As you may have heard, thousands of people have now signed up to participate in the No Impact Project’s week-long experiment in environmental living, which begins on October 18, hosted on the Huffington Post.
That so many people are willing to make such a deep commitment demonstrates to themselves, to their neighbors, and to their elected officials that the American people are concerned about our climate crisis and are willing to participate in solving it. I hope that the senators currently considering the climate bill might take note and consider the possibility of leading the world politically the way participants in the No Impact Experiment are
willing to lead culturally.
By the way, I choose the word “lead” deliberately, because to lead implies an aspiration, and ambition. And the aspiration and ambition embodied in attempting to live environmentally–on both and individual and a cultural level–is the possibility of a life that is better for the people as well as the planet.
Let me explain.
In my own case, back in 2007, I embarked with my little family on a yearlong quest to live as environmentally as possible. The central question was, How many of the resources used in our typically American, consumerist lifestyle actually contributed to our happiness? And where were we using resources–bad take out food in plastic tubs, more carbon-emitting business travel than we wanted, too much time working coupled with too little time with loved ones–that didn’t improve our happiness?
In other words, since the average American’s per capita emission of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is five times that of the average Chinese, were we, as typical Americans, really getting our happiness bang for our carbon buck? These questions are explored more deeply in my book No Impact Man and the documentary film by the same title, but suffice to say that the answer seemed to be no. In many ways, we lived just as happily and sometimes even more happily maintaining a lifestyle that weighed way less heavily on the planet. Good lives, it turns out, need not cost the earth.
What I didn’t initially realize while exploring these themes was that thousands of other Americans had already begun experimenting with their own lifestyles. I had unwittingly joined a movement. These thousands of Americans were tired of waiting for the government to do something about the crisis in our climate and other environmental systems. They decided, rather than simply waiting for elected officials to catch up, to take matters into their own hands.
They decided, in other words, that they would make a difference. They decided, as I’ve said, to lead.
Those of you who have chosen to join them by participating in the No Impact Experiment this coming week have also decided to lead. For one week, you are going to experiment with your own lives in the hopes of enlarging the discussion about how we Americans might find a way to live that is both better for us and for the planet. We know we are in a climate crisis. And if we aren’t getting that happiness bang for that climate buck, that means we are in a quality of life crisis, too. What can we do to change? This is a huge discussion that has been taking place in lofty halls of Congress. But it is a question that must be taken up in the cultural arena, too. Thank you for helping to start it!