Last night I heard Colin Beavan at the LA Public Library promoting his book No Impact Man. I had already seen the documentary recording the year he and his family spent trying to reduce their impact on the environment to zero, by radically changing their consumption and lifestyle habits. What makes the documentary so enjoyable is the character of his wife, who is somewhat skeptical of the whole project, and who provides most of the dramatic tension and comedy in the film. Colin comes off as a more earnest character who is sincerely trying to confront the dilemma of how one little person can save the planet.
The part of Beavan's talk most relevant to the themes of this blog was his discussion of whether we can best bring about change by demanding that the government solve these problems for us, or by making the needed changes ourselves. Ultimately, he seems to have concluded that we need to do both. It might seem absurd to expect that we can save the environment just by individually deciding to drive less, eat locally, or reduce consumption. Clearly, we need much more massive re-engineering of our transportation systems, energy generating systems, agriculture, and a lot of other structural issues, if we want to live more sustainably. On the other hand, there is obviously a lot that individuals can do simply by making different choices in their own lives. Beavan's point is that making these adjustments, in his case very drastic ones, might in addition to helping the planet, also help people enjoy their lives more. In his case, he noticed benefits to his family's health, and to the quality of time they spent together. His own sense of well-being also improved, because he felt he was actually doing something about problems that were troubling him.