March 22, 2007

The "no impact" lifestyle... and book.

A writer's got to live:
Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style. Isabella’s parents, Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper [including toilet paper!]; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.

Mr. Beavan, who has written one book about the origins of forensic detective work and another about D-Day, said he was ready for a new subject, hoping to tread more lightly on the planet and maybe be an inspiration to others in the process.

Also, he needed a new book project and the No Impact year was the only one of four possibilities his agent thought would sell. This being 2007, Mr. Beavan is showcasing No Impact in a blog ( laced with links and testimonials from New Environmentalist authorities like His agent did indeed secure him a book deal, with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and he and his family are being tailed by Laura Gabbert, a documentary filmmaker and Ms. Conlin’s best friend.
I hope that book isn't going to be printed on, you know, paper.

There's only one way to have no impact: Don't get born. And I'm not trying to start an abortion debate here. I mean don't even be an unfertilized egg in the first place.

Yet even the unfertilized egg has an impact, one which normally consumes paper products. Do I need to look up the details of how Michelle Conlin handles her menstrual periods? Oh, the things women will do to help out their writer-husbands!


Anonymous said...

What could be worse than this idiotic impacting, no-impact?

Well, you could strive to have a negative impact.

Get a great education, say in law, that can be used to help solve some of the many issues facing society.

Become one of a few tenured professors of that law in Madison, thus keeping other people from occupying your seat.

When issues of society come up, ignore them in the classroom, in your op-eds, on your blog.

Purposefully, intentionally, mislead readers.

Blog about reality shows.

But who would do that?

vnjagvet said...

Reality, you are such a party pooper. No toilet paper, now.

Richard Dolan said...

No Impact, as Ann implies, is the polar opposite of the injunction in Genesis: be fruitful and multiply and tame the wild beasts, for all of this I have created for you. No Impact embodies a set of values wholly at odds with the Biblical conception of man's place in the universe, to the point where the human presence in the world becomes the prime source of evil. In its way, No Impact is as odd as the suicidal millenial hysteria that occasionally grips fringe religious sects (Jim Jones, the Waco wackos), perhaps because at its core No Impact has more than a little in common with them.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

You could also devote your life to cyber-stalking and trolling.

But who would do that?

mcg said...

Buying paper products and dumping them into a landfill instead of recycling them is, actually, a form of carbon sequestration. Get to work, everyone!

Nasty, Brutish & Short said...

Remember when people actually wanted to make an impact, instead of none at all?

mcg said...

reality check is an idiot. It really is that simple.

Smilin' Jack said...

There's only one way to have no impact: Don't get born. And I'm not trying to start an abortion debate here. I mean don't even be an unfertilized egg in the first place.

These people are much worse than that. Not only do they exist, they have reproduced! Don't they realize that their child will go on to have more children, and those will have grandchildren, etc. leaving an exponentially growing swathe of environmental destruction behind them? The resulting devastation these people euphemistically call "impact" will be infinite!

Funniest line: "The 250-mile rule, by the way, reflects the longest distance a farmer can drive in and out of the city in one day, Mr. Beavan said." That farmer is going to have one tired horse!

Kev said...

(the other kev)

But getting back to the subject at hand:

Every day, the GW faithful act more and more like cultists. I give it about another year before we start reading about how mass suicides are really voluntary carbon-reduction efforts.

joeone said...

I assume Mr. Beavan is generating electricity with one of those bicycle contraptions from Gilligan's Island (my age is showing).

reality check: I'd like to know what your REAL issue is. Did Althouse kill your puppy?

mcg said...

Decomposing bodies exhaust greenhouse gases. Those who commit suicide in the name of "no impact", therefore, must do so by sealing themselves in an airtight, non-degrading container.

JodyTresidder said...

"Also, he needed a new book project and the No Impact year was the only one of four possibilities his agent thought would sell."

Doesn't the twerp have the brains not to confess this?

We all secretly know that's how the 2nd or 3rd time writer came up with his next wheeze, but do us the courtesy of at least pretending it's because of your passion - or whatever!

(Reality check is completely hilarious.)

Maxine Weiss said...

If you wear tin foil over your head, it prevents the gamma rays from penetrating the brain.

The transfluorescent radiation that eminates from laptop screens causes cancer.

Love, Maxine

Patrick said...

The interpretation of Genesis isn't quite right. Humanity was called to take care of the Garden, as caretakers. It's not our garden. We are the servants, not the owner to tear it up and trash it. It implies respect, use, and participation with Creation not abuse and arrogance.

