No Impact Man

On Friday I went to a showing of the documentary No Impact Man that was put on as part of the school’s “family weekend” (remember, I work at a residential program for high school students interested in environmental stewardship, a.k.a. a boarding school). No Impact Man is also a blog and a book, but this was the first time I’d heard of it. It’s essentially the story of a family in New York City – husband, wife, and two-year-old daughter – who attempted to spend a year making absolutely as little environmental impact as possible. Not only did they give up exotic produce and gasoline-powered transportation, they gave up electricity. In Manhattan. It was a fascinating movie, not least because of the dynamic between the husband, the driving force behind the project, and the wife, who when the year began was addicted to reality TV, Starbucks, and designer fashion.

Of course, this movie about someone trying to truly live his values dropped into my brain at the same time that I’m still working my way through Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder, a marvelous collection of essays in which she tackles, among other topics, her family’s ongoing attempts to live in an environmentally responsible way and be mindful of their place in the global ecosystem. And at the same time that I’m reading a report on ten years of surveys on environmental literacy in America that discusses the concept of “locus of control” – the difference between having an internal locus of control and believing that the actions and efforts of individuals can make a difference, and having an external locus of control and believing that meaningful change can only come from corporations and governments and other large organizations.

Anyway [I got interrupted halfway through writing this post and am trying now to regather my thoughts], the movie made me think about what it means to really live a life in line with one’s values. Isn’t there some value in that alone, whether or not one person’s actions really contribute significantly to building a sustainable society? (And there’s evidence to suggest they can and do.) I’m not planning on giving up electricity and toilet paper anytime soon, but there’s always more we can do. Buy less stuff. Eat less meat and more local, naturally-produced food. Only drive when it’s really necessary, and plan to do the most errands with the least possible driving when we do. Look for ways to reduce the amount of stuff we throw away (even if it’s recyclable – recycling takes resources too, and there’s a reason why “reduce” and “reuse” come before “recycle”).

A time is coming, maybe sooner than a lot of people would like to believe, when we’ll have to live closer to this way because there simply won’t be the resources left to sustain our current level of consumption. The more I understand the facts about climate change the more I believe I’ll see this within my lifetime. But who’s to say we can’t get a head start? For anyone interested in sustainability, I really recommend No Impact Man.

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