Hey folks, I’m excited to report that No Impact Man is out in paperback this week (borrow it from your library or share with friends a copy from your local bookseller, Amazon, or BN.com). Anyway, I’ve been doing a new round of press interviews so I thought I’d let you in one email interview I just did.
Why did you decide to begin this experiment?
In 2006, we had both the Iraq war and news of the melting of the polar ice caps. This was terribly depressing. On the one hand, we were fighting a war for the oil to power our corporatized way of life. On the other, we were melting the planet as a result of burning that oil for the same way of life. In between we had the way of life itself, which didn’t seem to be making people happy. Americans are stressed. They work too much. Twenty-seven percent of us suffer from anxiety and depression. It just didn’t seem like a way of life to fight a war and kill a planet for. So what if we could possibly discover a way of life that was both happier for the people and happier for the planet? That’s what I wanted to look for.
Did you succeed in having no impact?
There is actually no such thing as zero impact. We eat. We breathe. But the question is, why are we making an impact? So much of it is waste. Throwing away packaging we don’t even want. Burning jet fuel on business travel that makes most people miserable–that is a waste of life *and* resources. So what we did was reduce our negative impact as much as possible. But to have no *net* impact, we also tried to have positive impact. That way the negative impact and the positive impact could be added together to make no net impact. This doesn’t really make scientific sense but it does make philosophical sense: is it possible to do more good than harm? And the answer to that question–the question of whether we succeeded–is yes.
Was it more difficult for your wife or for you?
It was both harder and better for Michelle. She says that she was addicted to shopping and convenience. But when we broke our bad habits and found that we spent more time together as a family, ate better, got more exercise, it was she who had the biggest benefit and learning. She has not returned to shopping and TV, for example. Isn’t there more to being a human being than shopping and TV anyway? Why are we always building shopping malls instead of theaters and concert halls and parks?
You stopped eating non-local food in NYC! Was it difficult?
Not as hard in NY as you would think because we live near the country’s largest farmer’s market. Our choices were restricted in winter but glorious in summer. And we ended up eating way more healthily. It turns out that the environmental choice is also the healthy choice.
What about coffee and tea?
What about them? We gave up on not drinking coffee in the end. Is the planet worth saving if you can’t drink coffee?
What about your daughter?
She is the teacher in all things. People ask me what do we need to give our children? I say we simply need to be careful about what we take away. Isabella cares more about relationships and people than things. She wants to play in the fountain, not work hard to buy a bigger house or a faster car. She teaches us to savor what we already have instead of making ourselves and the planet miserable trying to get what we don’t have. We have a game we play. I ask her, “Why are we alive?” She says, “To joke and laugh.” I ask, “And what is our responsibility?” She says, “To make sure other people can joke and laugh too!”
Was your life more complicated?
The big question these days is how do you get your personal information to synchronize between your computer, your iPhone and your iPad. That sounds pretty complicated to me. You can go to work, work ten hours, wait for you check to be deposited in your bank, go to the ATM, walk to the store, and buy some bread. Or you can just bake some bread. Which is more complicated? It’s not that I’m saying we should all be baking our own bread. It’s just that we’re out of balance and out of touch. This has led to a system that is destroying our planet. Perhaps the sadder part is that it is destroying our souls, too.
What did you keep and what did you get rid of after the project was over?
It makes sense to eat food with no unpronounceable poison chemicals in it, so we still prefer food from our trustworthy, local farmer. Rather than take a taxi to the gym so that we can then run in place on the treadmill, it makes sense to get our exercise as part of day by biking and walking. It makes sense to save money so we’ve cut our power consumption.
What didn’t make sense was washing our clothes by hand when there was no electricity! So that means that we must also work together to change the systems to ensure that our electricity and other needs are met sustainably. The point is not to deprive ourselves. The point is to make sure that the resources we use actually make people happy and that those resources are renewable.
Your conclusion, for you and your family?
That we all can make a difference. That when you perceive terrible problems in the world it can be better to actually address yourself to them instead of waiting for someone else to be the first.
What was the opinion of your friends about this experiment?
Go to NoImpactProject.org/experiment. There you will see that there is a program where people can try what we did for a week. 10,000 people have tried it. You should try it too! It turns out I now have a lot of friends!