However, I can't help but laugh at these people. No impact? In Manhattan? Their whole lives are a passive endorsement of every excess of city life. They change their own behavior but certainly make use of innumerable changes to the natural landscape of Manhattan island for their lives.

Thoreau would have absolutely nothing to talk about with these people. They are inconveniencing themselves, not making real 'no impact' changes, while making a big stink about it. The mass of men apparently now live lives of loud desperation.

"There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."

Maxine Weiss said...

"Woman allergic to microwaves and mobiles paints her house black!"'allergic'%20to%20mobiles%20and%20microwaves%20paints%20her%20house%20black/

(Look at the size of that link !!)

Tyler Simons said...

Do I need to look up the details of how Michelle Conlin handles her menstrual periods?

On might guess that a couple plugged into the low-waste scene would have heard of luna pads and diva cups.

Richard Dolan said...

Patrick says: "The interpretation of Genesis isn't quite right. Humanity was called to take care of the Garden, as caretakers." Yes, of course. But I think we are viewing this in the same way. No Impact rules out any role for man as "caretaker," or indeed, any active role whatever. Instead, it is centered on a view of the natural world defined and understood to exclude man; the objective is to protect the natural world from the depredations of man (depredations being all that man is capable of). No Impact is nuts on many levels, not least that it is impossible for anyone to live according to such precepts. It's also utterly unserious for the same reason. I suspect that the only point of this silliness is to sell Beavan's next book.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but how doews NYC generate electricity for it's trains?

Oil or Coal fired? I am fairly certain they haven't dammed a river, built windmills or cracked a nuc.

What about fresh fruit and veggies in the winter? I would be fairly certain there ain't a banana tree within 250 miles of Manhattan any time of the year, much less producing fruit in January.

Even if your organic farmer didn't use fertilizers, what about tractors? Any old order Amish within 250 miles of Manahattan?

Bottom line: our society is too intergrated to declare yourself 'carbon free'; even if you personally don't have an impact.

Unless you are old order Amish, and living close to the land in a strictly rural setting.

I guess we may consider this guy the Jimmy Swaggart of Global Warming?

JohnAnnArbor said...

Isn't toilet paper made from recycled paper mostly, anyway?

Jeff said...

NY gets its power from the Indian Point nuclear power plant and assorted others. Not enough power, as the recent blackout showed. And yet NY is afflicted with millions of NIMBY environmentalists who want a 21st-century lifestyle but refuse to consider new powerplants to enable it all. Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomburg is projecting huge population growth for the city.

Al Maviva said...

From the looks of it, it sure takes a lot of money to live no-impact. I'm guessing they have bought carbon offsets to make up for huge amount of energy their Manhattan home eats, and that the organic flood is floated in down the Hudson, without benefit of boat or wrapping.

Sissy Willis said...

I read somewhere the other day that certain fundamentalist Muslims have something very much like the 250-mile rule. Beyond that distance, a woman of honor must not travel without a male relative as chaperone. The distance is derived from how far a camel -- presumably with an abducted woman aboard -- can travel in a day.

A camel may be a horse designed by a committee, but the mileage is apparently the same. :-)

Synova said...

I think it's a great book idea.

I would think that buying offsets would be cheating. A book about actually making the changes in your life to be as "no impact" as possible could be a very good one simply *because* it's easy for jet setting celebrities to lecture the rest of us while they don't change a thing.

People used to only eat locally grown food. That is going to be hard for them to do. Describing what that means in a book would be interesting. And fresh vegies in the winter? We're spoiled is what we are, with our bananas from Costa Rica and our grapes from Chile.

Yes, there are things about living where they live that they can't really change and the experiment won't be perfect, but who really cares? I would expect that the book would include the things they couldn't change and couldn't do without. The questions of winter heat and electric light (is that better or worse than candles?) and just how much time and effort it took to live this way ought to be included. Not everyone is going to have a book advance to live on (this type of book *usually* involves a book advance) while they do everything the hard way.

I think it might be interesting.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I see you're into recycling... posts about bodily fluids that is.

Russ said...

So, let me get this straight... he's going to BLOG about a no-impact book.

No impact.

He will power his home computer with a wheel and a pack of organically-grown hamsters?

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I can tell you as a student of history how hard it would be to live this way.

Ever watch the PBS series "Colonial House"?

Survival is constant work, and it is only the global community that has made our lives easy. we have become so globally interwoven (with the burning of carbon fuels the basis of the web) that the idea we can cut ourselves loose is nuts.

Fresh produce in winter is not a luxury; it is a medical necessity. Fresh water is not delivered to the faucet by magic, nor is is heated by the wave of a wand. Heat is not generated unless something is consumed, and 9 times out of 10 that consumption leaves a carbon footprint.

