I just finished reading No Impact Man. On loan from the library, it languished on my nightstand for two weeks before I decided to read it. Even with the due date looming, I still picked it up and put it down several times before finally struggling to the finish.
Why did I have such a hard time with this book?
It started with the title, No Impact Man. No Impact? Really? Is that possible in our modern society? Is No and Never just too extreme?
I’m idealistic by nature. I’m all for changing my habits to benefit the planet and live more sustainably. I long for the simplicity of my youth and wish my kids could have an equally carefree childhood. Riding a banana seat bike down the middle of the street, helmet-less and barefoot and without a care in the world—that’s livin’. Tim and I are doing our best to raise our family with simple ideals in mind. But we know that all or nothing is not realistic these days, if for no other reason than it being too tough a message for most people to accept.
Wouldn’t we being doing more good if we got people to embrace a sustainable moderation message?
I know book titles (and blog titles for that matter) must be catchy to entice people to buy/read them. Shock sells. And people are probably buying the book because they are intrigued by No Impact. “Somewhat Less of an Impact” isn’t as exciting. Why else would Colin’s ass cleaning routine (some sort of secret routine devoid of toilet paper) be the question most interviewers asked him over the course of his project? Maybe people want to read about extremes.
Fine, but I’m pretty sure most people don’t want to live that way.
Unlike No Impact Man, if I lived in NYC, I would definitely take the subway and ride in elevators and buy toilet paper (Colin also admitted that after the year was up, he went back to elevator and subway riding) Does giving up these things—especially in a dense city where they are running anyway (with the express purpose of helping to make the density livable)—really make a difference? Or is it simply a matter of attracting more attention?
For us, sustainable moderation is key. Extremism alienates people. When an impossible way of life is shown as the only worthy option, people can easily respond with “that would never work for me,” and immediately return to their usual resource consuming ways.
However when faced with approachable ideas and options for making sustainable life changes, we’ve found people have better reactions. Especially, if the first step is something fun (and we don’t need to tell you that riding bikes is fun!).
We advocate for making small changes to daily habits. It makes a noticeable difference and provides a a solid base from which to launch more changes later. Some good starts:
- Drive less
- buy less
- buy used stuff
- pay attention to how a product is made or packaged and think about where it will go when you’re done with it
- Reduce the size of your garbage can and see how little you can throw away each week
Baby steps, baby.
The Car Free Days family constantly examines our footprint and tweaks our buying, transportation, and consumption habits as appropriate for us. A big reason our blog is titled Car Free Days (with an emphasis on Days) is the message of moderation. It’s no secret but we still own a car and plan to keep owning one — at least until the whole family can ski, camp, backpack, and occasionally transport grandma at a moment’s notice, as easily and as we do now.
Our van is ugly (no need for comprehensive insurance), and paid for. We’ve run the numbers and it costs much less to own than we’d spend on a replacement cocktail of ZipCar and standard rental cars. So while we could ditch it to make a grand statement of being totally CAR FREE, in practice selling it would do little more than make such a statement. We’d still drive our usual 3 to 4,000 miles a year via car share and rental cars, spend more out of pocket, and lose flexibility. to boot. Oddly, we also found, back when we had some free FlexCar benefits, that having driving “credits” encouraged us to actually drive more.
So until America rebuilds the rail network the auto industry dismantled over the past 60 years, car ownership (but not daily or even weekly driving) remains our most effective occasional long-distance transportation option.
Heck, even Colin admitted that he couldn’t wait for his experiment to end so he could jet off to Europe (and burn up all the carbon he saved during the year). So much for the sustainability of crash diets.
How about you? Any thoughts on sustainability, moderation or going cold turkey?
Have a great weekend.