pony. So as much as that seems like a great option, it’s not really an option. I guess I’m not ready to risk public humiliation in my quest for a greener life. Bicycle riding is also an option although we live in a bike un-friendly area with narrow winding, hilly roads with no shoulders. The sidewalk-free shopping areas in town would be just as dangerous for bikers. I’ve even found that as I bike for pleasure, cars pass frighteningly close to me and some drivers seem to scowl in annoyance that I am on the road. Public transportation in this little rural/suburban outpost is virtually non-existent, although we do have two Park-n-Rides, which is a good thing.

Still, I do think I can do less driving. I need to combine all my errands in to one or two times a week. I tend to jump in the car and run out whenever I need something or the longing for wi-fi hits me. I’m going to commit to putting less miles on my car. Truly I have no idea how to do this since my kids have a myriad of activities that require my taxi service. I will start by driving them to practice and bringing my laptop or book and hanging around rather than dropping them and going home, only to go back an hour later. That will cut out a few miles. But at least I have an excuse when they beg to go to Rita’s or want to burn through their allowance at Wal-Mart – “Let’s have less impact!”

My kids were uncharacteristically quiet at the conclusion of the film so I don’t know for sure what they thought. I do believe the things they saw on the film will stay with them and hopefully lead to some questions down the road. I’m also, of course, hoping it generates a little more buy-in on their part for all my living organic shenanigans. I will caution anyone who is offended by the occasional foul word, that these are New Yorkers living in New York in the film, so there is a little f-this and f-that here and there. When the first one came flying across the screen, my kids raised their eyebrows in unison and looked at me. I said, “I think you’re smart enough to handle adults using bad language.” And we moved on. That said, I think it’s a great movie to watch with your kids. It’s tempting to be defeatist when it comes to saving the environment when you see the incredible waste that is generated every day by our culture. Most likely we can’t change the majority of people, but we can change the mindset of their kids. Kids are much more flexible and easily inspired. They want to help.

I know my little noble efforts don’t amount to much. But I keep thinking about No Impact Man and his sadness and desolation when he wonders if what he’s doing is silly. He laments that he is only one person. But we are all only one person and if each of us made just a few changes we could have a great impact for good. I don’t think No Impact Man was successful in having no impact on the environment, but I’m hoping that he is successful at having an impact on the rest of us.

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