This is the 'Seinfeld' of books; centered in Manahattan and about nothing.

XWL said...

The only honest environmentalists.

My other thoughts on the neomalthusians.

And wasting paper may actually be a net gain for the environment. The virgin wood pulp mixed into all the recycled paper used, is from trees purposely grown for use as wood pulp. The more paper used, the greater the incentive to plant more forests, therefore, wasting paper is creating an incentive for big bad corporations to create more CO2 sequestering forests (the rest of the paper process creates other bad stuff, but it seems the only 'pollutant' that matters anymore is CO2).

Pat said...

I would think that buying offsets would be cheating.

Buying offsets essentially means that you're paying other people to reduce their environmental impact so that you don't have to reduce yours. It's similar to the Civil-War-era conscription laws that allowed you to hire someone else to serve in your place when you were drafted. The effect is the same: if you're rich, the rules don't apply to you. You can transfer your obligations to poor people and go on living your comfortable life.

Is that "cheating"? I guess that depends on whether the rules provide special loopholes for the wealthy.

Perhaps we should also allow rich people who are convicted of a crime to pay a poor person to go to jail for them. We could call that a "justice offset".

Wacky Hermit said...

If these crazy faux neo-Luddites want to REALLY live a "low-impact lifestyle," they should move in at the Jensen Historical Farm and live only off food that is organically produced within a 20 mile radius of there. Fortunately for them, it's a rural area with a really nice farmer's market.

Sorry, but walking around New York City and wiping your @$$ with cloth instead of toilet paper isn't deprivation.

betsybounds said...

mcg said, "Decomposing bodies exhaust greenhouse gases." Say, what? Decomposing bodies use greenhouse gases up, do you mean?

Bruce Hayden said...

Buying offsets essentially means that you're paying other people to reduce their environmental impact so that you don't have to reduce yours.

Well, maybe, sometimes. But sometimes it means paying someone to plant trees in a third world country and then taking credit for the next 99 years of tree growth. Or possibly for providing compact flourescent bulbs to people in third world countries.

I would feel more confortable with energy and carbon offsets if there weren't so many scams involved. Realistically though, until there is a firm cap and trade system in place, that is all that you are going to have - scams.

Synova said...

Decomposition creates greenhouse gasses. Using exhaust as a verb is sort of strange, though. But I use words strangely all the time so I can hardly claim the high ground on that one.

I think that people are getting all worked up about the silliness of the mere idea of a "no impact" lifestyle and missing the point. It doesn't matter if it's silly. It would be an interesting thing to do.

I've been trying to remember the name of the lady...Ruth Stout!.. who in the 1920ish years spent a year eating raw food *only* and wrote a book about it. I believe that she didn't even make grain into bread, she just chewed it. (Helps to have good teeth.) And she wrote about it. And when the time for her experiment was over she went back to bread and cooked green peas. (She hated raw peas.)

That was silly, too. But trying it is a good "hook" to get people interested and part of the book is about what *didn't* work and about the parts that were really unpleasant (like raw peas).

I've thought of proposing a book (like others that have been done) where I do nothing but eat at McDonalds for a year. I figure I could focus on the the dollar menu and attempt to get my total food expenditures down to the absolute minimum possible. Honest, it's got to be the cheapest way of getting calories on the planet. I probably couldn't get anyone to pay me to do it, but if I did, even if I showed exactly what I expected to show, and I *didn't* get fat, there is nothing about it AT ALL that would be fun. And that would be part of the book too, what was hardest to do and what was the most unpleasant and the morning I looked at yet another fruit and yogurt parfait cup from that dollar menu, feeling nauseous about the thought of eating it and berated myself for the entire foolish idea, because I have never liked yogurt.

mcg said...

No, I mean what I said. Methane and carbon dioxide are byproducts of the process of decomposition.

mcg said...

Oops, I see synova responded for me. And I agree that "exhaust" was not a good word choice :) But I was of course being a bit facetious anyway.

Lonetown said...

Once again the Law of unitended consequences will rear its ugly head as one explores the possibilities of expanding this work ino real life.

Like, let's see, what would the consequences be of everyone in NYC eating only organic food grown within 250 miles/

Umm Zimbabwe?

J said...

"eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan"

If he thinks that's "no impact", he must not have seen this:

Peter Palladas said...

Buy shovel.

Dig hole.

Jump in hole.

Give shovel to friend.

Friend buries you alive.

Friend digs hole

...and so on.

