'No impact man' after a year doing without -- what now?
To reduce its environmental footprint, No Impact Man and his family did without toilet paper, elevators, TV, and cars for a year. What did they learn?
(Page 3 of 3)
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
As they pulled up to the airport curb, she was overcome by a weird feeling of grief. It was over. And here she was getting on an airplane, a decision that by some counts would wipe out all her carbon savings of the last year.
Beavan stayed at home. He just couldn't bring himself to get on a plane.
When Christmas rolled around, they looked into taking the train, but discovered the tickets for the three of them to see her family in Minneapolis would cost a whopping $2,500, more than double the plane fare. So this time Beavan sucked it up, and he went with them to the airport.
The last few weeks he's been flying for his book tour. He still agonizes over it.
Beavan tries to make up for the damage by requiring those paying for his travel to make a substantial donation to a renewable energy project. He and Conlin are taking fewer trips to visit family, and staying longer when they go.
Their experiences with travel have been a reminder of one of the lessons of the experiment: Although their family's project made a small-scale difference, and had inspired others in ways they hadn't foreseen, it was not a replacement for larger social change. Compared with the introduction of, say, an affordable national railway system, individual action pales.
As Beavan sees it, it's just like a graph he sketched during the year of no impact.
With either extremely high or very low resource use, quality of life was poor. But there was a virtual sweet spot, right at the peak, when they had enough to be happy but not so much that they were weighed down.
Since the year ended and left them to their own devices, they've been trying to find a way to get back to that point.
"In some ways, the project actually really began the day we ended," Conlin says now.
Beavan chimes in: "We still haven't actually figured out the way we want to live."
No matter how happy they are with the changes they've made, some things have been lost. For Conlin, the thrill of shopping is gone.
A few months after the experiment ended, she ventured into a department store to replace a frayed suit for work. But there was none of the rush, the excitement of the perfect find. While once, on impulse, she had spent nearly $1,000 on a single pair of stiletto boots, she bought this suit mostly because it was practical, inexpensive, and necessary.
And they're reconsidering some decisions that they've made. In a fit of what may have been overeager enthusiasm, they gave away all their fans, even though they use comparably little energy.
They've started taking elevators again, but they say they miss the exercise they got on the stairs.
And Conlin finds herself missing the worm composting bin (in its stead, they donate their organic waste to farmers at the market). She had been disgusted by the worms, even imagining them staging a breakout and getting into the family food.
But Isabella was fascinated by them. And the worms had given Bella a glimpse of the natural cycle of things — a rare gift for a city girl.
But other gifts remain. At their community garden plot, where they've been growing giant zucchini each the size of a human forearm, Bella helps them plant, and wanders through the greenery, eating tomatoes as if they were apples.
There's no longer one nameless "man" delivering their food on a bicycle. Now they themselves are on wheels, breeze in their faces, exploring the city. On their frequent excursions to the park, Isabella often asks to talk to a stranger. Usually, her parents say yes.
Often, Isabella and Beavan head out the door, no destination in mind.
And in a ritual that began during the year that taught them so much, he turns to her and says: "Let's go see what happens."