Review: ‘No Impact Man’


No Impact Man

by Colin Beavan

  • Date finished: Jan. 8
  • Genre: Memoir, Conservation
  • Year: 2010
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading list: Winter 2012-13
  • Grade: B+
  • Thoughts upon finishing:

I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of No Impact Man. My brother, the environmental science major, gave it to me for Christmas a few years back and it’s been sitting neglected on my shelf ever since. I had no reason not to read it; other books were just higher on the priority list.

However, I am happy I finally read this book (and I made sure to let my brother know as well — he met Beavan in college and was very impressed with the book). Essentially, the book chronicles Beavan and his family’s attempt to, well, have no impact on the environment for one year. He eases his family into this project by stages: first they eliminate all trash, then they stop taking carbon-emitting transportation (cars, train, planes), then they start eating local, then they turn off the electricity, etc.

Like many readers of Beavan’s blog — which he updated while completing the project — I was primarily interested in the how. If they stopped buying anything new, how did they avoid X, Y or Z? What were some of their tactics for eliminating trash? Like many “guilty liberals,” I also wish I could be more sustainable in my everyday life (see the post about my goals for 2013). I am definitely not ready for some of the big changes until I have time to research them further (I’ve been mulling over a composter for years now). But I thought Beavan’s experiment fascinating and I immediately began brainstorming ways I could implement sustainable tricks into Joel’s and my lifestyle. What if we just turned off the space heater during the day (even if our bedroom became icy cold in the meanwhile)? What if we actually remembered our reusable grocery bags?

All that being said, I did tell my brother that Beavan seemed a little bit like…a jerk? Full of himself? I will say this: Beavan is honest in his writing, and admits his shortcomings. However, his self-righteous edge gets a little old after awhile. Plus, I would have preferred more talk about the actual No Impact project and fewer essays on Beavan’s worldview and personal philosophy. Yes, I get it. This project was very personal for him, thus forcing him to question a lot of who he was. However, he could have consolidated these ramblings better instead of randomly throwing them into various chapters. You couldn’t read very far without tripping over some more Zen wisdom or reflection about his uncle’s death (why is that relevant, by the way?).

But overall, a very “inspiring” book — not in the cliche sense, but that it does its job of actually inspiring me to go out and do a little bit more to save the planet. This world is in very real trouble (see this story about how half the world’s food is just thrown away before it reaches anyone’s plates) and it troubles me just as much as it does Beavan.

In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I’d add No Impact Man to my list of books I’d recommend anyone to read. Yes, it’s political but it’s a real look at “environmentalism” as it exists in our own home and I think everyone needs a little bit more of that.


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