No Impact Woman
Friends gifted us with a Roku player this winter after staying with us in Vermont. I’m not that much a movie watcher but the boys were thrilled. With this contraption, you basically can access Netflix instantly via your TV. One day, when I wasn’t skiing, I turned it on and spotted a food documentary section and sensed an addiction in the making. That night, I treated traumatized my young children with Food Inc. I now think this should be required viewing for all kids as it connected them to their food. It was more valuable than be telling them to eat something “because it’s good for you”. My 9 year old really got it.  This past weekend, the boys were skiing and I turned on a documentary called No Impact Man.
No Impact Man follows a writer and his family, in NYC, on a yearlong experiment to try to have no adverse impact on the environment.  This meant local food, no elevators, no cars or trips. At six months they yanked their electricity eliminating refrigeration and necessitating lots of candles. This couple had a 2-year-old daughter so disposable diapers (and toilet paper for the adults) were no more.  No Impact Man is Colin Beavan, a writer, who wants to veer away from historical writing. For me though, the star of this film is his wife Michelle Conlin who accepts her husband’s challenge and goes from self-confessed reality television, shopping and coffee junkie to no impact woman. When you see someone with no experience in environmentalism making sweeping changes it’s pretty inspiring.
Of course I zeroed in on the food changes invovled:
No meat (responsible for more greenhouse gases than cars) or fish
No food from more than 250 miles away (no such thing as local coffee in NYC), lots of farmers market trips
No packaged food, if it wasn’t from the farmer’s market food came from bulk bins
No restaurant meals because many ingredients come from faraway places
No take out; after all takeout comes in containers
No paper towels, dishwasher.
As you watch Michelle go to work on her scooter, bid farewell to her makeup and eat lots and lots of parsnips and cornmeal porridge you start to think about what you really need. I should also note that her local diet, scooting to work and 9th floor apartment led to a 10-pound weight loss and her pre-diabetic condition reversed. Michelle calls the scooter “no impact Ambien.”
In the film Colin points out that when you insinuate people should “do without” it traumatizes people.  And a lot of the potentially traumatized dismissed these efforts as crazy. I flinched while watching when the point is made that it’s not enough to just bring your reusable bags to the market with you. This stung as I’m a believer in doing what you can do, even if it’s not full force. The truth is, the day after seeing No Impact Man I walked instead of jumping in a taxi, asked for an emailed versus paper receipt, turned down a bag and cancelled catalogs we don’t need (or don’t need multiples of). They real key, says Beavan, is to get what you need in a way that doesn’t hurt the planet versus simply living without. I love this from a blog post Michelle wrote:
What I learned from No Impact was that there is a steep cost to supporting all your stuff. To a life devoted to getting and having. In my days of high consumption, I’d been searching for something. It turned out that it was right in my own home.
My refrigerator and coffee aren’t going anywhere and there’s no composting in my immediate future but I appreciated the wake up call. I liked the perspective to be able appreciate having light and  a dishwasher. We can all pay attention to packaging, walk more, ride less  and encourage our friends and family to do the same. Here are some tips from the No Impact site:
Save the world by improving your diet.

  • Cutting beef out of your diet will reduce your CO2 emissions by 2,400 pounds annually. Will you commit to a week without beef? A month? A year?
  • Giving up 1 bottle of imported water means using up one less liter of fossil fuel and emitting 1.2 pounds less of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Will you commit to a week without plastic water bottles? A month? A year?

  • Don’t buy anything, don’t use any machines, don’t switch on anything electric, don’t cook, don’t answer your phone, and, in general, don’t use any resources. Do it for a whole day each week to cut your impact by 14.4% a year. Will you commit to one hour a week for a month? A year?
  • If an average family contributes 1% ($502.33) of their annual income ($50,233) to an environmental non-profit, they could offset 40.7 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Will you commit to tithing .5% of your annual income to an environmental non-profit? 1%? 2%?

  • If you can stay off the road and ride your bike or walk just two days a week, you’ll reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,590 pounds per year and get good, healthy exercise and we’ll all breathe fewer fumes. Will you commit to using your own steam for one day a week? Two? Three?
  • Take time off from television watching each week and join with others to improve our planet. Spend three fewer hours each day sitting in front of your plasma television and you will reduce your carbon emissions by 550 pounds each year. Will you commit to 5 hours of eco-service a month? 0? 15?
And if this inspires you I would check out the Roku.
What food film has had an impact on you? Any you’d recommend? Do you think you could do a month or a year with “zero impact”? Or what can you see yourself doing to reduce your impact?


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