University of Calgary

Q&A: Interview with Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man

UToday HomeJuly 29, 2013

 To take the first step on a journey toward a No Impact lifestyle, Colin Beavan says, “Find the part that would actually make your life better.” Colin and his wife Michelle Conlin turned to cycling as their primary means of transportation in Manhattan. To take the first step on a journey toward a No Impact lifestyle, Colin Beavan says, “Find the part that would actually make your life better.” Colin and his wife Michelle Conlin turned to cycling as their primary means of transportation in Manhattan. Photo courtesy No Impact Man official trailer

Hope Bruce, Leadership and Student Engagement: How did you feel when you learned that your book, No Impact Man, was chosen as the University of Calgary’s Common Reading Program book selection for 2013?

Colin Beavan: Very excited. It’s really an honour to have so many students read the book and feel as though it’s relevant to them.

Q: What impact do you hope your book will make on university students reading it this summer?

A: I hope that students will look at the world around them and see the crises that we have in the environment, in the economy, and in quality of life, and ask themselves, “What part can I play in making my life better and also making the world better?”

Q: What have you been doing since the book to carry on the No Impact message?

A: I do a lot of talking, speaking, and writing. I also started a non-profit called the No Impact Project; we run a program called No Impact Week where people live as no impact as possible for a week. There are about 50,000 people around the world that have done it so far!

Q: Do you have a sense of pessimism or optimism in how we are moving as a society?

A: For example, a place like Canada, which I’ve always admired for a bunch of different reasons including the parliamentary system and national healthcare, also happens to be obstinately opposed to an international climate treaty because of the Alberta tar sands. Here in the United States, the federal government is doing pretty much nothing about climate change, and yet, many cities and states are really making an effort. So I see a lot of hopeful things, and a lot of troubling things in the world. The real question that we need to ask ourselves is, What extent am I going to do something about the problems in the world?

Q: You spend a lot of time examining happiness in your book. What are some things that make you happy?

A: Well, things that tend to make human beings happy — assuming that their basic needs for security, food, and shelter are met — are strong relationships, the feeling that they’re using their talents and personal gifts, and the idea that they’re contributing to the world. So, what’s interesting is that none of those things are contained in buying stuff. Buying stuff is kind of a consolation prize for many of us because we don’t have those things. We don’t have time to spend with people we love. We are not able to find time to do the things we care about. What’s interesting is that it means the things we need to work toward to make ourselves happy also ultimately puts less stress on the world’s environmental systems.

“Is it possible to have a good life without wasting so much?” Beavan asks. Photo courtesy No Impact Man official trailer“Is it possible to have a good life without wasting so much?” Beavan asks. Photo courtesy No Impact Man official trailer

Q: How did the No Impact year affect your relationship with your family?

A: The most interesting thing is that we all tend to worry about how much TV children watch. When we got rid of our television, as a parent I watched a lot less TV, and that meant that I had a lot more time to spend with my daughter. In so many ways, the luckiest thing about the No Impact year was that it taught me to dedicate more time to my relationship with my child.

Q: What do you think it means to be an engaged citizen?

A: When I’m talking about being an engaged citizen, I’m talking about two things. First, it’s important to reflect the values that you hold in your personal choices — that is to say, your choice of career, your choice of how you spend your money, your choice of living situation, your choice of relationship, your choice of whether or not to have a family. Second, it’s important to reflect those values in your participation in the community through civic engagement. So being involved in volunteer efforts, and letting politicians know how you feel so that you’re reflecting your values in your community as well as in your personal life. It’s not just about living your life a certain way, and it’s not just about being involved in politics. It’s a combination of both.

Q: What parts of the No Impact lifestyle have you kept to this day?

A: I’ve kept the things that are good for me, which is the whole point. One of the things I’m trying to say is that the changes we need to make for our habitat are changes that are good for us as individuals. I continue to bike because that’s how I get my exercise. I prefer local foods because that’s actually what’s good for our bodies. I buy second-hand because it costs less.

Q: What was the most beneficial change to your lifestyle brought on by the project?

A: The project caused me to question the way of life that I inherited—the sort of standard approach to life. It caused me to question, and as a result, I’ve been able to have the life that I actually want rather than something that was handed down.

Q: Why is it worthwhile to pursue individual actions that save the earth’s resources?

Beavan says the project caused him to question the standard, inherited way of life. Photo courtesy No Impact Man official trailerBeavan says the project caused him to question the standard, inherited way of life. Photo courtesy No Impact Man official trailer

A: For one thing, each of us leads everyone else in our culture. If one of us does something, than more people end up doing it too. For example, if you’re rude to a taxi driver, than the taxi driver is rude to the next passenger that gets in. We don’t know how far those ripples spread. If you’re pleasant to a taxi driver, then that spreads too. The other thing is that by changing our own lives, we begin to cause a cultural shift that will support political change.

Q: What part of the No Impact project can everyone start doing immediately?

A: Find the part that would actually make your life better. For example, if you’ve been struggling with your weight or struggling with your health, maybe eating less beef would work. If you’re struggling with your pocketbook, then don’t buy bottled water. If you need more exercise, then hop on your bike. Look for the thing that will actually help you.

Q: If there is one message you want students to take away from your book, what is it?

A: We are all responsible for the world we live in.


 

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