I have been reading Colin Beavan’s book No Impact Man lately.  The book is about a man, Colin Beavan, and his family who decide to undertake the experiment of living with as little impact on the environment as possible.  This mean no trash, no transportation not powered by a human being, and eating sustainably.  For a family living in Greenwich Village in New York, this seems like an impossible task.  But Beavan does it, and learns some valuable lessons along the way.  

What intrigues most about Beavan is how similar he is at the beginning of the book to myself.  He claims to be an environmentalist, yet thinks nothing of throwing out plastic containers of take out food. He, like myself, claim environmental beliefs, but resign ourselves to the fact that we live in a world that just will not be environmentally friendly not matter what we do.  We talk to anyone who will listen about the need for personal changes to our lives, but go home to our cooled homes and unwrap the plastic from whatever will be dinner that night. In short, we’re not living what we preach.

One of the things that Beavan starts out discussing, is the question of What makes my life better? Not just easier, but better. While this is a very existential question (what does qualify as a good life? Who decides what is good and what is bad? Is it based on material wealth? on quality of life? on the number of friends you have on facebook?) I think this gets to the heart of environmentalism.  I try to live in an environmentally friendly way — I walk or ride public transportation everywhere, I recycle, I limit what I buy to only what is necessary — but the truth is that most of what I do comes from the fact that I am a broke graduate student living in a really expensive city.  And what I deem as necessary are things like new clothes for school when I have a whole closet full of clothes that are perfectly good.  If my building doesn’t recycle one type of waste, I don’t seek out other ways to recycle or reuse it.  I just throw it out, each time thinking what a waste that is, and how my building should really recycle more.

My point in all of this, is that I think we are a generation of young people who have grown up with the idea that you have to recycle, that you  have to turn off the lights when leaving a room (anyone else remember that turn off the lights commercial on Nickelodean? It still makes me think twice before leaving the lights on!) and yet that is not enough.  If, in fact, we all decided to make some serious changes to the way we live, and the world around us in the process, we could have a huge impact on the environment.  What if we all decided for one semester (4 months for all you non-students!) to be a No Impact Generation? to use less electricity, to make less waste? I know I am going to be making a conscious effort this semester to have less impact on the environment — even if it means saying no to my beloved back to school shopping.