Last one standing hands shovel back to God and thanks him for the loan. (That would have to be Bob Dylan.)

Ann Althouse said...

Surely, there must be a way to bury oneself. I read about victims of the plague in the Middle Ages doing that (out of fear that no one would bury them and knowing they were doomed).

Tully said...

I give it about another year before we start reading about how mass suicides are really voluntary carbon-reduction efforts.

For well over two decades I have urged all population-reduction-espousing greens to demonstrate the depth of their convictions by voluntarily removing themselves from the biosphere.

No takers yet, but hope springs eternal! :-)

George said...

O, ye hypocrites!

Colin, was it not ye who I did espy on the corner of Lexington andst 43rd streets eating fromst a bag of CheezDoodles? It twas you, for I didest see you lick thine fingers thereof of the yellow gaggy nastiness!

O, Michelle, shame betide thy fortunes. Forbest you confess now thine shameful cravings for Bigelow Vanilla Caramel herbal decaffeinated tea which thou has purchased from yon Korean grocer! The scent hangs upon thee. O, shame!

Seriously, someone in a small New England town wrote a book about this, came out a few months ago....Pretty boring stuff, but what great PR these folks are getting.

betsybounds said...

Well, "exhaust" was not a good word choice because it was an incorrect word choice. My point, of course, was that if decomposing bodies exhaust greenhouse gases, then we have a good solution to global warming at hand: Just don't bury dead bodies! See--anyone can be facetious! Hahaha.

My further point was that we need to be more careful what we say. It won't do to say, "Well you know what I mean." If you want people to know what you mean, you must say what you mean.

mcg said...

Well, OK, I was humble about my word choice before, but dagnabit, you had to kick it up a notch. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, my usage is correct, albeit uncommon: that "exhaust" can indeed be used as a transitive verb in the above manner. Indeed, their own example of this usage is: "exhaust vaporous wastes through a pipe".

Eric Blair said...

This 'no-impact' idea is so stupid.

That's going to be some boring ass food--with no salt. Or pepper. Or other spices.

Peter Palladas said...

Surely, there must be a way to bury oneself. I read about victims of the plague in the Middle Ages doing that (out of fear that no one would bury them and knowing they were doomed).

Probably there is - a few planks to hold the earth above the hole while you dig, a couple of pulleys and a sharp tug on the rope should do the trick.

That, however, is the not the point of the exercise which is total elimination of the human species - the 'no impact' millennial aspiration.

What funny things you read! You sure about you and cannabis?;)

From Inwood said...

Sissy Willis

I haven’t laughed so much recently as I did after reading your post.

The 250 Mile rule as a camel rule put together by a committee.

Say, Inwood is only 7 Miles from the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle. I should never have left!

Recently I walked with a group 7 Miles from Sunset Park along the Bay to Bay Pkwy & 86th Street. So I could do it. Speaking of carbon, one of the things we discussed was whether Wendy’s or Burger King was better on the Hiway. Completely un-PC, anti-environment, as well as déclassé.

From Inwood said...

OOPS shoudda said "along The narrows"

betsybounds said...


Yikes! I'm not familiar with that usage--don't recall ever encountering it before. Well, you learn something every day, don't you. My apologies!

I R A Darth said...

A Redneck asked:

Any old order Amish within 250 miles of Manahattan?

Yes. According to Google Maps, Lancaster, PA is 155 miles away from NYC.

From Inwood said...


You say:

"Give shovel to friend.

"Friend buries you alive.

"Friend digs hole."

Um, "Friends don't let friends dig their own graves."


stoneman said...

I think this blogger totally missed the point. It's not about never having an impact on the planet, it's about not impacting the measurable elements of our environment that determine the habitable nature of our only home. This guy doesn't need to get a law degree to do what he is doing, and that is raising awareness of the ability for us all to live a lifestyle in which we are more conscious of our influence upon our environment. It's basically promoting the idea of cleaning your apartment so there isn't rotting food emiting foul smells and attracting disease, and cleansing the bathroom so there isn't mold and fungus growing, etc. For toilet paper, he understands people need to use disposable products and we cannot simply change societal behavior like that. To that end he provides a list of ecofriendly toilet papers, tissues and paper towels that we can buy that are made from renewable forests, don't use chlorine in the production, etc. Seventh Generation, Trader Joe's, CVS and others produce products that are equal in quality to the others but avoid further damage to our home. It's really simple to modify just a few things in our lives to live a more sustainable lifestyle that don't even require much if any more effort. In order to promote this awareness, you have to do something extreme to gain attention and be smart enough to speak intelligently about it.

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