So, it’s been a year. Twelve months ago, 52 weeks ago, 365 days ago, my little family–one wife, one toddler, one dog, one husband–embarked on a project to live with as low as possible an environmental impact for one year, smack bang in the middle of what some people think of as the most polluting city in the world–New York.
The rationale for the project was this:
(lower negative impact) + (higher positive impact) = no net impact
This, of course, has no real basis in science but it was meant to make rational-sounding a more philosophical question. Could I and my family, for at least this one year, do more good than harm?
Over the year, we reduced to zero or as darn close to zero as we could:
- Our trash (we produced almost none)
- Carbon emissions associated with growing our food (we ate local, seasonal, unprocessed, vegetarian)
- Use of transportation dependent on fossil fuels (we rode bikes, push-scootered and walked)
- Consumption of resources (we bought only what we needed and then only second hand)
- Our use of mains electricity (we survived with the one lamp provided by a single solar panel, a lot of beeswax candles, no fridge and no laundry machine)
- Our use and pollution of water (lots of water conservation measures and use of homemade vegetable- and mineral-based, biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning and personal products)
- We also increased our positive impact through volunteering to help tend trees, raise money for charity, tend to oyster growing in the Hudson, etc.
It’s been an utterly amazing year. With no TV, I’ve become a better father. With no light, I’ve learned to rest. With no laundry machine, I’ve learned that there are certain sacrifices people are not going to be willing to make! No Impact has impacted everything from my life philosophy to my family dynamics to my finances.
I’ve met, spoken to, crossed swords with and fallen in love with the most amazing environmental heroes. Both ones with international attention and those who get no attention at all for what they’re doing. Both people trying to change the world and people who have just quietly lived their lives for decades trying to cause no harm.
Over this year, too, there was a huge press explosion surrounding the No Impact project. My little family was featured on the front page of the New York Times House and Home section, I got roasted on the Colbert Report, and I rode my rickshaw around on the set of Good Morning America. I’ve spoken to reporters from Chile to Tokyo.
Believe me when I say that the press coverage took me by surprise. It has been hugely difficult–like when someone wrote that Michelle and I should be killed and our little girl taken away. But it has also been hugely rewarding. As a writer, there is nothing, to me, more satisfying than being able to take part in a wide-ranging discussion of this, the most fundamental of questions: how shall we live?
And now, the rules are over, if not the choices that need to be made for our future life and the discussion on this blog and elsewhere. Now it’s time to learn to live a little less in black and white and a little more in gray. Of course, we are keeping many of our adaptations. But also, in the coming months, we will be figuring out how we will live, not by the rules of No Impact, but according to the dictates of our conscience.
Where will we buy shoes? What will I do when my creaky computer breaks down? Where will we get Isabella’s clothes? Will Michelle, a confessed lover of shopping, retain the life-changing learnings she feels she has gleaned, or will the culture get the better of her? How, in short, shall we live?
How, in other words, will we balance being part of the culture and our desire to live sustainably? In some ways, many have said to me, this will be the most interesting part of our experience, because it is the part that many more mainstream people will be able to apply to themselves.
So yes, to those of you who who have asked, the lifestyle experiment continues, even without the year-long rules, and so does the blog. So keep coming. Keep commenting.
Lastly, how do I feel?
Excited and sad. Excited because some of the rules, when obeyed as rules, don’t make sense in our lives. I can’t wait for some CFL-bulb supplied light, for example. Excited because we have discovered so much about how to live well. Excited, too, because the conversation only continues and deepens.
But sad because, although I’ve met so many people who are trying so hard, I am worried that we as a country are moving way too slowly. Sad, because, a year after I stared this project, partly out of frustration with how slowly things were changing, still, very little has changed. Sad, because as a country, we still seem to be talking not about what we should do for the planet, but if we should do anything at all. Sad, because without the rules of No Impact, all I’m left with is my flawed human nature.
And human nature, with the fate of the planet in its hands, is something I sometimes feel a little scared of.