One of the things I realized during my year of attempting to have no net environmental impact is that it really shouldn’t be so hard. By this I don’t mean to say that it was hard and miserable for me. If you’ve been a regular reader then you know that, for the most part, I found stepping off the “hedonic treadmill” to be liberating (if you haven’t been a regular visitor, you can read a little about it here and here).
In fact, one of the things I discovered during the project is something that many other people already knew: that living in a way that would make the planet happier will also make the people happier. Greener cities with more trees, livable streets, cleaner air, less time spent commuting in cars, less time spent working to get more stuff, more time spent with our families and our friends–these are examples things that would help the planet, but perhaps more importantly, they would help the people.
The problem is people may not believe it until they see it and they won’t see it unless we make it easier for them to. And that’s the part that shouldn’t be so hard.
For example, so many people have said to me that they would ride their bikes to work if only it were safer to ride in New York. Other people say that they would work harder at making less garbage if only there were more time and they didn’t need to rely on disposable products. So, for the people who would if they could, how can we make it safer to ride bikes and less necessary to rely on convenience items in order to service their stressed filled lives? How, in the meantime, while the culture insists on disposable, can we make disposable, if not sustainable, then less unsustainable? Questions like this abound.
So many of our systems could be tweaked to make living green easier for the culture. If we separated out our food waste from the trash and set up citywide composting systems so the food didn’t get sent to landfills we would eliminate the second largest source of manmade methane–a potent greenhouse gas–in the United States. If we invested in light rail systems and safe bike and pedestrian networks, we could reduce our dependence on cars. If we created groups for people who wanted to live green, we would have the support of communities. This is just part of a very long list of adaptations I’d like to continue talking much more about.
So moving forward, for me, is about two things. First, in the coming few months I have to concentrate on writing the book about my no impact experience. But second–and because of writing the book I will have to do this more slowly than I’d like–I plan to retool the No Impact Man blog, so that it isn’t only about my experience trying to live an environmentally ethical life, but about the many ways we could work–as individuals, as businesses, as voters and as local and national politicians–to make things happier not just for the planet but for the people.
In other words, I plan to stay No Impact Man, not just because I try to live with a lower impact, but because I want the blog to be a place where we can discuss how to encourage the entire culture to go no impact. This will be a place to talk less about me and more about us.
Sound ambitious? I think so. But don’t forget, what I’ve always said: optimism is the most radical political act there is.
PS If you have ideas for how to move the blog forward in these directions or if you think you’d like to write about something relevant, let me know.